Why We Came Up With ‘The Mask Awards – Niyi Ogunsanwo

NIyi Ogunsanwo
NIyi Ogunsanwo

Why We Came Up With ‘The Mask Awards – Niyi Ogunsanwo


Niyi Ogunsanwo, a professional artiste with a determination to make things better; and make better things from an industry, where he invested his hard earned money because he fell in love with stage performance.

He didn’t stop there, he’s doing the industry great. He has worked with thespians of varying categories and has even obtained a second degree to show fit into the industry he has a great passion for.

In an interview with Wale Adegbuyi, Ogunsanwo opens up on the need for artistes to be appreciated, while they are alive and he resolved to do his best to add values to whatever he lays his hands on so that the world may be better for all. He also talked extensively on the value Mask Award will add to the stage, dance performers now and in the future.


Can we meet you?

My name is Niyi Ogunsanwo. Founder of The Mask Awards, CEO, The Mask Awards Productions Limited and CEO, Baneo Entertainment LLC. Atlanta GA. I was born and grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. I am married to my beautiful wife, Olawunmi Opanuga and we have a beautiful son together, Ireoluwakinye. After attending the University of Lagos I ventured into the Entertainment industry by producing and directing stage plays in Lagos and Abuja in the early 2000.

I had an opportunity to work with the likes of Stella Damasus, OC Ukeje, Lara Akindoju, Tunji Sotimirin,  Joke Silva and Richard Mofe-Damijo with the likes of other theatre producers.

I created an atmosphere in Lagos with constant stage productions, mainly at Muson Center.

We produced over 15 stage plays within four years before I relocated to the USA for further studies. While in the US, I obtained an MBA with specialization in Operations, from the Cleveland State University, and went on to get a second Masters in Entertainment from Fullsail University in Orlando, Florida.

“I want to be known as the pioneer that established the 3D standards of quality in the industry, where actors/actresses, crew members look back to their careers and reminiscence that if it wasn’t for the quality of work I did and I was recognized for, then my contribution to the industry is wasted”.

Did you study media arts or communications arts, or theatrical art and what motivated you into film making industry?

I didn’t study media arts or theatrical arts. However, from watching stage plays at the National Theater, Lagos, when it was still functional, had a lasting impression on my mind. Back in the days, when Citibank used to sponsor productions at the University of Lagos’ Main Auditorium. They were eye openers for me, especially living inside UNILAG, I had immediate access to such productions. While still studying in UNILAG, I became acquainted with a theater group called Theatre 15, and having watched them perform in some productions within the university premises, I became aware that there were few places, where the general public had the opportunity to watch these productions.

So we came into agreement that I would produce some of their works outside the school premises. That was how I started with “Amanda” in 2001 at Muson Center and I have never looked back. We worked together on almost six productions before I started working with one of the most talented writers in the industry, Tyrone Terrence. We worked together on about four or five of his productions as well. Actually, I am not in the film making industry, I am in the theatre industry with preferences for stage plays, musicals, and dance.

Now counting back from 2001, what has been your challenges till date and what would you call your milestones?

Major challenges have been getting venues and finances. On venue, back in those days, apart from Agip Recital hall, there was no modern venue that was stage-friendly. The main auditorium of UNILAG was not functional, National Theatre was thieves’ den, UNILAG Arts Theatre was used for lectures and was unobtainable, and there was no Terra Kulture back then. So, trying to find a convenient venue for world class productions was difficult. Finance was another major thing, at the time when the entertainment industry generally was not booming, the music industry was in disarray. Unlike now, there was no functional cinema so no movie premieres, what we had then were just home video CDs, there was no comedy industry, and the terrain was difficult. I was in computer consulting and every money made was directly invested in my productions and I had only experience to show for it. There was no corporate sponsorship for any of our 15 productions. None whatsoever. It was even difficult to get the corporate entities to purchase tickets for their staff. We had to make sales using our guerilla sales teams to push through. But we survived.  Till this very day there is still limited venues and there are a few corporate sponsorship in the Industry compared to the other sectors in the entertainment industry

Now, tell us about Mask Award and what motivated you into this ingenuity?

Over the years, there was never a platform, where professionals artistes are lauded and recognized for the work they put in. Having worked in the industry for over 20 years and with no platform whatsoever established to recognize the participants in the industry, as a pioneer of innovation within the industry we decided to launch The Mask Awards.

The Mask Awards is meant to encourage, recognize and appreciate all aspects of the theatre industry, from crew members to staff members and to performers.

We have about 39 competing categories in three main sub sectors; Plays, Musical/Dance and Alternate, where in Alternate you have categories for High School performances, University, State Government, Cultural productions, touring productions or street plays.. You have about 15 categories in Plays and 18 in Musicals/Dance, where you have the best actor, actress. We have supporting actor, supporting actress, best play, best musical/dance etc. There are also 3 non competing categories, for Lifetime Achievement Award, Support for Theatre Award, and Honor for Excellence Award the main website is www.maskawards.com

How do you intend to Marshall this, knowing fully well that the economy of the country is unfriendly at present?

We are currently working with the main theater organizations in the country.  We have being endorsed by NANTAP, SONTA, GOND, and SPAN, as well as the Lagos State Council of Arts and Culture.

We intend to use our experience and the media like you to get the word out there to let the people know that such awards exist and artistes should be ready to have their works assessed, judged and rewarded in the Mask Awards platform.

Will the event hold in Nigeria or US?

It will hold at the Muson Center, Onikan, Lagos Nigeria on 30th of November 2018 by 8pm. We have established a three-tier scoring system, where we have the administration committee to score the production as a whole. If a production is scored above 75%, such a production and its nominees will be voted by the Nominating Committee to choose 5 nominees per category. Thereafter the panel of judges, including the general public, would vote for the final winner in each category.

We have Mr. Austin Awulonu as the Head of Administrative Committee, Mr. Seyi Fasuyi as Head of the Nominating Committee and Professor Ahmed Yerima as Head of the Judges Panel.

What strategy is in place to get corporate sponsorship and governmental backing?

We are currently working with a of couple marketing and communications firms including Touchstone Limited to assist with branding and strategy and securing sponsorship for our events.

We are also working with the Lagos State Council For Arts and Culture to bring in some government backing and working with the National Council for Arts and Culture.

What do you have in mind on the project Masks Awards?

To make sure that artistes are recognized for the work they put out in each production. You encourage the industry to grow the industry and establish a standard for quality. To improve the value of winners by securing their place in history.

“I was in computer consulting and every money made was directly invested in my productions and I had only experience to show for it. There was no corporate sponsorship for any of our 15 productions”.

What would you want to be remembered for in the industry?

You know recently I was watching a documentary and it was about how we educate our children. So rather than ask them what you want to become in life why don’t you ask what you want to contribute to this world? So I stopped to ask myself that very same question. What do I want to contribute to this world? It finally made me realize that what I want to contribute to this world is Quality. I want to be known as the pioneer that established the 3D standards of quality in the industry, where actors/actresses, crew members look back to their careers and reminiscence that if it wasn’t for the quality of work I did and I was recognized for, then my contribution to the industry is wasted.

What is your advice to the up and coming generation?

Work hard; keep on dreaming and stay focused, your time will surely come

What part of Nigeria are you from?

I am from the western part of the country but I grew up in Lagos.

What is your opinion about www.movietainmentmagazine.com and what do you think we need to do better?

I like your website and I definitely go there for news whenever I get posts. I actually do read news there, though my first impression would be movie news generally. But you are doing a fantastic job. Even reaching out to us and trying to make this happen is a great news for everybody in the industry.