I Had Grand Visions For Made-In-Nigeria Poetry Show - Dike Chukwumerije

Poet Dike Chukwumerije has made history with his Made In Nigeria poetry performances that have continually broken the assumption that poetry does not sell or cannot be sold to audiences in Nigeria. Two days ago, on October 1 and 2, in commemoration of Nigeria’s Independence anniversary, the phenomenal Dike Chukwumerije got poetry lovers to pay and excitedly watch him and his MIN crew dramatize the history of Nigeria through poetry at Merit House, Abuja.

However, becoming a jinx breaker and a trailblazer like Chukwumerije has done with the commercialization of poetry in Nigeria comes with tremendous focus and discipline. It takes uncommon guts and grit to succeed in breaking new grounds like Chukwumerije has done with his poetry show.

Dike Chukwumerije very much attested to this in a review of his shows to date posted on his facebook timeline which he titled: HOW TO CREATE A SHOW ON A SHOE STRING BUDGET. We publish it here with his permission.  

I had grand visions for MADE IN NIGERIA. For one, I wanted an interactive screen behind me that would play scenes from the decades, to echo my poetry. But I could not afford it. So, I thought, ‘Make do’. What I had was a city full of brilliant artists. So, I approached one of them, Obi Nwaegbe, to paint me a canvas – that was as big as my dreams – so I could hang it on the wall behind me, and it too could speak with me, as eloquently as plasma screens.

You have to think in these ways when you do not have sponsors, when the money for your shows is what you have left after you’ve paid school fees, and stocked up on food, and fuelled your car, and saved for the rainy day. So there was no stage manager. No. I couldn’t afford one. So, everyone had to do more than one thing. So, yes, there was a stage manager. But he had to set up, and dance, and act as well. You see? We all had to. It was the only way to bring costs within touching distance of revenues.

Because theatre is tough enough anywhere. Here? No matter the price you put on your ticket, someone will ask you for a free one. So, you stay up at night thinking of ways to drive down expenses but hold up quality. For instance, if you have a scene where you transition from school boy, to old man, to colonial civil servant live on stage – how many items of clothing can you afford to make the costumes work? Me? Just 2. True. I remember the headaches it gave me keeping the costumes budget on that shoe string.

For knowing I did not have the funds to compete on packaging, I decided from the very beginning to locate my own USP elsewhere. In something that – without lights and high-end sound – could work, something you could stand up on stage in a two-bit costume and still induce a sense of wow. So, I went for the story. Because a good story is virtual reality. Tell it well enough, and the people listening to you exit the real world of that run-down theatre space and enter the glittering one of your imagination. You know? That is all it takes to entertain. Like we used to do when NEPA took light and we told tall tales around kerosene lamps. Rough around the edges, yes, but still with that ethereal glow.

So, working with people like this – with lots of talent but very little elbow room – we turned neglected stage after neglected stage into moving scenes from Nigerian history. Every song, every dance, every movement meticulously thought through, because the difference between profit and loss was always that narrow, so nothing on stage could be a luxury. So, I know now what to tell you if you’re looking to save money on a theatre production. Ready? Invest in a team of people who are as hungry as you are to express themselves no matter what. For, truly, passion is not only priceless, it goes a step further to find remarkable ways of saving you money.

This is how we did it. So, let me tell you, if anybody ever asks you if you know any poet in Nigeria with a collection of 20 poems who has in one night of reading made up to N1m in sales, tell them you do. This is not a boast. It’s just a recognition that no one is telling my story. So, here I am telling it. Keep walking. This is what I tell myself. For I have not yet executed my vision perfectly. And so, and so, it keeps calling me. Keep walking.