Bolanle Austen-Peters

Bolanle Austen-Peters
Founder, Bolanle-Austen Peters Production

Bolanle Austen-Peters can correctly be described as an amazon in the nation’s entertainment industry, especially when it is considered that she chose an entirely different segment – stage plays – and made a huge success of it. She stands out as an oasis in a desert of men, as evidenced in the fact that she is the only female among this magazine’s top 10 revolutionaries of the Nigerian entertainment industry.

It takes guts to break new grounds and go solo in an area that many did not consider profitable. And Austen-Peters has a lot of guts. That was why she abandoned the path through which she could easily have acquired success without much effort, especially if she had to climb the back of a famous father who is in the same field to attain that height. She has, indeed, proved that success is for those who dare.

Austen-Peters is the daughter of legal luminary and founder of Afe Babalola Univversity, Chief Afe Babalola. She initially set out to follow in the footsteps of her father by studying law – a tradition among children of successful parents in such professions as law, accountancy, banking and medicine – and actually made a success of it. She studied Law at the University of Lagos, and followed up with a Masters at the London School of Economics, with specialty in International Law.

She worked briefly in her father’s chambers before joining the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Switzerland; United Nations High Commission for Refugees and later United Nations Development Programme.

She worked as a consultant to Ford Foundation in Lagos, helping to raise millions of dollars for its museum through arts. The realization that her area of specialization, international law, was not particularly relevant in Nigeria was the impetus she needed to quit the law profession to follow her dream in the arts. And she hasn’t looked back.

Austen-Peters has always loved performing arts, especially dancing. It was therefore an easy switch from the court room to the theatre. The founding of Terra Kulture, her arts, cultural and educational organization in 2003, using her company, Bolanle Austen-Peters Production BAP), was received with mixed feelings in the entertainment industry. While some welcomed her choice of an area of entertainment entirely different from conventional music and film, others were skeptical of her chances of success in a virtually virgin field. The latter group certainly did not know the stuff Austen-Peters is made of.

The BAP’s first production was Saro the Musical, in 2013. It was an effort that received rave reviews from international media organizations, including BBC and Sky News. This was followed by five more plays that were commissioned. Spurred by the wide acceptance of Saro the Musical and the positive commentary that came from the media and theatre experts, BAP staged the production at the MUSON Centre, Onikan, Lagos, on December, 2014 and April, 2015.

Austen-Peters, with good knowledge of theatre shows on the international scene, adopted the Broadway style of theatre production for the Nigerian audience with Wakaa the Musical, staged at the MUSON Centre, from December 30, 2015 to January 3, 2016. With the huge success recorded at home, she went international, staging the production at the Shaw Theatre, in London’s West End. The event, which was held from July 21 to 25, was a sold-out show. The Nigerian girl had arrived on the international scene.

The BAP co-produced 90 Days, a feature film on the Ebola disease that reared its head in Nigeria through a Liberian index case, Mr. Patrick Sawyer and actually claimed the lives of more than 12 Nigerians. The film premiered in Lagos on September 13, 2016, and was selected for viewing at the Toronto International Film Festival; Chicago Film Festival; Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, California; Johannesburg Film Festival; Africa Film Festival in Cologne, Germany and the RapidLion Award. It also received 13 nominations in the 2017 Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards, with the award for the Best Lighting Designer. The film got nominated in seven categories in that year’s African Movie Academy Awards (AMAA).

In 2016, Austen-Peters felt it was time a purpose-built theatre was erected to serve as centre for not just her productions, but also for artistes to showcase their works. The grand opening of the 400-seat, state-of-the-art theatre named Terra Kulture Arena held on March 25 and 26, 2017. The centre is designed to host musicals, dance, comedy and plays, and also screen movies.

Last year was undoubtedly a very busy one for Austen-Peters. It was the year she unveiled her Terra Kulture Arena. It was also the year she held the London edition of Saro the Musical at the Shaw Theatre, from August 24 to 29. In December, she staged the premiere of Fela and the Kalakuta Queens.