Like a phoenix from the ashes, he shook of the shadow of failure that had clung to him for most of his teenage life, and embraced the creativity that was his to explore. Actor, Producer, Director and CEO Twisted Classic Concepts-cum-Legends Theatre shares his story with Konnect Africa; a story about overcoming the stigma of failure and flying free to dream your own dreams. Caveat: This Story may get you thinking differently about lots of things including formal education.
Editor’s Note: I first met Michael Adukeh at a TEDx Conference on Stadium road, PH, Rivers State, Nigeria. He was one of the speakers and I immensely enjoyed his talk; engaging, refreshing and hilarious, quite frankly. He spoke about serious matters, but he did so quite charmingly…I was charmed, and I vowed to get an interview out of him; fast forward a few weeks later and I was sitting across a table from him, interviewing him for all I was worth; I wish all my wishes were quite so speedily and easily fulfilled. Enough about me then, learn from Michael Adukeh; the man who everyone once thought was ‘good at failing.’ Ouch.
I am from Bayelsa State of Nigeria; I have lived all my life in Rivers State though. Until 2010, I had only travelled as far as Aba, but that’s changed now. My most vivid memory about childhood is jumping into the gutter to avoid detection by my Dad who was a disciplinarian; a little to the extreme if I might add. Other memories of family and childhood are not quite as pleasant or dramatic. Just before my 18th birthday, my Dad left us without any warning; it was a shock, but we sort of adjusted to it, I guess.
Education or the Lack of It…
I attended Bereton Montessori, Federal Government College, Port Harcourt and the Rivers State University of Science and Technology [UST] where I initially studied Computer Engineering because my Father thought it was an important-sounding course that could be proudly spoken of at family gatherings.
My school years were the most miserable years of my life. I was constantly bullied by my peers and betters, and I had no home support because my parents were pre-occupied with a failing marriage and financial challenges. I suffered massive inferiority complex and struggled through school because I didn’t feel smart and my grades bore witness to that; I totally had no motivation from any source. Somehow, I was in Secondary School, and then the University, studying a course I had no zeal for, totally conscious of the fact that I was failing my way through school.
Issues with regularising my registration made the authorities withdraw my admission in 3rd year, and I was actually ecstatic; the torture would finally end I thought to myself, but my respite was short-lived. To satisfy a girlfriend and my family, I started a part-time course in Adult Education which I struggled through for 5 years before backing out quite ungracefully. Eight years of my life was sunk into getting a formal education just because our society has decreed that it must be so.
I am not an advocate for going to school or not going to school; I am just a different person and I know that there are tons of people who would thrive outside the linear, formal educational system that is the norm in Nigeria.
Thoughts on Directing Children’s Career Choices…
Parents have to know their children on a one on one basis. Our parents had lots of children and perhaps too little time to dedicate to discovering each child’s potential; thus a uniform measure was applied to all the children, and any child that didn’t show an affinity for the common was labelled ‘slow’. If parents in our generation realise just how much time has to be dedicated to nurturing each child’s potentials and exposing them to appropriate environments where they will thrive, they might have a better parenting perspective and result. My Dad and Mom had four children and perhaps not enough time to discover and harness each child’s potential.
Don’t push your child into a ‘trending’ course/path. In our parents days, it was the professional courses, today its ‘Theatre arts’ because Nollywood which was disparaged in time past is thriving today. Watch your children, really watch them and understand that some children may never fit into the formal education system which operates in Nigeria. Don’t stifle your child’s creativity because you are afraid he /she won’t be rich and famous for being who they are.
Changing the Nigerian Educational Mind Set
We urgently need to raise awareness for a different form of education in Nigeria that allows for diverse forms of expression. A footballer may not understand the theory of projectiles and velocity in a Physics class, but he sure understands how to apply it when he’s taking a free kick.
Deriding certain occupations also makes it less desirable for young people who may have a bent towards it, for example I had a cousin who loved to tinker with cars, and all he ever got for his efforts was a derisive “You want to be a mechanic?”
The linear form of education also needs some tweaking. When I was younger, say 16, I had this idea to start a games arcade in Port Harcourt. I drew up a proper, well-researched business proposal and took it to an Uncle who immediately tossed the idea aside; “Go to school,” he said. When I persisted in pestering him, he told me, “Don’t you know how much money you will make with this? Go to school!” In retrospect, that statement was all sorts of incongruous. So I could make money now with this, but I had to go to school, and get an education so I could graduate, get a job, and make money? The linear mind set, which dictates that all things must happen in one particular order with no deviation, is a bane to the depth of creativity which lies buried in most individuals, sometimes forever.
Breaking Out, Growing Strong…
I finally came to terms with the fact that I may never relish the formal education that is the standard in Nigeria, so I searched myself, realised that my aptitude for making people laugh, acting and creating characters from my life’s experience was something I could leverage on. My crew and I were organising shows even as students in the university and I decided to take it a notch higher because I realised that our society lacks wholesome family entertainment and that was a niche I could fill with my particular brand of entertainment. My crew was made up of like-minded people who were dissatisfied with the monotony of the daily grind. I have not abandoned the idea of learning; on the contrary I do read a lot of books of my choosing; however I am totally averse to the prevalent fad of being defined by a certificate.
Funding is a challenge; a creative person’s nightmare really, but we try to work around it. Our first major show was funded from our pockets with some familial support especially from my mother. Funding challenges sort of separates the wheat from the chaff amongst the crew.
Another challenge is the fact that people tend to make entertainment a seasonal affair; but we hope to break that mould and build a culture of family entertainment all year round.
Future Plans, Vision…
Two online series are in the pipeline and we hope to start them off by July, 2013. A sitcom is also in the making.
In 5 years, the Legends Theatre will be a platform and transit point for artistic young people with original concepts which they wish to showcase. It will be a house of development. Personally, I would be heavily into producing and directing on-screen.
Extraordinary!!! I don’t think anyone was born to be ordinary.
Inspire an African Youth…
Dream; Have your own dream, not someone else’s dream of you. What’s more tragic than someone who doesn’t act on his dreams is someone who has no dreams.