Ola Rotimi, born on April 13, 1938, was a prominent Nigerian playwright and theatre director who made significant contributions to the country’s dramatic arts scene. Recognized as a multi-talented artist, Rotimi’s expertise encompassed acting, directing, choreography, and set design.
He was known for creating unique performance spaces inspired by traditional architectural forms, showcasing his deep connection to Nigeria’s history and cultural traditions.
Early Life and Education:
Ola Rotimi was born in Sapele, Nigeria, to Samuel Gladstone Enitan Rotimi, a Yoruba steam-launch engineer and director-producer of amateur theatricals, and Dorcas Adolae Oruene Addo, an Ijaw drama enthusiast. He attended St. Cyprian’s School in Port Harcourt from 1945 to 1949, followed by St. Jude’s School in Lagos from 1951 to 1952. He later studied at the Methodist Boys High School in Lagos. In 1959, Rotimi moved to the United States to pursue a degree in Fine Arts at Boston University, where he obtained a BA.
Career and Achievements:
In 1966, Rotimi earned an MA from the Yale School of Drama as a Rockefeller Foundation scholar in playwriting and dramatic literature. During his time at Yale, he produced his first plays: “To Stir the God of Iron” in 1963 and “Our Husband Has Gone Mad Again” in 1966 (published in 1977). These plays were performed at Boston University and Yale Drama Schools, respectively.
After returning to Nigeria in the 1960s, Rotimi secured a lecturing position at the University of Ife, now known as Obafemi Awolowo University.
There, he founded the Ori Olokun Acting Company and contributed to the thriving theatrical community in Port Harcourt.
However, due to political conditions in Nigeria, Rotimi spent a significant portion of the 1990s residing in the Caribbean and the United States, where he taught at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota. He eventually returned to Ile-Ife in 2000, where he continued lecturing until his passing.
Rotimi’s notable works include “The Gods Are Not to Blame” (1968, published in 1971), a reimagining of Sophocles’ “Oedipus Rex” in imaginative verse; “Kurunmi and the Prodigal” (1969, published as “Kurunmi” in 1971); “Ovonramwen Nogbaisi” (1971, published in 1974), which explored the last ruler of the Benin empire; and “Holding Talks” (1979). His plays showcased his deep understanding of Nigerian history and culture, resonating with audiences both locally and internationally.
Legacy and Impact:
Rotimi’s dedication to his craft and his decision to contribute to Nigeria’s artistic community rather than pursuing opportunities abroad exemplified his patriotism and commitment to nation-building. His profound impact on the literary community cannot be overstated, and he remains one of Nigeria’s most revered playwrights.
Ola Rotimi married Hazel Mae Gaudreau in 1965. Unfortunately, his wife passed away in May 2000, just a few months before Rotimi’s own death. Information about their family is scarce.
Ola Rotimi, the renowned Nigerian playwright and theatre director, left an indelible mark on the country’s dramatic arts landscape. Through his exceptional talent and dedication, he brought Nigerian history and cultural traditions to life on stage. Rotimi’s plays continue to be celebrated and performed, ensuring that his legacy as a visionary in the Nigerian theatre industry lives on.