Directing student: Master’s studies give me freedom to explore my own artistic expression

Read an interview with Nigerian-Irish Ikenna Anyabuike who studies directing at the Theatre Academy of Uniarts Helsinki. He is interested in many art forms and in multidisciplinary and cross-cultural work with art.

Ikenna sits on stage at Theatre Academy's Tori.
Photo: Eeva Anundi

Please tell us about yourself. How did you realise that you wanted to study at Uniarts Helsinki?

I was born in Nigeria and I grew up in Galway, in Ireland. I studied drama, theatre and art management in Dublin. I am interested in multidisciplinary work, since I also like composing, writing and making multimedia art. After my bachelor’s studies, I created work for myself. I wrote a play, which ended up being performed as a stylised reading at the Dublin Theatre Festival. Additionally, I worked as a composer for Moonfish Theatre’s ‘The Crow’s Way’, which ended up being performed at the Peacock Stage in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. I wanted to continue my studies in another country and prove myself academically at another university. I decided to apply to Uniarts Helsinki, and the assignment questions raised my interest in the university even more. In August 2023, I began my master’s studies in directing at Uniarts Helsinki’s Theatre Academy.

Please tell us one thing you remember about your entrance examination.

I really enjoyed myself during the examination. The focus was on finding our own artistic way. We had to write a critical analysis of Camus’ novel The Plague and an essay about the meaning of art in the time of war. During the interviews, we had to explain our approach to art. I found it very tiring and exciting at the same time. I felt like I was stepping into an unknown territory that would make me a better artist. There were also many talented people at the exams who cared deeply about art and its ability to influence people.

What has been the best thing about studying at Uniarts Helsinki and living in Helsinki?

I love learning new things. Ignorance with a willingness to learn is enjoyable. My studies at Uniarts Helsinki have been considerably more intense than my bachelor’s studies. Previously, I learned about the fundamentals of theatre theories, but now I am free to explore my own artistic voice. I like Helsinki, it is revealing itself to me slowly. I walk around and find new places, like secret art studios. The libraries are phenomenal and I enjoy visiting the contemporary art museum Kiasma and the Design Museum.

What is your most memorable study experience?

I have discovered, for example, Polish theatre makers that I had never heard of before. I also attended a fascinating guest lecture about eco-fascism.

What has been the most challenging thing about your studies?

There is a lot to do before your studies even begin, like finding an apartment and getting organised. Luckily, I made a smart decision to come to Helsinki three weeks before the term started. Most Finnish people are quite introvert, so foreign students may first feel a bit isolated. It is difficult to get to know people and to build a community. However, my tutor has been very helpful and I have found some friends.

What do you dream of doing after you graduate?

My mother would like me to do a PhD, but I don’t know yet. I want to work for theatre and for TV and have multiple projects going on constantly. I would love to bring plays from Ireland to Finland and vice versa. Maybe I could be an artistic director in some art institution or work as a corporate in-house creative artist. I would enjoy multidisciplinary and cross-cultural work. 

What preconceptions did you have about Finland? What do you think about them now?

I try not to have preconceptions. I knew it was cold in Finland and it is getting quite cold and dark now. Near my apartment, there are many antifascist stickers on the streets. When I moved there, that made me feel quite safe in my neighbourhood, but at the same time, it made me wonder, if this is a big issue in Finland. Anyhow, I have not had any racist experiences here. This autumn, there were protests at the university against the government. It was nice to see that students care about the political sphere.