Give Theatre a chance: James Ene Henshaw (Jr.)

Hey guys! We’ve got a new, INSPIRING interview post today… A lot of you must have read This is Our Chance in high school or  at least heard of it or had one of your parents act in it? Yes? No?

Anyways, Ourblogazine was opportuned to sit with the son of the great James Ene Henshaw, Mr James Ene Henshaw Jr. and there’s really no need to introduce any further, the interview will blow your mind. Just read through…patiently…:D

L-R- Chakie, Mr James Henshaw, Zahzee

L-R- Chakie, Mr James Henshaw, Zahzee

*Let’s get to know you

I’m Mr James Henshaw; the Executive Director of the James Ene Henshaw Foundation; I’m also the first son of the James Ene Henshaw himself. That’s basically me. I’m 56 years old, married with two kids and until recently I was a lecturer in the UK and basically I’ve been more or less here (in Nigeria) since December, 2013 when we launched the Foundation. I didn’t plan to come back, I came back because it was important to come back home- there was a heritage I have to keep, if I didn’t do it, it wouldn’t survive. My dad’s plays are among the generation of what I’d call the real treasures of African Literature. For instance, THIS IS OUR CHANCE is the first play that was written and published internationally in 1956. It was published before Wole Soyinka whose first play was in 1958. I first graduated in business and then I went on to do, taught Computer science, computer programming is my specialty. My first love has always been in the arts despite my science background.

*What does theatre mean to you?

Theatre, I think, is my life. It is one thing that you can pull all the different strands of society and focus it… in a confined space. Theatre should actually reflect what is happening outside. I was writing to someone in England and I said, ‘In Nigeria, drama does not have to be in the theatre. It’s happening all around.’ Someone was telling me that we don’t read or pursue anything that develop us mentally…

“if you discover any new idea you don’t want an African man to know, put it in a book… or put it in the theatre.” I think theatre is a love that I have. I used to try to write but not like my dad. I used to own a theatre company in England and I did some of my dad’s plays.

*Why theatre?

I won’t say there’s a reason. I’d say probably growing up with somebody that you would see them doing something. I remember when we were growing up, we used to do little plays for my dad but he never really pushed us into theatre. I wish he did

*How many plays have you directed?

I’m more of a writer than a director. But here in Nigeria, Medicine For Love is the first one. But in the UK, I’ve probably directed about 8 plays or so.  If you come to watch us, you’ll see that my emphasis is more on the character than the acting because I’m more of a writer so I want things to be well interpreted.

*Have you ever played a role in a play?

Yeah, I’ve played roles. In 1986, there’s something called The New Writer’s Award for Young Playwright. I won that one. It’s part of the prize, and it’s something similar I want to introduce here, what they do is rather than giving money, the Arts Council gives money towards the production of the play. That was the first time I took an acting role. But I’ve always acted in amateur dramatics and also amateur theatre even right here in secondary school.  

*What bad habits do you think actors have developed that you cant deal with?

What I’ve noticed and I think it’s peculiar to Nigeria is they just tend to read the lines, memorize it and think that once they can deliver that is acting so we tend to get people just delivering and when you ask them what is that they don’t know. Acting has to be life not pretending. I’m not interested in lines, When you’re given a part, get the character, if that character reacts in a certain way, you think, study the character, make notes. There is no crime in looking at someone who you think that character is and studying the person. That is one of the easiest ways because it’s not the beginning of that character’s life. Because, when the play starts, you have to know that it’s not the beginning of that character’s life. You have to know how that character reacts is based on past history

*About the James Ene Henshaw Foundation(JEHf), what inspired you to start it?

It started with putting together all his published works into a compendium-“The Collected Plays by James Ene Henshaw”. It has 9 plays. It was just getting to talk to certain people, and getting to know my dad a bit more. In most of the books, at the back, he left notes. So, we started with deciding to reproduce the plays and also do the plays. So I just decided to do those things he wanted to do. The Foundation has been running for about a year now. It was launched in December, 2013. Right now, we are doing a tour of schools, basically secondary schools to get THIS IS OUR CHANCE back to schools.

The vision of the foundation is to;

-Maintain his literary legacy

-Widen participation of young people in dramatic arts

-promote the books

-produce plays, hopefully after my dad’s plays, produce others

– develop new writers; the young writers are not coming through. We want to give opportunity to young, SERIOUS playwrights to be able to replace the likes of Ola Rotimi, Wole Soyinka, etc. But these young playwrights… someone will write one play and think he’s a star.

So, we have decided to settle down, start doing some workshops with writers, probably do an award to get some writers and help them develop.

*This upcoming play, Medicine For Love, can you tell us a little about it?

Medicine for Love basically is a comedy. It’s a comedy that is quite relevant today. It basically shows a man with three problems, one is the issue of wives that have been sent to him. He’s young and upcoming so two wives have been sent. But he really does not have time because he’s devoting all his time into his business and developing his life so marriage was really not his problem. Second problem is that he’s campaigning as an independent in the upcoming Parliamentary elections. So that is a problem for him because he’s an independent because of his high moral values and he wants to change things. The third problem now is whether he should apply reason as an educated man or whether he should resort to the use of a native Medicine man. So, that’s what the play it’s about.

In all levels, it reflects what is happening today.

I think one striking thing is the wives. Though they’ve been married off, they are still not prepared to come into a polygamous setting. My dad was always particular about the character of women in his plays. He never wrote weak women, they were always strong women. I think it’s a researchable topic- ‘The Women of James Ene Henshaw, who they are and what they represent to the African women of today’. The major challenge of this production is the limited resources. A lot of work has been put in but the resources are few. But in the scheme of things, we’ve done very well for 8 months…*will you be playing any acting role?* I will be playing only the directing role.


*What do you think would get people to come out to watch the play?

Basically, there isn’t a tradition of going to the theatre to see plays in this state. So basically, it’s to catch them young and hope that if they get to attend plays regularly then it would become a habit. This is why we are focusing on the schools. It’s mainly a schools’ production so we’re hoping we can get them to come and perhaps develop the culture to go to the theatre. We would like people to come in as well.

*How many times has Medicine for Love been staged?

I wouldn’t know. It was before my time. A lady gave me pictures the other day and said she acted in it. So  really I wouldn’t know.

*Which is your favorite book by James Ene Henshaw? Since the all time favorite is This is our Chance.

To me, I don’t think that is his best play but people like it because it’s emotional. There’s love especially when it’s forbidden love, bigotry, and all that. But to me, in terms of craft(writing), I would say, Dinner for Promotion and Enough is Enough- which was really taking it to a departure from his traditional time.

*Would you compare London and Nigerian Theatre?

*chuckles* No. And let’s leave it at that. I won’t compare because two things;

The theatre in UK is something they inherited from the Greek tradition and has remained till today. In Africa, going to a confined space is not part of our tradition its theatre everyday; we do theatre in open space, in the market, on the streets… we are now trying to adopt the culture of the Western influence after being under it.

*A lot of people do not actually appreciate theatre; do you think this is right? How would you convince them to give theatre a chance?

Theatre, whether we like it is still a business and the reason why any business should exist is to satisfy a need. So if you do not put plays on for people to watch, they will not go to watch it. So the whole series of plays that have come out, that do not appeal to the common man, badly written… have driven theatre almost out of existence. The University lecturers just sit in their ivory towers and write as if it was their thesis and don’t relate plays to what is happening outside because the Nollywood people have come and are doing well. They’ve devised a format that attracts the people, they tell stories people can relate to even though some of them are bad, the people can relate to it. So you can look at it in both ways, it is dead and not dead, it’s appreciated and not appreciated. Until the theatre people realize that it’s not to be isolated to be done only in the Universities, we can’t make it.

I really hope this was a good read. Check back for details on when to catch MEDICINE FOR LOVE IN THE THEATRE….

see ya…




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