She Went From Being A Lawyer To Starring In Shakespeare In The Park And The Hit Series ‘Bob Loves Abishola’
Shola Adewusi was 34 and a lawyer with a degree from De Montfort University in her native England when she knew in her heart that she was in the wrong profession.
“I reached crossroads,” she shares. “I was working at a law firm where I would either go full pelt into law or go for something that I really wanted to do and always wanted.” Ever since she was a child she felt a pull for performing, to become an actress. “It didn’t leave me.” says Adewusi. She also knew that she didn’t want to take the place of somebody who really wanted to become a lawyer.
Adewusi cherished the time she was 11 when she directed a play for her school assembly about toys coming to life. “I knew this was for me. It’s in my blood,” she shares. “My dad was a great storyteller. My mum too. If they were telling you a story, they would give you chapter and verse with their arms in the air. Both my parents had that.”
Using her finely tuned research chops, she figured out what she needed to do to make a career transition. “I thought, if I can get into drama school, I know I’m on the right path,” says Adewusi. She had to learn a couple of speeches: one Shakespeare, one modern. As luck would have it, while Adewusi was at a temp job she connected with a former actress who offered to assist.
“She said, ‘I can help you.’ So we would go to the park and she said, ‘okay, do the speech.’ I did Portia from The Merchant of Venice and Sister Margaret from The Amen Corner.” Her second audition was for the Academy Drama School in East London, “I auditioned on my birthday, got in and never looked back.”
Upon graduation at 37, Adewusi got an agent and began working. “It was an episode of this here. An episode of that there. A bit of theater there,” says Adewusi. “I just believed I would work. I don’t know what made me so convinced because I had no background in drama. But I just knew that I would work.”
That belief in herself would take Adewusi far. She now has boat loads of TV, film and theater credits including Chewing Gum, The Kennedys and Paddington 2. She currently stars as the fiercely lovable firecracker Auntie Olu Olatunji in the hit CBS series Bob Hearts Abishola.
This past summer Adewusi returned to great love: live theater. Epic live theater! Adewusi played sweet and hilarious busybody Mama Quickly in the 2021 free Shakespeare in the Park joyous production of Merry Wives.
Lovingly adapted from Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor by playwright Jocelyn Bioh and directed by Saheem Ali, this delicious comedy celebrates connection, forgiveness and the ties that bind us. “That sense of community that we see in Merry Wives reminds you of what life could be in an ideal world. It’s the sort of world that you really want to live in,” says Adewusi.
Merry Wives manages to be deeply relatable and modern while keeping the essence of Shakespeare. “The Merry Wives Of Windsor is rarely performed because it’s not as linear as other Shakespeare plays. But Saheem did a great job of making it accessible to all,” says Adewusi. “It will satisfy those who love classical theater because we used skills, like following the iambic pentameter and diction was important. And for others, who might be seeing their first Shakespeare play, this might give them a taste of what Shakespeare has to offer.”
Although Adewusi had to leave to shoot season three of Bob Hearts Abishola, Merry Wives will playing at The Delacorte Theater until September 18 with an annual Gala and special performance on September 20th. Merry Wives continues a 59-year tradition of free theater in Central Park.
“All of it reminds me of the love I have for the arts,” says Adewusi. “Learning a speech, having it make sense, enjoying the delivery. It all comes back to you and you hope to do justice to the adaptation.”
Even after years of working as an actress Adewusi remains grateful for all she gets to do. She remembers when she was auditioning for drama schools and man she was seeing at the time told her, “‘You are really brave. You are brave to switch professions when you could just have a decent career as a lawyer,’” he told me. “But I never thought of that back then,” she adds. “But now my advice to people is, ‘be brave and never give up.’ At drama school my co-principal said, ‘the ones who fail are the ones who give up, so just don’t give up.’”
Jeryl Brunner: How did being in Merry Wives change you?
Shola Adewusi: It had a real effect on me. I live in a block or an apartment. Yesterday, I called up a neighbor and we sat outside by the pool, all Covid-19 safe. I thought, maybe I need to make the effort? It’s not just about living in a block. You can still have that sense of community.
Also, Mama Quickly is a busybody. There’s a man I know very well and a woman I know very well. I connected them and now they are speaking to one another. I can’t believe that I’m playing matchmaker. There’s a bit of Mama Quickly in me.
Brunner: Auntie Olu in Bob Hearts Abishola is so hilarious and fierce. Why do you love her?
Adewusi: I recognize her in people I know. She is all heart and three dimensional. She may come across as very stiff and unforgiving, but she loves Abishola. And essentially she loves people and wants them to be happy.
We are only three episodes in filming, but you’ll get to see another side of Antie Olu. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of her.
Brunner: I’ve heard that it can be an adventure performing live at night in the middle of Central Park. Actors have told me about swallowing bugs and airplanes flying above. What was the challenge for you?
Adewusi: I remember coming face-to-face with my first raccoon. They dwell beneath the stage. I don’t know why I was scared of them, because they are quite sweet. Every evening when I took my place backstage ready to come on, they decided at that point to go into the bushes. They’d come filing out one-by-one. One night I saw about three families of them beneath the stage. I almost feel as if it’s their performance and they are making an entrance into the wider forest out there.