‘I Don’t Have A Perfect Marriage’ – Uncle Ebo Whyte (An Extensive & Exclusive Interview)

A thorough insight into the life, work and thoughts of the revered playwright and motivational speaker. (Interview By: Arnold Asamoah-Baidoo)

The venerated playwright gained popularity via his radio show, ‘Food For Thought’ on Joy FM’s morning show, ‘Super Morning Show’ and that acceptance and admiration soared to an inestimable level with plays from his Roverman Productions, which have helped project the Theater industry in Ghana.

Question (Q): You are a trained Accountant and Statistician. How do you utilize such skill at Roverman Productions?

Answer (A): I have discovered that, in life, nothing is wasted. There’s pressure on young folks with regards to career choices, training acquired and the reality on the ground. It’s important to realize what’s available and to use it. Later, when opportunities come, past experiences prepare you to handle such openings. I utilize my skill as an Accountant and Statistician effectively by checking the numbers in my assessment of the performance of the plays, as well checking the finances.

Q: You are a motivational speaker, well-noted for speaking to relationships and marriages. Does it put pressure on you with regards to your relationship?

A: No! For quite a longtime, I resisted doing talks on marriage because I feel it is presumptuous for anybody to hold the view of a perfect marriage. No marriage is fireproof. When a light bulb is not functioning in the house, you change the bulb and not the house. I have been married for 34 years and I don’t have a perfect marriage, so, I never paint a rosy picture of my union. I am comfortable with the fact that, I am human, and the least I can do, is look at my blunders and work at them.

Q: Your Company is very successful and you have garnered popularity and fame. Are you a rich man?

A: I am rich in knowledge, rich in health, rich in experiences, rich in quality of life, rich in peace of mind and rich in the fulfillment of knowing I am doing what I was called to do. We define wealth narrowly because when you are old and alone, money won’t take care of you. The wealthy ones are those who are not lonely. When it comes to money, that will come. I believe money is the reward you get for service to society and I believe I am serving the society well. I am building this (Roverman) and investing in it – investing in our band, stage setup, technical apparatus, rehearsal grounds and training (4 staff have already done Master’s Degree).

Q: There’s always a God-factor and Christian norms in your messages and plays. Why do you find it necessary to always inculcate that in your products?

A: If you take God out, I will not be here. As a 5-year old, I watched my mum literally battle a pig feet that was meant for food, until it was burnt. With such an experience as a 5 year old, as well as experiences with dark forces in Elementary School, you don’t live life without thinking of the spiritual. There are forces of darkness and the power of God and I choose to align myself with the power of God.

Q: Has any patron ever approached you to make a complaint about the Christian nuances in your plays?

A: Yes, a few! Some people have complained that the plays get too religious or spiritual and I explain to them that I respect their views but as an artist, I can only give them what I have. As much as there are people who are put off by it, there are others who purposely come because of that. I cannot be all things to everybody.  My plays are not evangelical and I don’t have an agenda. It is just for patrons to come and have fun.

Q: What excites you and what puts you off?

A: Music excites me. Beautiful legs of ladies excite me. I don’t know what was done to me with beautiful legs but I can’t get enough of them. People singing and praising God excite me. Hearing about Ghanaians doing well on the world stage like Komla Dumor and Azumah Nelson excites me and seeing young people doing well excites me. What puts me off are; politicians stealing from the nation, and Ghanaians putting down fellow Ghanaians who are doing well.

Q:  You are a fine man. You speak well and you look good. Do you get advances from ladies and how do you cope?

A: I have stopped chasing women, women now chase me (laughs)! The fear of God helps me to cope with such advances. It is not even about my wife, it is about the fear of God. I have also seen what these things can do to men. I have seen great men fall, not because of health or loss of form but because of this; great men who could not zip up. I have very beautiful ladies in my group but go to bed with one of them and the group is finished. You give instructions and they won’t be followed and sleeping with any of them will breed factions and this is one of the reasons many Drama Troupes could not stand the test of time.

Q: Roverman Productions is a market leader in the theater industry in Ghana, but the likes of Naa Ashorkor, Latif Abubakar, Nii Commey and others are coming up. How do you feel about this?

A: I am excited about them. For each of their shows, we buy at least 20 tickets to watch their plays as a way of supporting them. When I am available, I go for their shows. I encourage my members to also watch their plays. It is not about just one person doing it. My style of theater may not suit somebody, maybe, Latif’s or Kobina Ansah’s may suit that patron. My only concern is that, we all have a responsibility to raise the bar. We shall be judged by the worse of us and not the best of us. So, I encourage all of us to raise the bar.

Q: You have very hardworking cast. Do you get worried when they do not get the needed recognition with regards to awards?

A: No, I think awards are overrated. They look good on the CV, but it’s about going home and having a sense of satisfaction for what you have done. There’s no award that beats that. You know some awards are bought, some people buy their recognition. My people have the satisfaction that, whatever recognition they have thus far was not bought.

Q: What kind of relationship exists between you and your staff?

A: It’s a combination of professional and family. When we have work to do, it is professional and when the pressure is off, they are all my children. I become their father and mentor in all aspects because I can father all of them.

Q: Tell us the criteria you use in selecting your cast, because, some have been consistent, others go off and come back and others come and do not return.

A: It begins with auditions, where every year, we open audition and now, we have a little over 100 people. Every quarter, I use 15 to 20 people for a production. The criteria I use are; availability of the actor, the actor’s record with the previous play – in terms of performance and attitude towards the play, and the ability of the actor in singing.

Q: Has there been any instance where you wrote a play and decided not to produce it?

A: Yes, I have five (5) plays that have not seen light because the group did not like it. I wrote the play, presented to the group for their comments and they said they didn’t like it.

Q: What is the estimate amount that goes into a production?

A: It depends on the commercial/jingle rate, which continues to change, as well as the billboards, although we have such good relationship with some of the Advertising Companies. So, for a production, we do 170,000Ghc per quarter.

Q: Most often, an Ebo Whyte story is about the plays and motivational messages. Little is known about your family life. Can you share with us?

A: My Father was A.B. Whyte of the Judicial Service and mother, Beatrice Aikins, a fishmonger and both are deceased. My first cycle schools were in South Suntreso SDA and South Suntreso L.A. Middle School. Secondary School education was at Osu Presby. I did O’Level, worked for 6 years, then did A-level after which I went to Legon to study Statistics, and while at it, I also sat for exams at the Institute of Chartered Accounting.

Mrs. Florence Whyte is my wife. I met her through theater, via her cousin, who was a member of a drama troupe I was leading. She is a caterer and oversees the catering aspect for Roverman and heavily involved in the distribution department of the group. We have no biological children but we have adopted many. Now, we don’t adopt children anymore, they adopt us.

Q: Do you face some stigma over your inability to have biological kids and how have you coped?

A: In the early days, there was pressure on Florence because Society insists that marriage should have kids and for the first 6 years, there was pressure from my mother too. One day, I had a heartfelt talk with my mother and created a scenario where I put her in the shoes of Florence and she understood!

We sought medical help, approached almost all medical experts in Ghana.  It got to a point, we shared tips on childbirth to other childless couples and interestingly, they got children. At this stage, I am relaxed about the situation and dedicate my childlessness as a Ministry to God.

Q: In the last couple of years, event planners have complained about sponsorship. Title sponsors have shifted from MTN to Airtel etc. for Roverman. How does sponsorship affect your productions?

A: A sponsor comes on board with certain goals. It achieves such goals and it is not interested anymore or people at certain positions also change. Typically, you also get Companies who want to introduce new products unto the market come on board and they want a platform to sell it and once that product becomes established, they have no use for the platform anymore. One thing I have also detected is that, increasingly, the decision-makers for sponsorship for most Companies are not Ghanaians or not stationed in Ghana, so, a proposal about theater goes to them and they ponders and cast doubts.

Q: Is there anything else to achieve? Has Roverman not seen and done it all?

A: No, we haven’t scratched the surface yet. We need to have a theater of our own (Roverman Theater), a 3,000-seater with other offices with fantastic washrooms and car park facilities. We also want to start showing plays on weekends, where can do 8 shows a week instead of doing 8 shows per quarter as being done now. The other aspiration is on patronage, where we will roll out seasonal ticketing, where tickets would be sold out when the year opens. Building a strong relationship with Corporate Ghana and the Churches where churches and companies will bus members to shows is another aim.

Q: There’s this assertion of your decision not to take your plays outside Ghana. Is that the case?

A: The doors are not opened yet. I do not want to go to any Embassy and beg for visas. I do not want any counsular to look down on us as some hungry, poverty-stricken bunch who are just looking for traveling opportunity with the intention of not coming back. I want us to travel with honour and dignity,so, we are building a platform that gets international recognition.

Q: What’s your impression about government’s support or lack thereof for the arts industry?

A: Government can help with the establishment of a state-of-the art venue(s) and other infrastructure that would elevate the arts. It should also create a stable economy for Corporate Ghana to strive, so, they can help support the arts. It should also pay attention to the National Theater. Government setting up funds for the arts is not a good idea, because, when such situations happen, you have members of the party in government, who have no artistic nerve, form acting and music groups, just to access such funds.

Q:  Recently, there were talks for the National Theater to shut down because of malfunctioning air conditions. What’s your reaction to this?

A: Those were mischievous calls. The people who were condemning the National Theater, how many of them went there to actually find out the problem. Besides, the issues are somethings that can easily be resolved. For us, we use additional standing air-condition system  to ensure comfort for patrons. Without that comfort, our own machines will not function optimally and  make-up on actors would drip. It is typical of the Ghanaian to always throw away the baby with the bath water.

Q: The recent interview on Al Jazeera by President Nana Akufo Addo on LBGT generated intense talk in the country. What do you make of the President’s take on the issue?

A: The President’s answer was the most well-thought-out answer I have heard anybody give to that question. Does it satisfy everybody? No, but let’s give him credit, he answered the question intelligently and wisely. I challenge anybody to listen to it again with an open mind.

Q: Has Theater been fulfilling for you?

A: Theatre has been rewarding, right from 1975. I owe a lot to Theater, although radio gave me the name. It helped me overcome my inferiority complex and helped me overcome the demons in my life. Theater gave me my wife. I show appreciation to Ms. Commey, my Elementary School Form 3 Teacher who paid for me to write my Common Entrance Exams. Mr. Charles Wreko, CEO of Wrenco, who gave me my first financial support to produce ‘Unhappy Wives, Confused Husbands’. For depriving my wife a lot, I show her so much appreciation. To Mr. Kwesi Twum of Multimedia and Joy FM for the support. I can’t mention everybody and they should forgive me because, I am a beneficiary of the goodwill, generosity and benevolence of many people. END!

Roverman Productions’ ‘Festival of Plays’ – which features five (5) quality plays, “Damaged Goods’, ‘Blackmail’, ‘The Comeback’, ‘Nicholas’ and ‘Everyone Has A Secret’ shows from December 23 to January 1, 2018 at the National Theater.

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