‘Investing in Lagos Fringe five years ago was the most insane thing we’ve ever done’
They are heroes of the arts in this country, CEO, Brighton Fringe
Brenda takes leave of absence, joins British Council Nigeria
By Anote Ajeluorou
IT’S the fifth anniversary of Lagos Fringe Festival (LFF). Five years ago, festival co-founders, Kenneth and Brenda Uphopho had just finished their tour-of-duty, as it were, with Lagos Theatre Festival (LTF) after five years of midwifing it. It was established by the British Council Nigeria. Kenneth didn’t want a hiatus in their cultural production life. He needed a new challenge in the theatre space to create more spaces for young creatives. That has been his forte. That’s what LTF was and still is. He then broached the idea with his life and business partner, Brenda, who’d worked really hard, and thought she deserved a holiday in some really nice place. But then Kenneth won’t let up on a new festival challenge. All the money she’d saved in the seven figures’ range would sink into the new venture. All of it. So much so that by Christmas 2018, there was no money for new clothing. Not even for food either. Nothing. They were in the red. Yet they persisted. Now they are five years into it.
That’s the fairy tale story of the beginning of Lagos Fringe Festival, as Brenda told it to the theatre-loving audience that gathered at the FoodCourt of Freedom Park, Lagos. Now she is moving on and taking a leave of absence from the festival that she helped create out of nothing. But that was after her co-traveller Kenneth had specially expressed gratitude to those who made the five-year Lagos Fringe Festival journey possible.
“You’re welcome to Lagos Fringe! Can you believe that we’re five years old? Don’t we deserve a round of applause? We’re five years, five years of creative opportunities, of showcasing exhibitions, capacity building, of engagements, of networking, five years of making super stars. Five years of making creative star-ups,” Kenneth said excitedly.
“From Lagos Theatre Festival that we used to manage, we’ve developed something for young talents to be able to exhibit at least once a year. Can you imagine? Out of 365 days, and some people have only once a year to exhibit their work and showcase their talent to the world? So this day is an amazing day for us. We’re super grateful that.”
Mr. Uphopho took time to thank LFF partners, saying, “We thank you that you have taken time to be out here with us. You deserve a round of applause. Every kind of artistic work come into the Fringe,” and then singled out some personalities who have helped in the journey such as Theo Lawson of Freedom Park, Ibrahim Aliu of the American Consulate, their friend from Brighton Fringe, UK, who is also on the Advisory Board, Julian Caddy, Otunba Tunji Sotimirin, former Secretary of NANTAP, Charles Ukpong and the media for publicising Lagos Fringe.
Board member of Lagos Fringe and star actress, Ego Boyo also expressed gratitude to the audience when she said, “It’s been five years of creative opportunities, of developing artists, fostering collaborations and networking, exhibitions. This is exactly what it is at Lagos Fringe. It’s for wonderful opportunities. Lagos Fringe is affiliated with other Fringes. We have on our board Caddy, head of Brighton Fringe. I want to thank all our supporters, all our exhibitors, all our volunteers, and everyone that has been part of Lagos Fringe. I thank you all and welcome you to this inter-disciplinary festival which happens annually.”
An emotional Englishman Caddy was full of praise for the organisers of Lagos Fringe Festival. He recounted how he was invited by the British Council Nigeria to help set up Lagos Fringe, but admitted that he’d learnt more from Kenneth and his team than he’d imparted on them. He praised the work Lagos Fringe is doing, how important it is in creating spaces and platforms for young creatives to find their voices and talent and exhibit their artistic works.
“Praise them,” he shouted. “Praise them. My journey with Lagos Fringe began not five years ago but seven years. I was brought to advise and help them build Fringe in Lagos. To be honest, I learnt a great deal more from them than they learnt from me. They are heroes to the arts in this country, this city, this region, and I think we are blessed for what they do. Mr. Kenneth, what will I do now without you? He’s become such a personal friend in the three years that I’ve been here. I’m feeling incredibly privileged to be invited back to share ideas. It’s a platform that did not exist before; there has not been support of this nature for the arts before in this country, and this is what is needed. So we need money; we need friends. We need the networks. I want to build as much network as I can as CEO of Brighton Fringe. Thank you for what you do, for the amazing work you do.”
Secretary of National Association of Nigerian Theatre Arts Practitioners (NANTAP), Mr. Makinde Adeniran also commended LFF for what it has achieved in five years, especially the consistent platform it offer young creatives, adding, “Platforms like this brings new entrants into the industry, because Lagos Fringe is one of the few places young people can express their art. It’s one of the big ones for us. We have so many, but gradually Lagos Fringe is standing out. Five years of consistency. For us at NANTAP, we value what Fringe is doing. In spite of our different challenges, we have to show up here to honour what Fringe is doing this evening, and particularly to stay in partnership with Fringe Festival. We thank you for what you’re doing. We appreciate you. Call on us whenever you need our support. Platforms like yours (Lagos Fringe) are the ones giving credibility to us at NANTAP.”
Lawyer and writer Mrs. Aduke Gomez said Lagos Fringe saw a gap and has been filling it creditably in five years, noting, “Five years of doing Lagos Fringe means that it’s becoming mainstream, it means that it’s getting to a wider audience. I can only wish them all the best. I should congratulate them for seeing the need, for seeing a gap and bridging it.”
For Freedom Park boss Theo Lawson, “It’s always a delight to have Kenneth and Brenda come to Freedom Park. Once they come, they take over everywhere. They even want to brand me!”
Brenda’s amazing story of how LFF started was inspiring, as she raked up the emotional investment that went into the project that has clocked five years: “It’s five years, and it’s very emotional. Investing in Lagos Fringe five years ago was the most insane thing we’ve ever done. Investing everything we had in the festival and we were down to the shirts we had on our backs. Not even money for Christmas, not even for the children. Like everything that will be great and everything that will be wonderful and everything that will be fantastic and massive and beautiful, we’re five years old. We had a very tough first time. We owe it all to the team. We didn’t have anything left to pay the team. They (mostly) went without being paid. They have been awesome. I can’t thank them enough. The volunteers just believed in the dream and ran with it for five years.”
She then made the announcement of leave of absence: “I’d like to announce my leave of absence from Lagos Fringe Festival. I’ve taken it already, but I’m just announcing it. I can’t put a time to it, but it will take a while (before I return). What this means is that I’m not going to be actively working, actively producing for Fringe. I’ve joined the British Council Nigeria for now. I’m the Head of the Arts for Nigeria and Lead for Creative Economy for Sub-Saharan Africa. I’ve always wanted to be on the biggest scale, on the biggest platform; I believe that God has called me to do this. So when I saw an opportunity to advance the gospel of theatre, to advance the gospel of the creative economy, I took it only because we have such a capable board.
“Don’t forget that this platform is for development; it’s for young people to have the opportunity to be able to do their work. So it’s not the glossiest theatre space, not the most famous, not the most well attended. However, it’s being put together in a manner that you will enjoy. Even though I’m taking leave of absence, the standard, the quality and all things you know about the festival will still be there for you to enjoy.”
Dugombas Dance Company entertained the audience with its vigorous dance steps, just as Olateru Olagbegi was announced as joining the Lagos Fringe Festival board, with Tope Sani, who ran the communication unit, also being named Programme Director.
You really captured what happened at the event to the last detail. I was touched by the success story of Lagos Fringe Festival.