Dr. ‘Niyi Coker Jr., Professor-Director-Episode #294

May 7, 2024 | 2 comments

“It’s not how much money you have. It’s not what you’ve accomplished. It’s not the failures. Your character is everything. Everybody’s got a window of time when you’re relevant, and then your time ends and you’re out of there and making sure that that character and that integrity are not violated.”
~Dr. ‘Niyi Coker Jr.

Dr. ‘Niyi Coker, Jr., is a Professor and the Director of the School of Theatre, Television, and Film (TTF) at San Diego State University in California, which is ranked by the Hollywood Reporter as a top 10 Film production program.

‘Niyi has served as Visiting Artistic Director to several theatre companies including: K3 at Malmo Hogskola in Sweden, the National Theatre of Nigeria and The Black Box Theatre in Bermuda.   He’s also the founding Artistic Director of the African Arts Ensemble in New York City.

‘Niyi’s plays include: Ouray, written in collaboration with the Southern Ute Tribal Council. Commissioned and sponsored by the British Council, it toured England. And also Preemptive, a drama about Islamophobia, initially developed at the Indiana University Playwrights lab and staged at London’s West End Shaw Theatre.

‘Niyi’s Off-Broadway writing and directing credits, include, Booth! a musical on the reflections of Edwin Booth after the assassination of Lincoln (written in collaboration with Barbara Harbach & Jonathan Yordy); Miriam Makeba-Mama Africa–the musical,” about the struggles of the anti-apartheid singer and civil rights advocate.

‘Niyi’s also made features and documentary films, including Black Studies USA, and Pennies for the Boatman. His most recent documentary Ota Benga – Human at the Zoo, is the true story of an African kidnapped from the continent and put on display at the Bronx Zoo.

‘Niyi is the Founding Director of the Africa World Documentary Film Festival which is in its 14th season.  The festival screens in numerous countries worldwide.

He’s the author of 2 books, The Music and Social Criticism of African Musician Fela Kuti, and Ola Rotimi’s African Theatre: The Development of an Indigenous Aesthetic. Further, ‘Niyi has contributed numerous chapters and articles to books, journals and magazines.

‘Niyi’s a full member of the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, and he’s also a recipient of the Kennedy Center Merit Award in Directing.




Read the Podcast Transcript

Steve Cuden: On today’s StoryBeat: 

‘Niyi Coker: What matters the most is your character. It’s not how much money you have. It’s not what you’ve accomplished. It’s not what you’re going to accomplish. It’s not the failures. It’s your character. Your character is everything. Everybody’s got a window of time when you’re relevant, and then your time ends and you’re out of there and making sure that that character and that integrity are not violated, compromised. I mean, you should always be compromising. But don’t get compromised. 

Announcer: This is StoryBeat with Steve Cuden, a podcast for the creative mind. StoryBeat explores how masters of creativity develop. And produce brilliant works that people everywhere love and admire. So join us as we discover how talented creators find success in the worlds. Of imagination and entertainment. Here now is your host, Steve Cuden 

Steve Cuden: Thanks for joining us on Storybeat. We’re coming to you from the Steel City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today, Doctor ‘Niyi Coker Junior, is a professor and the director of the School of Theatre, Television and Film at San Diego State University in California, which is ranked by the Hollywood Reporter as a top ten film production program. ‘Niyi has served as visiting artistic director to several theater companies, including K Three at Malmo, Hogskola in Sweden, the National Theatre of Nigeria, the Black Box Theater in Bermuda, and he’s also the founding artistic director of the African Arts Ensemble in New York City. Niyi’s plays include Oure, written in collaboration with the Southern Ute Tribal Council. Commissioned and sponsored by the British Council. It toured England and also preemptived a drama about Islamophobia initially developed at the Indiana University Playwrights Lab and staged at London’s West End Shaw Theater. ‘Niyi off Broadway writing and directing credits include Booth, a musical on the reflections of Edwin Booth after the assassination of Lincoln, written in collaboration with Barbara Harbach and Jonathan Yordy Miriam Makeba-Mama Africa, the musical about the struggles of the anti apartheid singer and civil rights advocate. ‘Niyi also made features and documentary films, including Black Studies USA and pennies for the Boatman. His most recent documentary, Ota Benga – Human at the Zoo, is the true story of an African kidnapped from the continent and put on display at the Bronx Zoo. ‘Niyi is the founding director of the Africa World Documentary Film Festival, which is in its 14th season. The festival screens in numerous countries worldwide. He’s the author of two books, the music and social criticism of african musician Fela Kuti and Ola Rotimi’s african the development of an indigenous aesthetic. Further, ‘Niyi has contributed numerous chapters and articles to books, journals, and magazines. ‘Niyi is a full member of the Society for Stage Directors and Choreographers, and he’s also a recipient of the Kennedy Center Merit Award in directing. So, for all those reasons and many more, it’s a truly great privilege for me to welcome the visionary writer, director, and educator, the terrifically multitalented Doctor ‘Niyi Coker Junior to StoryBeat today. ‘Niyi welcome to the show. 

‘Niyi Coker: Hey, thank you so much. Thank you for having me. Thank you so much. I’m, glad this finally is happening. Steve, thank you. I’m very honored indeed. 

Steve Cuden: Indeed. The honor is all mine. Trust me on that. So, let me ask you, do you think of yourself with all of these skills that you have and all this talent that you have, do you think of yourself primarily as one thing or another, as a writer or a director or a choreographer or educator or some combination of all of those? 

‘Niyi Coker: Combination of all of it? Actually, the truth is a combination of all of it, because the combination is a good one for me in the sense that it lends to more empathy when you find yourself working on one side or the other. As a. Director, you know what the actor is going through, you know what the producers are going through, you as an actor, you know what the director is going through, what the designers through. As, ah, an educator, you know what the students are going through. And when you have them work on their production. So all of it. 

Steve Cuden: So you’re able to relate to all those different perspectives, and it’s many different hats. Do you have to put on different hats and think differently as you’re doing each of those things, or are they somehow all interweaved? 

‘Niyi Coker: I think they’re interwoven. They all very much interwoven. I just believe it’s the level of execution with each of them as, ah, a director, of course, you know, you have to bring the team together. 

Steve Cuden: Sure. 

‘Niyi Coker: It’s got team spirit. It’s not, an eye. It’s all of us, you know? And you got to make everybody feel like it’s their own project. It’s not just you alone and your ego. Check your ego out there. 

Steve Cuden: You know, I think you’re among the fairly rarest of the rare. You have all of those skill sets, and you’ve been achieving success at all of them. But my question for you right now is, you’re the artistic director of the, university division, like the school of theater, television and film at SDSU. How does one rise to become that? 

‘Niyi Coker: I don’t think it’s that you plan to rise. I mean, you certainly have your eye on a prize like that. But in my case, I just found I focused on my work and things happened as I focused on my work. And, I got better at certain things. I got better at, I hate to say this, administrative skills. 

Steve Cuden: That’s what being in school is all about. You gotta have the administrative skills. 

‘Niyi Coker: I got better at administrative skills. 

Steve Cuden: And you probably got really good at meetings. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, yeah, I got good at meetings and learned to behave myself and not, you know, scream, hey, this is madness. What. What are we doing? What are we talking about? You know, you kind of begin to understand that there is, a process that’s very slow and, you know, which you would not have understood if you hadn’t grown through that process. If you were jumping in straight from, say, you know, working as artistic director of a theatre and you got jumped straight into an administrative position at the university. It’s not going to work. 

Steve Cuden: You’d go crazy at first. 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, no. Yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s not going to work. 

Steve Cuden: Because like you said, I think you said the key word in there, that most everything at university level is slow. 

‘Niyi Coker: Slow, very slow. And you’d be surprised because you think, oh, it’s a university, so it’s got to be pretty advanced and contemporary. And, you know, people, are free thinkers. And I think that’s probably the problem there. Everybody’s got a PhD mostly, and everyone’s smarter than the other, and everybody’s conferencing everything to the very end, to the very last detail and, you know, minutiae. 

Steve Cuden: So as you were rising up through there, was there anyone that you looked up to or studied or really paid attention to as this is someone you admired and wanted to emulate in some way? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, yeah. Actually, I would say there were several. I would say the first one would be Ola Rotimi. 

Steve Cuden: Ola Rotimi, yes. 

‘Niyi Coker: Who’s my. Happened also to be my maternal uncle. And he was at a university and he was, directing a theater company. And he eventually became a dean, you know, and he never really sacrificed his art, even while he was doing the, you know, nine to five dean Japan. I mean, he comes straight to rehearsals and I said, wow, that’s, you know, and, the other one, I would say, is Wole Soyinka who, you know, was also, you know, who won the Nobel Prize and was also my instructor and my mentor in college. 

Steve Cuden: Aren’t you lucky? That was very lucky. 

‘Niyi Coker: Very lucky. And, ah, you know, we’re still in contact. Today turns 90 this year. Wow. So that’s another person who basically had look, at who was also chair of the department, but while he was chair of the department, he was turning out plays and always in production and, you know, was at the same time running school, you know. So, yeah, there are people like that that I look on. And, then when eventually I started working at. Got out of grad school and got into the university, there’s maleficadia, Santi, who was my doctoral dissertation supervisor, and, you know, his chair, at Temple University, where I received a PhD, who to date has. He just turned 80 today. He’s written 102 books. 

Steve Cuden: 102 books? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, 102 books. He went to UCLA. 

Steve Cuden: That’s amazing. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. So, I mean, this, this guy writes like two books a year. A book a year. And, you know, and I mean, I’m, talking about books. I mean, single author, you know, he does very little creative writing, but he does because he’s just written his autobiography, but he’s a social thinker. His area was communication. Started a whole new field in african american studies. Became the first person to see, you know, in terms of education in the United States. What can we do to make it better and make a better society? there is this big elephant in the room that nobody in the USA wants to address, which is the issue of race, which has been here and is going to continue to be with us for a long time. If we don’t find a way to educate people so that that becomes something where we get better in criminal, mentally, as a people. 

Steve Cuden: What do you think we need to do to make that happen? 

‘Niyi Coker: I think education. Education because teachers can’t teach what they don’t know. And when young kids come into kindergarten and first grade and second grade, and what they read is where their perception comes from. The kind of knowledge they receive is what they take with them. And if it’s not in the books, if it’s not something that they were taught to pay attention to, I don’t think as, ah, a society we would heal. That is something that hangs over each generation as time goes on. And it’s, something that’s got to, I think for a society to move on, I mean, destruction comes from within, not from without. So if we’re all still, after, what, 500 years, still strangers to ourselves, which is the truth, this is a society where everybody’s, every group is a stranger to the other. I pluribus is out of many come one. Indeed, you know, those who kind of formulated that, you know, this would be a nation where out of many would come one. I think they understood that that would be a herculine challenge. And, I mean, that experiment, which is occurring in this only one place in the world, no other country has declared that, well, maybe South Africa to a degree, but the US’s experiment is a very unique one, and it’s one that should be taken very seriously, because it ultimately would determine the future of humanity, for sure. 

Steve Cuden: And it is a generational thing. It gets passed along, passed down and down. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, very much so. Gets passed down from one to the next. And I think at this point, there’s certain things we really shouldn’t even be discussing in terms of the way we interact or what is. I mean, we’re about to have an election now, and, you know, I mean, race is already a factor in it. 

Steve Cuden: Race, unfortunately, has been a factor for a long time. It’s just a lot louder right now. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, it’s a lot louder. And also because, I mean, we’ve got the. Everybody’s got access to a cell phone, Instagram, Facebook, you know, so I think for that, thankfully, we get to see much more, or maybe tragically, we get to see much more and hear much more shocking and shocking events by the day. 

Steve Cuden: Is this the reason why you focus in your artistic work, in your writing work, and your directing work on socially relevant topics? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, I think I kind of went to a school where the teaching and the thinking was never art. For art, say, your art had to be doing something socially conscious, politically conscious, economically conscious. Your art had to be doing something that raised humanity such that your art was bigger than you, such that once you were done with the art, you had made humanity a better place. You leave it a better place, leave. 

Steve Cuden: It better than you found it. 

‘Niyi Coker: Because ultimately, you know what? We never here permanently. We come, and the same way we come, we go, the world goes on. And I think the only one thing we could do is that we’ve left a better legacy, we’ve made it better, you know, and we could be satisfied wherever we are if we consciously spirit or unconsciously spirit, or even just dead. And there’s no other form of existence. 

Steve Cuden: So, for you, how does art do that? 

‘Niyi Coker: Art does that in the message, the topics you pick, the messaging you put out in your art, the subject matters you focus on. I mean, that’s not to say you don’t entertain while you educate, but in a lot of ways, you have a responsibility as an artist. You have a gift that you take for granted. Because I’m always shocked when I talk to my friends in engineering or medicine, and they don’t have any sense of imagination. When they say, well, where did that come from? How did you think of that, man? How are you putting this together? So then you start to understand that it’s not every, everybody’s endowed with this gift that a group of you have. 

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s for sure. Our artists are unique on this planet. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. 

Steve Cuden: And we do have a responsibility. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, we do. A major one. That’s why we have this gift. 

Steve Cuden: And you have the ability to work in various art forms, sort of all within one big umbrella called entertainment, I guess, or you’re dealing with theater and movies and so on. Do you think of theater as the primary focus that you have in your life, or is it everything? 

‘Niyi Coker: I would say everything. In terms of the realization. Theater is a foundation. It’s the foundation. 

Steve Cuden: The great foundation. 

‘Niyi Coker: Great foundation. And there’s one thing somebody mentioned at a conference I went to in China, and it was an AI conference. And we’re looking at how AI and technology was, you know, and your volume stages and all that. And he was a much older man, and he said, you know, no matter what happens with technology, with AI, since there’s one thing we’re always going to come back to, and that is human beings wanting to sit down and watch other human beings, like, oh, yeah. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, big, big time. 

‘Niyi Coker: You know, said it will get to a point where, yeah, we have all this technology and AI and all, and people are watching animation and all that, and, you know, but he said there’s one thing which is the always, no matter how many movie theaters you go to and how many tvs you’re watching or how much you’re watching on your ipod or iPhone, there would always be a special place where you could always go sit down and watch other human beings. 

Steve Cuden: It’s the campfire. We have to go back to the campfire and sit around it and look at each other in the eye. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. So you’re right in the sense that for me, that’s always the basic foundation. So whether I’m going into documentary to talk about something, on a documentary level, I still need to see characters. I need to understand the structure, the plot motif, the narrative, and you know the term in theater we use, well, you write a deus ex machine, you. 

Steve Cuden: Know, deus ex machina. Sure. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. You know, so even while you’re working on a documentary, you might come back and go, wait a minute now, this documentary looks. This sounds like a deus ex machine. Maybe. Come on now, how did you come to that conclusion? You know, how did you you didn’t do a thorough analysis to arrive there for your audience. You just did a quick job and then just try to wrap it up quickly, you know? 

Steve Cuden: So for the listeners who don’t know, deus ex machina is an old greek term that means machine from the gods. In the old plays, they used to just at the end of the play, some character would drop down from the heavens using a block and fall system, and they would tell you how everything resolved. We can’t tolerate that today. It has to resolve within the story, right? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, yes. It has to resolve within the story. 

Steve Cuden: That’s too simple. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, I guess I laugh because I’m thinking. I’m looking at all the, I’m thinking about, you know, all the wars in the world today. You know, whether it’s Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Palestine, China, Taiwan. And I’m thinking, man, that Duke’s ex machina would have been probably a very good thing to end it. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, that would be excellent. 

‘Niyi Coker: Wrap it up. 

Steve Cuden: We’re not likely to see that anytime soon. 

‘Niyi Coker: Wrap it up. You know, come on, guys. Wrap it up. Let’s stop this. You know? 

Steve Cuden: So when you’re writing, because you’re a relatively prolific writer, do you prefer to write plays, screenplays, books? Do you have a preference? Articles? 

‘Niyi Coker: No, actually, no. It depends on how I see it. If I see it on stage, then. I mean, if it plays out in my head as a stage thing, then it’s stage eight. If it plays out in my head as, No, you can’t do this on stage. This has to be documentary. Because, for the reasons of getting into the audience or audience consumption is better on stage, on this, on, you know, on screen, on this. And you would need a lot of whatever it is. Maybe b roll. Because you can’t perform b roll on stage, and it’s too confusing. And what you dig in for is you digging, looking at evidence and facts and, you know, so it all depends on how it plays sometimes it could be just a pure, you know, fictional writing narrative. Just write the story first and then see, you know, if ultimately this could be a feature or you. It would lend itself to even being a, historical staging of something. 

Steve Cuden: I tend to think of the theater as we’re seeing the actual size of the human, the full body of the human. And we’re seeing, usually a narrowly focused concept or idea. And I think of movies as two things. It’s wide open spaces, which we can do. And then really close up shots of, faces and eyes. 

‘Niyi Coker: You’re correct. I mean, in terms of movies, what I. You say that, and I always think in my head, as filmmakers were plastic surgeons, and pending an image, basically, you’re deciding where you want your close ups, where you want your camera to go. Basically, where you want your camera to go is with what you want the audience to see on stage. You don’t have that choice. 

Steve Cuden: You have no control over where the audience is looking. 

‘Niyi Coker: No control. And I say that to everybody else. Yes, we’re working through the show, said, listen, this is stage. You might be yelling there with a knife, trying to run down something, and the audience is looking at your refrigerator on stage, wondering, how does that refrigerator place in terms of space and age? So, basically, the audience is free to just look anywhere at any time. 

Steve Cuden: We do have some tricks, but not like the movie camera does. We can take and just put a single light on a certain spot, and it’s the only thing you can see. We can do that kind of focus, and we can do loud noises in a place on stage, and people will look at that or listen to that. But a movie, it’s really very much what the director wants you to see and hear. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, that’s. That’s it. 

Steve Cuden: So I’m wondering, how many languages do you speak? 

‘Niyi Coker: about four of them. 

Steve Cuden: Four? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. 

Steve Cuden: Okay. And when you write, are you writing in your native language, or are you writing in English? What do you write in? 

‘Niyi Coker: You know, I grew up in a country, and a time when. And I’m answering that to answer this, and which is still the case, was a british colony. It was owned by the queen of, the king of England. And in those colonies, this is one of the colonies in West Africa, in Nigeria. 

Steve Cuden: Nigeria, yeah. 

‘Niyi Coker: A british colony. In the british colonies, you are forced to speak English. English becomes the lingua franga. As you go through public school or private school, you’re forbidden from speaking the indigenous language. 

Steve Cuden: Forbidden from it? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. You could earn a suspension. 

Steve Cuden: Wow. I didn’t know that. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. You could earn a suspension for what they call speaking vernacular. 

Steve Cuden: Well, that’s not right. 

‘Niyi Coker: So, hey, that was the way colonization works. Because you come in and you take a territory. In 1880, 618 87, it’s a british country now, a french country. and it’s right next to a british country. The national language becomes English. If it’s owned by the British, the national language is French. If it’s owned by the French, the national language is, Spanish. If it was. If it’s a Spanish owned colony, national language. Portuguese. The Portuguese got there. there’s actually two countries where the national language was German because the Germans owned the colony was Togo and Cameroon. No, three, Togo, Cameroon and Tanzania. Okay? Now, at the end of what you call, or middle of what you call World War two, european war two, to punish the Germans, the Europeans came together and. And took the german colonies in Africa. Togo they gave to the French. Tanzania, they gave to the British. Now, there’s one more colony left. It’s called Cameroon. So that there was no misunderstanding among them, they split Cameroon into two. The British took half, the French took half. So Cameroon is the only country today on the continent of Africa where French and English are both the lingua franca, the national languages. 

Steve Cuden: Interesting. 

‘Niyi Coker: Just like Canada, where you are French and English. So Cameroon, as a consequence of that war, becomes the only colony in Africa that two languages are spoken. So, again, in the partition of Africa, where a lot of the indigenous language was forbidden, you had to go to school reading English. And you read a. And a for apple, even though the kind of apples in the books do not grow in tropical countries. Isn’t that something? You open the book, it says, a for apple. Here you are in kindergarten. A for apple. And you look at this. 

Steve Cuden: What’s an apple? 

‘Niyi Coker: You know, we don’t. We don’t have that in the troubles. First, letter you learn, and the first illustration that goes with the letter is foreign to you already. 

Steve Cuden: That must present real challenges as a kid. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, well, as a kid, you don’t think about that. You just go with it. 

Steve Cuden: That’s true. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. You just go with it. You don’t know any better. Right? 

Steve Cuden: You soak all that up as a kid. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. You soak it up and you. And you say, okay, all right, English becomes a language I talk in. And. And your parents work very hard not to speak the indigenous language around you or to you, because they don’t want you to go use it in school and then earn a suspension or something for penalization for them brought in because you spoke vernacular. 

Steve Cuden: So you write in English then? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. 

Steve Cuden: Do you then translate your own work into other languages? 

‘Niyi Coker: No. because. 

Steve Cuden: Leave it in English. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, leave it in English in many ways. because in the other languages, even though you speak it, you’re not as. You don’t know how to write it as well as you were forced or made, because all your exams. Don’t forget me. All your exams are written in English. All the signs on the streets are in English. Well. 

Steve Cuden: And you’re forbidden to use the other languages you can. 

‘Niyi Coker: And there was a point where you couldn’t even wear traditional clothing to school. I mean, well, you had, we had uniforms, but if there was a school event and you had to come in regular, clothing, you couldn’t put on anything traditional. Pretty much. I think this is why I relate a lot with the native american plight, because actually it’s in Pennsylvania. Is it the Phillips Academy? PhillIps Academy, yeah, I mean, which was basically what happened. There was a lot of native, indigenous children were sent there to be educated and, stripped of their indigenous names, basically, and had to learn in English and couldn’t speak because they were mixed with other kids from different ethnic or indigenous groups. English became the lingua franca, the currency, and they were kind of distanced from their own cultural heritage. And again, I mean, I was on the southern ute land with, southern youth folks in Ignacio and writing a play there with the southern youth. It was shocking that they were only two older youth members that spoke the language. 

Steve Cuden: Only two. 

‘Niyi Coker: Only two. And so they started up. 

Steve Cuden: What did they speak? Mostly English. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, English. English. That’s all they spoke. And, I recall, you know, the ethnic indigenous medicine man of wisdom on that southern youth indigenous, land was a man named Eddie Bucks, may his soul rest in peace. I got a lot of the oratory, orator and oral history from m him as I was writing. And I mean, there were books that had been written by, you know, some american explorers, etcetera, about southern youth people. But other than reading that western canon writing or perspective, I needed to hear from somebody who lived that life and, ah, whose culture was and who got removed to that academy and who actually served in the navy, the US Navy, and, came back from the navy and decided he didn’t belong and needed to kind of go back to the reservation where he was taken from, basically. And that thirst made him start to learn the language from the elders at the time, and a lot of people wouldn’t affiliate with him. And, you know, why you want to learn that stuff? You know, we’re all speaking English. Why do you want to, go so deep into the traditions? You know, I mean, it’s forbidden. 

Steve Cuden: It’s deep in their, their blood. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. You know, so, but again, but that was the effect of colonization, where they were told everything indigenous was wrong and everything western was correct. And so they, you know, so it’s the same thing with colonization on the continent is you, you remove from your culture right on your land and made to think and talk and write. So, you know, you know, the indigenous language, but you can’t really write it. 

Steve Cuden: So tell us what oure is about. 

‘Niyi Coker: When I got to Colorado, one of the things I was yearning for badly in Colorado was here. I was coming from New York was to find the native peoples and talk with native, indigenous peoples. And so I really looked forward to that. And, and then I realized that in the department of theatre where I was, they had never done a native american play. Never done an indigenous play, you know, and I thought, well, this university has been here since 18 watts. This is 19, 91, 92. You guys have never done an indigenous play? Well, they said, well, because we can’t find one. And so, I said, would it be okay then if I started to do research on writing one, you know, and they said, well, yeah, knock yourself out, which is good. 

Steve Cuden: They’re not likely to get in your way if you go on and go write it. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, you know, I mean, so long as you don’t miss teaching your classes, you know, and, exactly coming to meetings and all that. So. So, you know, checking around town, I’m looking at Colorado history. You know, Colorado, like all places, was indigenous peoples. And they got moved from Denver and that whole area and got moved to a quarter of the state. And, then they found out that the quarter of the state they had moved them to had actually a lot of minerals, more minerals than you could find. And then. But more gold must stop. So they moved them away from there again and moved them to a corner, the four corners of Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and, Utah. They move him to the corner there and it’s a town called Ignacio. The person who was leading this was a guy named Hooray. O u r a y. I drove down the 8 hours from Denver to the rez, and I first I got a lot of permissions from people to, you know, please talk and allow me to come on. And I had a good meeting, and I, convinced, the leaders, the elders that, you know, we needed to write a play to commemorate re and the struggles of the youths at the time, because there was no such thing. And I’m in a theater department and I want to see done. And, you know, of course there was the distrust of an outsider and, you know, but allow me to work with Eddie Bucks, chief Eddie Box, and him spending a lot of time with him. And he interrogated me and asking me a lot of questions and gauged my level of understanding was similar. And I’ve been through the same kind of experiences. 

Steve Cuden: you had a parallel experience in a very different culture, different culture. 

‘Niyi Coker: And we had similar practices in some ways. Of, you know, traditional healing and that kind of stuff. And, that’s where the journey began, basically. And we wrote. Well, I wrote based on a lot of narratives that I received, oral history and combination of works, things that I read. And we created the play. And I, you know, insisted that I didn’t want the copyright. I wanted. It would be important that the southern youth council keep the copyright. 

Steve Cuden: That’s really generous of you. 

‘Niyi Coker: Well, you know, to me was this whole idea of ownership is. It’s really very western and individualistic. And I understood basically that this is their story. And even though in writing it, it had to be Nicoka in association with the Southern Youth Tribal Council, even though I dislike that word tribe, I assume. 

Steve Cuden: That that made them trust you even further. 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Because I said I would never, ever attempt to. It’s their story. If I want to do it, I would come ask permission from them. And so they. One of the other things that they did was translate the script into the youth language, which I’m very happy they did. A guy named Lee Briggs, may his soul rest in peace, let that charge for. You know, they have a. A, small library on the reservation now, educational center, you know. So he led that, and I’m really glad, you know, that, because he wanted that story preserved in the language and thought, were you able to see. 

Steve Cuden: It produced in the Ute language? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. Or part of our production, basically, we, you know, it wasn’t all in English. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. We reverted to some productions, like, you know, those that were done on the reservation were done in ute. 

Steve Cuden: Did you direct it as well? 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, yeah. Well, you know, the directing was done in. Yes, I directed it in English. And so the translations. The actors worked on the translations and followed the same stage direction, but now they were speaking it in, you and, you know. And it helped that, you know, a lot of the songs were already native, indigenous songs, you know, so where the songs would come in and the dialogue, I learned a lot from that because you could see that when they did it in English, some of the issues as a director that you’d have with actors where you’d say, no, no, I want you to internalize that. You know, somebody just says the first one character says something to you, you don’t just react. You internalize what the person just said. And that internalization produces the reaction spontaneously in your acting, you know, otherwise your audience isn’t going to believe it. The audience is there as a weakness, and they’re watching, and they need to see, you internalize something. I tell you what happened. When it was done in youth, I didn’t have to give that note. 

Steve Cuden: Really? Why? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, because it was being done in a, language that was theirs, that they were now learning and they had the understanding much quicker. And so when you’re speaking a language now, that’s yours. And first your reaction, your internalization is real because those words mean something to you. Those words that you’re hearing or those words that are being said mean something to you. 

Steve Cuden: So it doesn’t feel like they’re actually interpreting anything. It feels real? yes, because most acting is an interpretation of something. 

‘Niyi Coker: Precisely. 

Steve Cuden: And what would you say were the biggest challenges that you faced? Not only in writing it, but then in staging it as well. What were those challenges and how did you overcome those? 

‘Niyi Coker: I would say the challenges became financing. 

Steve Cuden: Yeah, it always boils down to money, doesn’t it? 

‘Niyi Coker: The challenges became financing. Financing in the sense that the group came up from Ignacio to Denver and I had received a series of grants from the university, some from an organization outside, some from a place called the Chinook Fund, you know, and the reality of that, the funding was not sustained, but that we were running out. And you know. 

Steve Cuden: You know what that sounds like to me? That sounds like theater to me. There’s no money. There’s never any money. 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, it’d be, it’d be real theater if, the actors got wind of that. Guess what? Just keep going, man. At the end of the week, we’re not sure where the checks gonna come from, but just keep. 

Steve Cuden: I mean, that is so right in the pocket of what we go through every day in Hollywood, in the theater, on Broadway, there’s never enough money one way or another. 

‘Niyi Coker: Not for the right thing. 

Steve Cuden: Even, even your $100 million budgeted movies, there’s never enough money. 

‘Niyi Coker: $100 million, trust me, for me, that is enough. 

Steve Cuden: That’s enough. Yeah, for me too. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, that’s enough. I mean, for 100 million, we could do 100 of them. 

Steve Cuden: So, okay, what do you enjoy about directing? What is it about directing that gives you joy? 

‘Niyi Coker: The collaboration, the fact that in that process you could encourage the best out of each of your artists, whether it’s your scene designer, your prop person, your costume person, your light designer, your lighting person, your sound mixers, the fact that you come through a journey with what, maybe 1012, 1415 people, depending on how large your cast is. And at the beginning, you probably all didn’t like each other, right? Ah, there were some strange, you know, interpersonal things going on. And. But you all collectively come together and this is the mission. And then opening night comes and everybody loves everybody, and everybody’s wishing everybody the very best. And finally it opens. And that closing night is always a downer, but is an opera in the sense that the cast puts forth his best foot. Solid, solid production. I mean, not that they did. They didn’t for the rest, but they realized that we’re no longer a family after this unit and bond of meeting every night and every day and is about to end. 

Steve Cuden: Yeah, it’s a little tiny family that’s forced on one another that then splits up. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, splits up, but. But it’s a shared experience. It’s. There’s a magic about it. 

Steve Cuden: There’s a total magic about it. Especially, like you say, opening night. Because more often than not, at least, my experience has been, you’re not sure the day before you open whether you’re good enough to open, and somehow something magical happens and you open an opening night and all’s well. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, and all is well. And it’s just a magical experience in a bubble that you hold in your memory and when your audience refers to it. Oh, you know, five years ago, I saw the production of such and such thing and how that changed their lives or changed their son’s lives or daughter’s lives, or it spoke to them in some way. It helped them understand certain things. You can’t ask for a better gift. 

Steve Cuden: You really can’t. And frequently, at least in my experience, frequently even shows that were challenging. Difficult, full of blood, sweat and tears, as we say. Whatever that was, whatever you went through that was maybe very unpleasant or difficult years later, you look back on it fondly anyway. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, you do. You look not. 

Steve Cuden: And if you do, and if it works out that it’s beautiful, when you go to opening night, you look back on it even more fondly. 

‘Niyi Coker: I mean, very much so. I don’t think we can quantify it. 

Steve Cuden: You can’t quantify it. It’s pure emotion. It’s pure emotion. 

‘Niyi Coker: We’re so gifted and, fortunate to have that continuously. 

Steve Cuden: So how long were you at the directing game before you thought to yourself, you know what, I really am a pretty good director. Was it right or. Or did it take you a while? 

‘Niyi Coker: Actually, right from the bat? I’ve always had the natural instinct. I’ve always had the natural diplomatic, let’s do it together. Collectively? I would say it was probably after my work with the southern youths did. I feel I’m pretty good at this. I say that because certain things happened off the set. On the set. 

Steve Cuden: That’s when you started to feel like you were truly in command of that gift. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. Because again, they were. They became cultural clashes. Don’t forget, the technical crew are not indigenous people. The technical crew are the university of the university technical crew, mainly Euro Americans. You know, the box office people. The people run the theater, walk around the theater and people that they’re coming into a space that’s not indigenous and it’s off the reservation, so to speak. Right, sure. 

Steve Cuden: And in fact, as I understand it, the laws on the reservation are different from the standard state or us laws. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. And at that point is when you begin to see, you begin to see the clashes actualize. You begin to see that. 

Steve Cuden: Is it a cultural clash? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, cultural, very cultural. Because there’s a certain way you talk to people that are, Euro colleagues were being rude or anything. It was just cold and curt. You know, there was no need for what you might call an emotional courtesy or, you know, courteousness. 

Steve Cuden: You have a job to do and you’re doing your job. 

‘Niyi Coker: That’s it. And you know how most folks in tech would talk to you? 

Steve Cuden: Sure. 

‘Niyi Coker: Tell you what you should do and what you can’t do and the way it’s told. Yeah. And at that point, bringing folks to understand and have a rapport monger meeting of the mind, understanding that, you know, this has not just been a director, this has been culturally sensitive and helping each other. Now, as a director, you’re now helping navigate cultures and interpret cultures. 

Steve Cuden: Was it a, truly fulfilling experience for you? Like, really filled your soul up, didn’t it? 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, yes. Oh, that date. Oh, that date. 

Steve Cuden: So I have to ask you, we want to move along to other aspects of your career and certainly in terms of your skills and talents. I’m fascinated by this story of Ota Benga. Tell us about Ota Benga and this documentary you made. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, Ota Benga. I wouldn’t have believed in myself too, that you could take a human being and put him in the zoo. 

Steve Cuden: In the zoo. 

‘Niyi Coker: This is, you know, and lock him. Lock him up in the zoo and let him spend the night in the zoo with the chimpanzees and the orangutans. 

Steve Cuden: And, you know, this was an experiment somebody was trying to do. 

‘Niyi Coker: He was, ah, more than an experiment. It was, It went beyond experiment to, you know, this was the only place you could put him, you know, that’s unreal. And this is in the Bronx. 

Steve Cuden: In the Bronx, yeah. 

‘Niyi Coker: 1905. So in the Bronx zoo. 

Steve Cuden: Was he a slave? 

‘Niyi Coker: No. Well, you could say he was because he was captured. But then, don’t forget, slavery was outlawed in 18. 

Steve Cuden: When you say he was captured, was he captured because he was a criminal? 

‘Niyi Coker: no. Well, he was in the Congo, and the Congo was owned by Belgium. King Leopold owned the Congo as part of this arrangement with, you know, dividing up Africa and the british two part, the french two part. Now, while Leopold ran the Congo, first of all, it’s good to put out there that Leopold, in the partition of Africa, wanted five times the land of Belgium, okay, as his cut in Africa, then he could be the referee, you know, referee the others as to who would take one. And, you know, so that he got his own cut. And his cut was the Congo. That’s why it’s called the Belgian Congo. While the enslavement had ended, the Congo Belgium, don’t forget, had its own different rules and laws. They were not bringing Africans to the Congo. They were making them dig for metals and, damp. I mean, rubber. Rubber was the big thing back then. Rubber cars were being invented. Bicycles, you needed pneumatic tires. 

Steve Cuden: And they were tapping it out of the trees, right? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. Ah, they were tapping it out of the trees. And for those that didn’t tap enough, it was, you know, chopping off their hands and legs, you know. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, boy. 

‘Niyi Coker: At that point, Otabenga’s, village had been raided. And of course, the belgian army was in the Congo. And they’d raided his village and, massacred all the women and children and, you know, dragged them off into. To work on other plantations. And, you know, I mean, they just chatted people, you know, took them to go work on plantations. So there was a kind of slavery going on in the Congo. So Ora Benga attacked the false public, you know, when he got home, didn’t find his wife and kids, realized they’d been taken by the belgian force public. He went to the force public and attacked. And solitary attack, he got chained down and locked up. An american missionary named Werner was commissioned by the St. Louis Walls fair to go bring them, people from Africa. To go bring them, bring some people from Africa. Because the St. Louis Walls fair was actually the beginning of the field of anthropology. And a guy named McGee, Lewis McGee, doctor Louis McGee, in trying to start this field of anthropology at, ah, the St. Louis world’s fair, wanted different people from different ethnicities. Even Geronimo was actually there, too. 

Steve Cuden: Geronimo? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, Geronimo. Geronimo. Yeah, it was there as well. They brought in people from the egrets, they brought in, people from the Philippines, Malaysia, India, you know. So basically, the experiment was to rank humanity from its highest culmination to the lowest. So they wanted people at the park, at the fairs, you know, so that the anthropologists could study them all and determined that the highest people on the human spectrum are Caucasians. And then you go down Asians, and they were watching. They could watch him right there, you know, and the lowest would be the black people, and would be then the missing link between man and it. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, man. 

‘Niyi Coker: So Werner, basically, at the end. At the end of the fair, he was supposed to bring, I think, captured 25 or 30. He only brought back two or three. And, you know. So his mission failed, as far as they were concerned. He couldn’t buy enough or capture enough people to bring back. So at the end of it, he basically, you know, sold ota Benga, to the zoo in the Bronx, because the zoo. So the zoo will be paying him a certain amount of money, basically. Right. So he became an attraction at the zoo because 1905. I mean, Darwin had written the evolution of species. And the way people saw the book, the evolution of species, is that, you know, human beings as a result of evolution, not creation. Creationism is, you know, you go to church, you believe in God, you say Adam and Eve. It’s the Bible. Evolutionism is that we came from something, and evolution. And, you know, blah, blah, blah. And so for them to say, here is the missing link. Oh, and you could see him at the zoo with the chimpanzees and orangutan. That’s where the Bronx zoo, mate, has made its highest profit to date. 

Steve Cuden: That’s wild. 

‘Niyi Coker: And so basically, you know, he was at the zoo, and people, rather than go to church on Sunday, would go to the zoo, pay the fare, go to the zoo, see the wild man at the zoo, you know, was he. 

Steve Cuden: Billed as the missing link? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. Well, this is basically not him, but basically his race, his group. Don’t forget now, we’ve just come out of the civil war. Darwin, rice, evolution of species. There’s a debate in Congress as to, where do we put this? They’re no longer three quarters of a people. They’re free. Now, in the constitution, there were three quarters of a people, but now they’re going to be one. How can they be one person? Where do they. So this is the debate at the time. This is what the times were like. So there was this curiosity about, well, you know, because there was a time, actually, they did the casino de Paris, where they brought in black boxers from the USA. 

Steve Cuden: Right. 

‘Niyi Coker: And again, 19. Oh 919. Oh seven. But again, it’s, you know, looking at black bodies, basically, the inquisitiveness, look at. What’s the name who was put in a zoo in a cage just because of her backside, you know, lady Hotentoat, you know, Sarah Batman, it wasn’t until recently, I mean, now you have a lot of women now going to do the buttocks and, you know, but when she had nitro buttocks was botox. Botox, yeah, you know, pumping it in their backsides. Right, right. And, you know, but Sarah Batman had a natural backside. And so for that, she was, a species of inquiry. And they took her and put her in. Was it in Switzerland or in, They just returned her bones. 

Steve Cuden: They celebrated her because of her backside. 

‘Niyi Coker: That’s it. And not celebrated. Put her up as something to be watched, you know, to be gazed upon. 

Steve Cuden: Some strange anomaly. 

‘Niyi Coker: Anomaly, you know, which people pay to come to see. No. So. So it was the same with Doctor Benga. And so this is madness. Yeah, he’s the same. So that. That kind of interests me in telling that story because to me, was really extreme, you know? So eventually it was the pastors from churches that went to the mayor and said, you know, this man is not good for business. You got to get him out of here. It’s not good for church business. You know. 

Steve Cuden: What was the biggest surprise you found along the way? 

‘Niyi Coker: That till to date, we don’t know where he’s buried. 

Steve Cuden: Really? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. 

Steve Cuden: They hid the body. They did something with the body? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, very much so. And the end of the documentary, basically, is we did a search. We went every place. There were people who actually asked for his body. And when they said he committed suicide, I couldn’t prove it wasn’t suicide in the documentary, so I just told it as they said he committed suicide, would have gone to and killed himself. 

Steve Cuden: Is the documentary available anywhere? 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, yes, it’s available. You go on it, used to be on Amazon. I don’t. I will go back there and see if it’s on there. But. Oh, it’s actually on what you call it. It’s on. It’s on, YouTube now, actually. 

Steve Cuden: It’s on YouTube? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes, yes. Just go on YouTube and, you know, type in Otabenga human in the zoo. Knee coker. I know recently somebody tried to do something like that as well. But no, that would be a different one. Mine would be ota Benga human at the zoo with my name on it. 

Steve Cuden: I think that sounds both fascinating and horrifying all at the same time. 

‘Niyi Coker: And horrifying. Yeah. It’s only 1 hour documentary. It’s not, you know, and it took ten years to make, so. 

Steve Cuden: Ten years? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. 

Steve Cuden: And let me guess, the biggest challenge was money. 

‘Niyi Coker: No. Ironically, it wasn’t, because I had an endowed professorship in. 

Steve Cuden: Well, there you go. 

‘Niyi Coker: Ironically, wasn’t it? Was that the story just kept getting bigger. Each time I thought I was at the end, it got bigger. Can you imagine being told that Bernard’s grandson is alive. 

Steve Cuden: Wow. 

‘Niyi Coker: While you’re working on the documentary by accident, and that his grandson lives in South Carolina. Oh. And he might be willing to talk to you. And he has all his grandfather’s documents. His grandfather who went and kidnapped Doctor Benga. 

Steve Cuden: You suddenly opened up a whole new wealth of riches. 

‘Niyi Coker: Wealth of riches. And so the story changes, because now you could get his own. His own direct, you know, information on, you know, what his grandfather did and his perspective and what his grandfather’s last words were. And, you know, that changes the story, changes the complexity of the story. And you’re like, whoa, okay. You know, and while you’re working on it, then you. Here. Oh, by the way, do you know there’s a museum in Paris where they actually found some tapes, actual b roll tapes of that time? 

Steve Cuden: Tapes or film. 

‘Niyi Coker: Sorry, sorry, sorry. The film. They actually had film, right. Silent film, and that somebody had found it, and they were going to be projecting it in Paris at Maison prolet. So you want to see the film, too? 

Steve Cuden: Were you able to incorporate that into the movie? 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, sure. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So the things, as you work, things are happening, and then you hear, oh, by the way, there is a Darwin conference happening at Oxford about the evolution of the species, and so suddenly you’re like, pause, I gotta go to that Darwin conference. I gotta. It’s three months from now, four months from now, but I’m taking a camera. 

Steve Cuden: There, so the next thing you know, ten years goes by. 

‘Niyi Coker: Ten years goes by. And then while you’re cutting in the studio, you have the, The riots happening in St. Louis. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, my goodness. You know, I have to know. How long was he in the zoo, actually? In the zoo? 

‘Niyi Coker: He was in the zoo for two years. 

Steve Cuden: Two years? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah, about two years. 

Steve Cuden: Living with the other animals. 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, my. Wow, that is really horrifying. Did the. Did he become one with them? That he. 

‘Niyi Coker: I mean, he was friendly with them, but. And the funny part was that they paraded him in a white suit. 

Steve Cuden: In a white suit. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. Because that was. Because at that point, there was a lot of protests from certain people who were like, it’s wrong to put a man in a zoo. It’s wrong to put a man in a zoo. 

Steve Cuden: Well, it is wrong to put a man in a zoo. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. Well, so they put him in a white suit, said, all right, he’ll be the one in the zoo. 

Steve Cuden: But how did he. How did he survive without being harmed by, you know, some wild animal? 

‘Niyi Coker: The major photograph of him is there’s, if you google him, the prime photograph, which I couldn’t get, trademark four to use, was. Somebody else has used it, is him, carrying one of the apes. 

Steve Cuden: Really? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. With the ape, just, you know, cuddle around. 

Steve Cuden: So they actually bonded. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. 

Steve Cuden: And doesn’t that make sense? Otherwise, I think they probably would have killed him. 

‘Niyi Coker: Oh, yeah. He would have been dead. He would have been dead for sure. Yeah. Because, you know, the things, when they came in to throw. I mean, and this is in the documentary when they would come into feed, you know, and the New York Times reports it, people come to the zoo and they’re throwing things at the chimps and the monkeys and bananas and stuff. That’s the same way they’re throwing food at him. Right? 

Steve Cuden: Oh, boy. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yeah. 

Steve Cuden: My goodness. I will definitely check that out. And I think anybody that’s listening to this, you should check out this documentary as well. Ota Benga – banger. That’s just. That’s wrong. It’s not to be believed. 

‘Niyi Coker: it was so shocking to me. It was so. I couldn’t do it as a stage play. I’m like, no, that’s not a stage play. That’s not a musical. Ah, well, it’s a movie. To do a good movie, it would be a great movie, you know, to do in terms of, a narrative. 

Steve Cuden: You know what I have to tell you, I think it would make an incredible musical. 

‘Niyi Coker: Wow. 

Steve Cuden: It would make an incredible musical. 

‘Niyi Coker: I’d love to see that. Yeah. 

Steve Cuden: Very unique and very powerful. Could be done very powerfully. Well, I’ve been speaking for a little more than an hour now to just the most amazing person I’ve talked to in quite some time, Doctor ‘Niyi Coker Junior. And we’re going to wind the show down a little bit. And I’m wondering, in all of your many, many worldwide experiences, can you share with us a story that’s either weird, quirky, offbeat, or just plain funny? 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. yeah, let me share one. This one is an experience from my time at the University of Wyoming. This one is, I think, very appropriate as to why we have to take education seriously. And, you know, this whole thing about stuff on the curriculum is it’s not going to harm people. He was going to help people. I’ll tell you what that is. The University of Wyoming basketball team is known as what? The Cowboys. The cowboys. The University of Utah team is known as the Ute’s. Okay? So now you can imagine the kind of atmosphere, euphoria and that kind of place when University of Wyoming is going to play University of Utah in a basketball game. It’s going to be the cowboys versus the ute’s. The ute’s are native peoples. The cowboys. We know what happened with cowboys, and we’re the cowboys, basically, that we know. I mean, they’re black cowboys. We’re the cowboys. The image of the cowboy on tv. So at, halftime, students usually come with their mascot and they do all kinds of things to have time to entertain the crowd. And so a student who’s, one of the boosters or, supporters of the Wyoming cowboy team, walks into an american indian studies study area and says, hey, guys, how you all doing? Is it okay? Could you all get dressed up in your costumes and bring the kids with you and some ladies and all that, girls? And at halftime, me and my buddies will come in cowboy uniform, cowboy outfits, and shoot you all dead and drag you off the court. $20 each. It didn’t end well. but he repeated it two or three more times. 

Steve Cuden: Oh, my goodness. 

‘Niyi Coker: Let’s just say that student could have lost his life. I imagine that student, even after the matters were over, and I, you know, said, you know, and he came to thank me for interceding and helping him out and getting him out of the situation and, you know, physically, you know, helping him get out of there, he still didn’t understand what he’d done wrong. 

Steve Cuden: That doesn’t surprise me at all. 

‘Niyi Coker: And, his major was elementary education. Yes. So basically, it’s your education or miseducation could kill you. And I just could never stop thinking, man, even this guy took a loan to come to college. And, I mean, that was many years ago. That was 94, 95. 

Steve Cuden: So, so you’re all the way back to your early discussion about education and how important it is. 

‘Niyi Coker: Yes. And so for that part, I think ignorance is costly, too. And, basically, if he never learned anything through elementary school, junior high, high school, and now he was in college and majoring in elementary education, and that cultural historical aspect was totally didn’t mean anything to him. 

Steve Cuden: There was an example of something where ignorance was not bliss. 

‘Niyi Coker: No, it wasn’t bliss. It wasn’t bliss. 

Steve Cuden: Holy mackerel. So, all right, last question for you today, ‘Niyi You’ve given us a huge amount of stuff to chew on today, and really a lot of advice along the way about things we can think about and do and how we should look at the world. But I’m wondering, do you have a solid piece of advice or a tip that you like to give to either students or those coming up in the business, or maybe they’re in a little bit and trying to get to the next level? 

‘Niyi Coker: What matters the most is your character. It’s not how much money you have is not what you’ve accomplished. It’s not what you’re going to accomplish. It’s not the failures. It’s your character. Your character is everything your character is the most. I think that is what you have to come out with. That’s what you go in with. And the work would, always end. Everybody’s got a window of time when you’re relevant, and then your time ends and you’re out of there and, you know, and making sure that that character and that integrity are not violated, compromised. I mean, you should always be compromising, but don’t. Don’t get compromised. Yeah. That’s very important, your character. 

Steve Cuden: And that’s something you carry with you no matter where you are or what. What you’re doing. I think that’s extremely wise advice and not always well thought through by many people in and out of the arts about whether they’re presenting themselves with a good character. And I think that’s extremely wise advice. Doctor ‘Niyi Koker. This has been an absolutely marvelous hour plus on storyb today, and I can’t thank you enough for your time, your energy, and particularly for your fantastic stories and your wisdom. Thank you so much. 

‘Niyi Coker: Thank you, brother. Thank you so much. Thank you for having me. 

Steve Cuden: And so we’ve come to the end of today’s StoryBeat. If you liked this episode, won’t you please take a moment to give us a comment, rating, or review on whatever app or platform you’re listening to? Your support helps us bring more great StoryBeat episodes to you. StoryBeat is available on all major podcast apps and platforms, including Apple Podcasts, YouTube, Spotify, iHeartRadio, Tunein, and many others. Until next time, I’m Steve Cuden, and may all your stories be unforgettable. 


Executive Producer: Steve Cuden, Producer: Casey Georgi, Announcer: Javier Grajeda
Social Media: Mina Hoffman, Design & Marketing: Holly Reed, Reed Creative Group


  1. Myla Lichtman-Fields

    Highly original and enriching interview. Bravo Niyi and Bravo Steve! Another worthwhile edition to a superb series.Myla

    • Steve Cuden

      Thanks, as always, Myla, for your wonderful comments and support of StoryBeat!


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