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A good Branch

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He was born David Babafemi Mauton Osunkoya.  But his stage name is Femi Branch.  By planning a Femi Branch Playfest to mark his 50th birthday, and thereafter, make the splash a yearly event, he is proving every inch a good branch for the creative arts.

Femi Branch, actor, poet, playwright, producer and director, was born 14 May 1970.  So, he turns 50 on May 14.  But from May 25 to May 31, the maiden edition of Femi Branch Playfest would run at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos.  That art caravan   would feature five of his plays: Po!, Shalanga, Jungle Justice, Ankara Committee and Kunme: The Musical and Festival Play.

Kunme, said the playwright, was name for his mother, an Egun woman, thus showing the Egun segment of the celebrator’s Ijebu-Egun cultural mosaic.

“Badagry is where the story is situated,” Branch told The Nation, “and I’m using it to honour my mother and my grandmother. My mother is from Badagry.  In fact, this play is to honour my mother because the title of the play is her name.  She is the original Kunme.”  The MUSON Centre plays would be performed by selected troupes.  It’s such a healthy jab in the arm for stage!

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But sandwiching the MUSON Centre shows, from April 3 to June 21,  Kunme is touring 10 cities: Ife, Akure, Ado Ekiti, Ibadan, Abeokuta, Ijebu Ode, Ikorodu, Badagry, Benin and Abuja. This tour evokes fond memories of the Yoruba travelling theatre, where the pantheons of Yoruba theatre — Duro Ladipo, Oyin Adejobi, Kola Ogumola, Ishola Ogunsola aka I. Show Pepper, and even the theatrical Tom Boy of the era, Funmilayo Ranco, made their marks.  Pleasant memories!  It is amazing how things seem to change yet remain the same!

But the exciting additional prospect for Kunme, aside from evoking golden memories of the past, is the opportunity, given by Femi Branch Playfest, for younger actors, especially students, to strut their stuff on the big stage.  Branch disclosed that Kunme would be performed by students, after audition for actors, singers, dancers and musicians.  That show is slated for February 25, at the Dramatic Arts Department, Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife.

“You’d be amazed at the potential of student actors,” Branch enthused.  ”And you know, the passion is still very strong.  So, they give their all.”  That is mentoring per excellence.  Not a few of the beneficiaries would not only have been empowered as students, they would have been notched towards a fulfilling future career.

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It is a practical way of creatively and positively engaging the youth, in a struggling economy.  But the real news is that Femi Branch Playfest would be a yearly affair, after its debut during the actor/poet/playwright’s golden anniversary year.  Again, exciting times beckon!

These are culture/youth-friendly shows big players in the Nigerian economy, particularly the big multinationals and telecom giants should be interested in, for it shows their vote of confidence in Nigeria, Nigerian youths and the Nigerian economy.

For Femi Branch, born to Otunba Gbolade Osunkoya (from Odosenbora, near Ijebu Ode, in Ogun State) and Chief (Mrs) Modupe Kunme (from Badagry in Lagos State), the author of From Senbora: An Anthology of Fifty Poems and Three Plays, is on the cusp of something great for the creative arts.

But he should know a dream means nothing if it is not well crystallized.  That is why he is condemned to making a success of this very good initiative.

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