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Taiwo Afolabi

Taiwo Afolobi wearing a suit jacket standing next to a book shelf.
  • Category: Emerging Alumni Award
  • UVic degree: Doctor of Philosophy in Applied Theatre, 2020       
  • Current hometown: Regina, SK                                 
  • Birthplace: Ile-Ife, Nigeria

About Taiwo

Taiwo Afolabi has dedicated his life to using theatre as a tool for social change. A prolific scholar and an applied theatre practitioner, he researches, teaches and creates participatory theatre as a means of community engagement to explore themes of education, migration, displacement, climate change, inclusion and diversity.

After graduating from UVic in 2020, Taiwo began his tenure-track position at the University of Regina’s Theatre Department where he is an assistant professor, holds the Canada Research Chair in Socially Engaged Theatre and is the founder and director of the Centre for Socially Engaged Theatre (C-SET).

His research interests lie in the areas of applied theatre and policing, social justice, decolonization, art leadership and management, migration and the ethics of conducting arts-based research. Taiwo is a senior research associate at the University of Johannesburg (South Africa) and the founding artistic director of Theatre Emissary International. His academic studies combined with lived experience of issues of race, equity and inclusion have made him a much sought-after speaker, writer, teacher and faculty member.

What's your favourite memory of being a UVic student?

I did this project with the Victoria Immigrant Refugee Centre Society, which I performed in 2017 at city hall. Dr. Anita Girvan, who was at the Centre for Global Studies at the time, came to see it and said, “We have to remount this show in the theatre at the university.” She went ahead and fundraised, and in less than 2 weeks, I remounted the show on campus. It was surreal. What makes that memorable for me is the cluster of people who cared. The individuals and the offices; the support network. It really made a difference.

How did your experiences at UVic shape you or contribute to future successes?

[UVic] gave me that opportunity to live my dream and explorations. As an artist, I work in the community creating works—theatre performances on important issues from refugees to policing and all that. But then when you don’t have a base, a place where they support you, it can be quite challenging. What UVic offered me during my doctoral studies was the space to nurture and grow my work and career.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have published a lot. I’ve done a lot of travelling. But the most important thing for me in all of those expressions is the connections that I’ve been able to make, the relationships I’ve been able to build and the opportunities I was able to engage with. Whether it’s in devising a play in the community, writing a paper or doing a workshop, it’s ultimately about the people I’ve been able to touch and who have touched my own life.

What skills or traits are needed to be good at what you do?

I know the world talks about hard skills and soft skills. I try to focus more on soft skills. A key skill set is knowing how to foster respectful relationships—not in a transactional sense, but in a sense of wanting the best for the other. It’s easier said than done. It’s a skill set and a value that we have to discipline ourselves to learn. I think we have what it takes to do it, but we have to deal with our inner self to say, “Hey, I want the best for these other persons.”

What’s your advice to a younger person uncertain about their future?

I would say uncertainty means that the future is there. We live in a world where we want to know everything. We’re not going to know everything. But the fact that it’s still in the making and not clear yet does not mean it’s not there or unattainable. It’s actually a signal that it’s there, and it’s great.

Do you have a mantra that you follow?

I have lots of them. This is one that I repeat to myself the most: mend hearts, don’t break a leg. Because in the theatre we say break a leg. I don’t believe in breaking a leg. I believe in mending hearts.

What's the last great thing you've read and or watched?

Apart from my Bible—each time I read it, it is great—I just saw a movie called A Knight’s Tale. It’s a very powerful film about a guy from a humble background who jousts. It’s a story of resilience.

What is something you do for yourself every day?

I try to sleep, which I’m not good at. I also remind myself to breathe. It’s simple, but for someone like me, I need to remind myself to breathe, especially when you have the inner drive to do so many things, to see many things change, I can forget to breathe.

What are you grateful for?

I didn’t make it on my own. [My success is] a product of sacrifices from my family, my wife, my parents, my brothers and my cohorts at UVic. Communities that I’ve worked with, that I’ve written about or have written about me, that have given me opportunities. Folks who have given me funding. I’m reminded every day of the investment of many.

About the Distinguished Alumni Awards

Nominations for the 2024 awards are open now through Oct. 13, 2023.