Arts & Design

Theatre Arts Community in Nigeria Reacts as Nigerian Playwright, Wole Oguntokun Dies

It felt like a slow-burn movie. Sketchy details. Rumours. Prayers that the news turns false. This happened just because the theatre arts community in Nigeria and diaspora has been thrown into mourning following the announcement of the death of the Canada-based playwright, dramaturge, director and lawyer, Wole Oguntokun on March 26, 2024.

Oguntokun was the artistic director of Theatre Planet Studios and Renegade Theatre before his death. He was also a member of the board of Theatre, a Canadian theatre company.

Although the details of the cause of death were not disclosed, it was gathered from close sources that the deceased had been ill for some time.

In a statement signed by famous theatre director, Kenneth Uphopho for Jasonvision, Renegade Theatre and The Guild of Theatre Directors Nigeria, it was revealed that Oguntokun died in Canada where he had lived and worked in recent years.

“Laspapi, as he was fondly called, was an inspiration to many of us and his revolutionary contributions to the renaissance of theatre in Nigeria can never be overemphasised. Words can’t describe how much we’ll miss him,” the statement reads in part.

In her tribute to the memory of the playwright, Head of Arts and Lead on Creative Economy, British Council Nigeria, Brenda Uphopho wrote on her social media page: “You gave me an opportunity to start a second career in the arts. Thank you for that. See you on the other side, Laspapi.”

For Dare Dairo, Oguntokun’s death is “a rude shock.” Another Nigerian director, Joshua Ademola Alabi described the deceased as “a fine man.”

You touched my life in so many ways: friend, brother, teacher, mentor and leader. I cannot forget the moments we shared,” he stated on his Facebook wall.

Oguntokun held a Bachelor of Laws from the Obafemi Awolowo University, as well as Master of Laws (LL.M) and Master of Humanitarian and Refugee Studies degrees, from the University of Lagos.

He was dramaturg, culture consultant and dialect coach for the Stratford Festival’s 2022 production of Death and the King’s Horseman by Wole Soyinka. He was the Stratford Festival’s designated host for Soyinka in his July 2022 visit to the Festival’s Meighen Forum. He served as the dramaturg and played the lead role of Elesin Oba in Soulpepper Theatre / Stratford Festival’s Canadian production of Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman as a part of Soulpepper Around the World in 80 plays project in June 2021.

In February 2021, he won the Young-Howze award for Dramatic Writing of the year for his play The Emancipation of Yankee Oluwale, based on the trial of two English policemen in 1969 for the death of the Nigerian migrant David Oluwale.

Oguntokun was an official consultant to the British Council/Lagos and the crew of the Royal National Theatre in London for the purpose of that National Theatre’s production of Soyinka’s play Death and the King’s Horseman in April and May 2009.


He headed the writing team that adapted Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues for performance in Nigeria. The result was V Monologues-The Nigerian Story, which he directed in March 2008 at the National Arts Theatre, Terra Kulture, The Muson Centre, Onikan and at The Women’s Development Centre and the Shehu Musa Yar’Adua Centre, Abuja.

Oguntokun created the annual “Season of Soyinka” and directed A Season in the Congo by Aimé Césaire for the Lagos State Government / UNESCO-sponsored “Black Heritage Festival” in April 2010; his own play The Waiting Room in the same festival for the 2011 Black Heritage Festival, Marco Martinelli’s Moor Harlequin’s 22 Misfortunes for the 2012 edition of the festival and his play Oshodi Tapa for the 2013 edition. Oshodi Tapa thereafter became the selected opening play to celebrate Lagos State at 50 years. In the 2015 edition of the Black Heritage Festival, he was selected to present another of his plays, The Tarzan Monologues.

He was selected as part of a British Council-Theatre Directors’ Residency/Workshop in the United Kingdom in May 2011. In August 2011 and 2013, he was one of two Nigerians selected as British Council delegates to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. He selected a production, The Animals and Children took to the Streets by the British performing arts company, 1927, from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013 and the production was sponsored to Nigeria in November 2011.

He directed the Nigerian premiere of Ntozake Shange’s play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow Is Enuf at the Shell Hall, Muson Centre in Lagos, and on 15 June 2014, at the Eko Convention Centre – Eko Hotel and Suites in collaboration with Flytime Entertainment.

Oguntokun’s theatre company, Renegade Theatre,was one of five African theatre companies and the only West African company selected to be part of the Shakespeare Cultural Olympiad at the Globe Theatre (Globe to Globe Festival) in London in 2012. 37 international touring theatre companies presented each of Shakespeare’s 37 plays in a different language. Oguntokun directed The Winter’s Tale in Yoruba in 2012 at the Globe Theatre. In 2013, he directed his adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth at the Muson Centre, Lagos, setting it in the aftermath of the Nigerian Civil War.

He produced and directed his play The Waiting Room at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2013 making it the first Nigerian play to feature at the festival. In 2014, he returned to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as director and producer of the same Nigerian company (Renegade Theatre) with another production – The Tarzan Monologues at the Underbelly, Cowgate, from 31st July until 24th August. They were the first Nigerian plays presented at the world’s biggest arts festival.

Oguntokun independently produced and wrote the TV sit-coms namely Crossworld Blues on DBN TV (1999) and Living Free on MBI television (2002). He also produced the television show on current affairs The Cutting Edge, which ran on MBI in 2002. He was a producer and Head Writer on Season II of the Pan-African talk-show Moments with Mo and produced briefly on Season IV.

He was a member of the Governing Council of the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA).

Funeral details would be announced later.

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