BY ORIAKU IJELE
A lawyer and respected Nigerian theatre and film director, Bolanle Austen-Peters knows the importance of arts and culture. As founder and managing director of Terra Kulture, an art and culture centre, she has been influencing Nigeria’s artistic and entertainment landscape and adding value with her different theatrical performances.
But she is also breaking into new frontiers; and this is an important part of her story. Apart from playing host to high profile performances in different genres, including poetry, her production company, BAP Productions is also setting standards and breaking new ground.
And the company is credited with great musical productions like Saro The Musical, Wakaa The Musical, Moremi The Musical, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens, The Olurombi Musical and other theatrical productions like Death and The King’s Horsemen.
Her major films also include 93 Days, Bling Lagosians, Collision Course and Man of God. Austen-Peters had an early and productive start while working with her father and owner of Afe Babalola chambers. Naturally, being the daughter of the renowned lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria also came with other advantages.
It was from her father’s law firm that she got employed as company secretary at the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights in Switzerland. Later, she moved to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and the United Nations Development Programme.
She is undoubtedly, one of the biggest entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry today driving Nigeria’s film, theatre and entertainment. She is also a multiple award winner and recipient of Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards as Best Director, Best Overall Movie and Best Movie West Africa.
Born on 4 February 1969, Austen-Peters attended Command Secondary School, Ibadan; the International School, Ibadan; the University of Lagos and the London School of Economics and Political Science.
She has been described by the CNN as the “woman pioneering theater in Nigeria”, named one of the most influential women in Africa by Forbes Afrique and been recognised with several awards for her contribution to the arts.
She is also the founder of Terra Academy for the Arts in partnership with Mastercard Foundation, empowering young people.
In 2003, she founded Terra Kulture, an educational and cultural hub for Nigerian languages, arts, and culture. It includes a restaurant, art gallery, auction house, bookstore, language school, theater, film production studio, and Academy for the study of art. Located on Tiamiyu Savage Street in Lagos, its Arena is the first privately owned theater in Nigeria.
In 2013, she established her own production company Bolanle Austen-Peters Productions (BAP Productions). BAP Production is the production house, set up to change the narrative about Africa by promoting women as example from FRK, Fela and the Kalakuta queens; social issues e.g. The Bling Lagosians and Collision Course (2021 film) and 93 Days.
The company entered the Nigerian theater industry with its first production Saro, the musical. The musical was staged in Lagos and in 2016 went on tour to London’s West End. The musical tells the story of four young men who decide to embark on a journey to Lagos where they seek to realize their dreams.
In 2015, Austen-Peters produced the film 93 Days. It tells the story of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria and premiered on 13 September 2016 in Lagos. It was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, The Chicago Film Festival, the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, the Johannesburg Film Festival, and at the Africa Film Festival in Cologne/Germany, and nominated for a Rapid Lion Award.
It won the award for Best Lighting Designer at the 2017 Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards, and received thirteen nominations. 93 days was also nominated for the Rapid Lion Award and in 7 categories for the 2017 Africa Movie Academy Awards, which was the highest nominated film in 2017 AMAA.
In 2016, Austen-Peters directed the musical Wakaa, which tells the story of the trials, successes and experiences of a group of graduate students. It was the first Nigerian musical to be staged in London’s West End, and recorded sold out shows at the Shaw theatre in London.
In 2017, Austen-Peters directed the musical, Fela and The Kalakuta Queens. It chronicles the life of the Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti, and the women that were an integral part of his band. It was produced and created with the support of Fela Kuti’s estate. It was shown in Nigeria, Egypt and South Africa. The musical is one of the biggest to come out of Africa with over 120,000 people having watched it.
In 2019, Austen-Peters directed the film Bling Lagosians which the individual feuds within a wealthy Lagos family. It was nominated for two awards including Best Art Director, Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards. It starred Nollywood actors and actresses including Gbenga Titiloye, Elvina Ibru, Osas Ighodaro, Toyin Abraham, Jide Kosoko, Sharon Ooja, Bisola Aiyeola, Denola Grey, Monalisa Chinda, Helen Paul and Alex Ekubo.
Austen-Peters has collaborated closely with the Nigerian Ministry of Culture to empower the creative industries through jobs and artistic projects. She was in 2015 recognised with the Award in Appreciation of Contribution to the Development of National Museum, Onikan, Lagos. In 2017, she collaborated with Lagos State Government to celebrate Lagos 50th anniversary.
More than 9 sculptures were commissioned and placed around Lagos to bring light to the city’s history, culture and people. Perhaps the most well-known sculpture is Nigerian artist Abolore Sobayo’s sculpture of Afrobeat icon Fela Kuti.
The sculpture salutes every Lagosian who has at one time or the other, fought for liberation. The sculpture is a celebration of Lagos and recognises the struggle of its citizens. Some of the other artists included in the project were Ade Odunfa, Hamza Atta, Segun Aiyesan, Umeh Bede, Gerald Chukwuma, Tayo Olayode and Terfa Adingi. She has been involved in the preservation and development of Nigerian languages throughout her career, and interviewed Nigerian author and Nobel Prize winner Wole Soyinka for the New York Times.
Austen Peters is married to Adegboyega Austen-Peters, and blessed with a son and daughter.
She is undoubtedly, one of the biggest entrepreneurs in the entertainment industry today driving Nigeria’s film, theatre and entertainment.