See, the Nigerian theatre space is amazing. The talent in that space deserves much more publicity than it’s getting. While being on screen gives you the opportunity to experiment with real-life scenarios, locations, and even project what the future holds, the theatre gives you a perfect representation of life as it is in the now. May Okanigbe is an actor who is active in both spaces and her work shows how much more attention we need to pay to theatre actors.
Theatre enthusiasts will attest to the fact that no play is ever not relatable. Playwrights tell stories you’ve heard a thousand times before in different new ways that you feel the stories are new every time. Then the actors bring these stories to life with performances that have you not wanting to check your phone lest you miss an expression or an emotion. Efe May Okanigbe is one of these amazing humans who paint life on the canvas that is the theatre stage.
Who is May Okanigbe?
A daughter of Delta State and a product of Zaria, Kaduna State, May Okanigbe is a graduate of Theatre and Performing Arts from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, Kaduna. May’s family loved the arts. This helped her passion ignite and she decided that she would make a career out of it.
“I was always singing, acting, dancing, and reciting poems in primary and secondary school,” May tells me. “When the time came to pick a career, I knew I wanted to study theatre arts even though so many people discouraged me because they saw it as a waste of time and a career for wayward people.”
Ah, yes. The stereotype that artists and creatives, in general, are never-do-wells. I’m just so grateful that my children will be born to a generation that understands these things better.
“Everything about it has always drawn me in,” she continues. “I wanted to make an impact and leave the world better than I met it and I was blessed with many talents, so I decided to use those gifts to make my dreams come true.” And that she did. Since 2014, May Okanigbe has actively been chasing those dreams and has since seen moderate success while at it.
At this point, let’s face an uncomfortable truth: talent is never enough to get you to where you want to go, no matter your field of interest. Let’s use the analogy of a car to understand this. A car is a machine that will take you to your destination in a shorter time than you would get there if you walked. For the car to run though, you’d need to learn how to drive, no road laws, and have sufficient fuel to run it. If you have talent, all you have is driving knowledge and no car.
The car, in this case, will be the opportunities you get to show your talent. This will also help you with the knowledge of road laws you need to navigate your way properly. And if you get them, you’re still going to need fuel. Fuel, in this case, is support, which can be from friends, family, or even total strangers whose feedbacks give you the energy to keep at it. You need people who will be there to spur you on as you make your path. May Okanigbe is blessed with the talent and the support which fuels her to keep moving.
This lack of fuel (support) is the story of many creatives. This is how creativity dies young in promising people. However, those (like me) who have seen May Okanigbe in action will be grateful that her spark didn’t burn out. “I did a lot of stage acting in school which sort of prepared me for the creative space,” May says of her thespian beginnings. “So, moving to Lagos after my youth service, I was completely prepared to take the world by storm. It didn’t happen immediately as I imagined but I’m climbing up the ladder gradually.”
Being a thespian through and through, May Okanigbe’s first love is the theatre. She, too, like many other thespians, has diversified her performance talents. “The theatre space has gone through a phase where it took the back seat in the entertainment field, but not anymore,” May says of the theatre scene in Nigeria today. “There was a time when theatre lovers and practitioners struggled to enjoy what they loved. Art spaces were few and poorly maintained. These days, theatre is getting more appreciated.
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“With each passing day, and, gradually we will get to the stage where it needs to get to. You see a lot of people step out just to go see a theatrical piece. So we aren’t there yet but it’s far from where we were. I believe if we have more accessible, state-of-the-art theatres in different locations and people learned to appreciate the art form more, things will definitely be better,” May adds.
Habiba, Farewell, The Two Both of Us, Ije, among others are among May Okanigbe’s forays into the theatre world since she took the bull by the horns in 2014. On her other exploits outside the theatre, May says; “To be completely honest, it hasn’t been easy. There have been many ups and downs. The challenges almost never stop coming but when you are passionate about something, you face it head-on and never give up.”
She has been on some episodes of Nigeria’s longest-running show, Tinsel, has a recurring role on the Africa Magic series, E.V.E., and has starred in Unbroken (another Africa Magic series), Happily Married, Two Men and the Rest of Us, Living Tales, The Women in our Lives, The Women in Our Lives, among others. You can look forward to Couple’s Tale, Mayowa, Wedding Breakers and some others from May’s corner.
Alongside acting on stage and on screen, May is also a singer, presenter, and content writer. She wants to “be the best [in her field] to leave a mark that would be felt by all and to change the world positively. Everything about May Okanigbe revolves around optimism and passion. These are great traits to have. And they are traits that will surely see her rise to the top of the ranks.