Lessons Ebo Whyte’s plays teach us

he only reason I do not agree with him is that, unlike him, I have had the opportunity to see a number of Ebo Whyte’s plays. They are not exactly what the few seconds of ads give listeners.

Uncle Ebo Whyte

When James Ebo Whyte of the Roverman Productions announced his previous play, Forbidden, and the advert started running on Joy FM, a friend was not happy with the it. His beef was that his themes appeared monotonous. His point was that the issue of sex and relationships was becoming too frequent. Listening to the short clips in the various ads that have run since his productions started on radio and other networks, you may be inclined to agree with my friend and former classmate.

The only reason I do not agree with him is that, unlike him, I have had the opportunity to see a number of Ebo Whyte’s plays. They are not exactly what the few seconds of ads give listeners.

Ebo Whyte is someone I describe as a wise man. His Food for Thought programme on Joy FM every Monday and Thursday is a life-transforming session listeners cannot afford to miss. Ever since I started seeing his plays, I have come to respect him even more than I ever did. The reasons are not difficult to find.

Uncle Ebo Whyte, as we call him, is a man who keeps his word. Seven years ago, he promised Ghanaians that every quarter he would stage a well-produced play. And he has not skipped one quarter since his first play was staged. The cost and time and energy involved in producing such high quality shows are unimaginable. Within the period, many sponsors have come on board and left but Roverman Productions has kept faith with its audience. In recent years the economy of the nation and its attendant difficulties have conspired to cripple creative minds and rendered productive forces impotent, but Uncle Ebo Whyte and his team have not found any excuse to skip one show. This is rare. It is “unGhanaian!” It teaches us that with determination, we can all rise above the storm and excel.

I went to watch Uncle Ebo’s play, Forbidden, with my future wife. When we got to the parking lot five minutes to time, she did not understand why I was in such a hurry. I told her that if Uncle Ebo Whyte says his play starts at 6pm, the curtains will be raised at exactly 6pm. I am told that there’s someone whose duty is to ensure that the curtains are raised at the exact time advertised. In a country where every important programme starts with an apology for starting late, loyalists of the Roverman Productions have come to understand that it is possible to be punctual and get it right. This enormous respect shown to audience in this regard also instills a sense of discipline in his audience, especially the young ones who go the National Theatre with their parents.

Dedication to excellence is another quality you cannot take away from Uncle Ebo Whyte. In Ghana seem to we worship, adore and reward mediocrity. It has become the order of the day. We have made mediocrity a very much-cherished virtue, while excellence is a vice. But Uncle Ebo Whyte has proven to be different. His plays are like Pastor Mensa Otabil’s sermons; there’s never a dull moment or one whose standard is below the high standard he has set.

Until Uncle Ebo Whyte came into the theatre industry, plays produced locally were set in rural areas, with very predictable plots. The characters lived in thatched houses, smoked pipes, fetched water with pots and lived like in the days of hunting and gathering. When I had the opportunity to speak to Ebo Whyte as part of a documentary I was producing on the resurrection of theatre arts in Ghana, I had a great insight into what he does and why he does them. He said his was a deliberate departure from the norm because we cannot accuse Europeans and Americans of portraying us as primitive when we ourselves jump at the least opportunity to portray ourselves as such.

In Ebo Whyte’s plays angels wear black costume while the devil wears white. He told me there is nowhere in the Bible that says the devil is a black man.

The creativity in the production and versatility of Ebo Whyte’s characters are peerless. The characters act, sing and dance and you wonder which is really their area of specialisation. In his last play, he used human props. Tables, chairs, refrigerator and light were all human beings. And it was beautifully done.

And finally, for those who think Uncle Ebo Whyte promotes promiscuity, please, seeing just one of his plays will have their opinions completely changed. Uncle Ebo Whyte seems to be using love and romance as a bait to preach Christ and godliness.

In fact, he reminds me of a technique used in hunting rats. Yes, let me take you back to the village, where I am an authority. The rat is a delicacy that enriches soups of the rural folk. But the rodent is difficult to come by. They often reside in very secure anthills and sometimes under rocks. That’s why there is a proverb that the rat which has its abode by the wayside is either a speedster or very brave. The real reason may be stupidity.

Sometimes when you dig the hole of the rat with all your energy, you will be lucky enough to see its tail while its entire body is under the rock. No matter how strong one is, however, one has to use one’s head and not strength at this point. When the rat holds its grounds with its four legs, getting it out is almost impossible. Sometimes you may succeed in tearing its tail and the nutritious rodent may escape into a part of the rock you may never reach. And there’s nothing more painful than coming so close to your catch and going home with only its tiny tail.

So the wise thing to do is to allow it to move, while you still hold its tail. When it begins to move, it will loosen its grips and start crawling inside. Its feet are not firmly clutching anything at this moment.

It is at this moment that you pull it fast with all your strength. Before it readies itself to hold on to something, it is already out, its head hit hard against the rock and there you are smiling and dreaming about a palatable meal.

That’s how enticing Ebo Whyte’s plays are. They have a heavy dose of laughter. But there are also very sober and reflective moments. You will laugh and cry. Above all, you leave the National Theatre with the same mood you carry after reading Ngugi Wa Thiongo’s novels. You often have a lot to think about. A lot to learn. And a lot to reflect about your own life.

Roverman’s plays are good for married couples as they are for those preparing to settle. They teach enormous lessons about career, relationship with fellow workers, decision making and choices.

Uncle Ebo Whyte plays back your mistakes to you and suggests what you can do going forward.

There’s never a good narrator who can narrate Ebo Whyte’s plays to your satisfaction. They are better seen than heard. And they are better seen with others than alone. If you go with your partner, husband or wife, parent or child, you will leave the National Theatre and apply the lessons in your relationship.

Uncle Ebo Whyte is one of God’s greatest gifts to this nation. He is shaping minds and transforming this generation in his own unique way. Such rare gems need our support. And this support is to patronize his works. They don’t need our tributes when they lie still and cold after a life well-lived. You can be part of that life now. And your own life will be better.

I hope to see you this weekend for his latest play: Bananas and Groundnuts!

Source: MANASSEH Awuni


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