A Note from Playwright Inua Ellams

AUG 17, 2023

On the birth of The Half-God of Rainfall

Inua Ellams smiles while standing amidst a group of people.

The Half-God of Rainfall has been described as an epic revenge fantasy, a meditation on power and patriarchy, a Black feminist response to the #MeToo movement, Nigeria’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers, and a feature film waiting to happen. A friend described it as a love-letter to lone parenting—it explores the extensive lengths a mother goes to in order to protect her son from an abusive father. Mixing Yoruba Mythology with Greek Mythology, basketball urban-lore with spiritual belief, and Homeric aesthetic with sporting hysteria, The Half-God of Rainfall is all these things—the story is mammoth—but it began in a much simpler, humbler way.

When I was twelve my family and I moved from Nigeria to England, where I started playing basketball because a girl I was enamored with loved the sport. To be in her eye-line was to be the one with the ball. I had no skills whatsoever but believed in the possibility of genetic mutation—that I could achieve the impossible and defy the laws of physics just like the X-Men. I’d will latent mutant genes to manifest powers that would mean I’d never miss a shot. I played enthusiastically for three years, then we moved to Ireland.

There, I was the only African boy in the entire student body of a school drowning in racism, the scope and fever of which was only matched by ignorance. The safest space was the basketball court, among the school’s all-white basketball team. They assumed my skin color meant an encyclopedic knowledge of hip-hop culture and a natural ability to dominate the game.

After months of solid basketball drills and decent progress, my boys convinced me to try for the local team. The coach was the legendary Jago, a big man in his early thirties who had a charming, older-brotherly style to coaching. The session began. I darted down the court, keeping pace with the opposing team until they scored and the ball was in my hands. I dribbled down the right side, crossed over to lose my man and, way too far from the rim, gathered all my strength, willed my mutant genes to manifest yet again, took a shot, and watched the ball soar.

After the game Jago divided us into two groups. “Sorry lads, yous weren’t quite good enough, but keep practicing.” He pointed to my group: “Yous are in” and winked at me. “Nice shot.”

I was loosely assigned the position of small forward on offence. On defense, my job was to bother the hell out of the point guard, whose job is to bring the ball down and call out the team’s strategy. Jago could count on me to never tire, to keep running and force point guards to make mistakes. I was so good at this, a point guard once punched me and was ejected from the game. Jago simply smiled as I sat down on the bench.

In my final year in Dublin, I stopped being able to play. In a single week I went from being the fastest and most restless to wheezing when I jogged, and I would only jump half as high as I had done the week before. Jago advised me to check it out, and the doctor diagnosed me with exercise-induced asthma. It developed out of nothing. I could no longer trust my body. It felt like the worst betrayal, and the latent-mutant-gene fantasy seemed even more foolish.

Seven years later I was back in London writing and performing poetry. One evening I shared a poem called “Of All The Boys of Plateau-Private School,” about a couple of knuckleheads I played with in Nigeria. The poem included these lines about a friend called “T”:

T could spit faster than fleas skip, further than
lizards leap, spit so high, we claimed him
Herculean in form, the half-god of rainfall…

My poetry tutor loved that final image, a half-god, half-mortal, who could command rain to fall. On the way home, I remembered if you could shoot well—if you could rain shots—you’d be called a “rainman.” I woke up the next morning and a character was forming: a super-human baller who could do the things I never could. I started writing the story then, but truthfully I’d been prepping it my whole life; he could be the half-god I never was. I called him Demi not only because it meant “half,” but “Demi” was also a Nigerian name. He would have started playing ball there, but as I lived in Europe and wanted him to reflect my reality, perhaps his God-father could represent this cultural heritage? Maybe Zeus? Who else?


Mister Fitzgerald stands spotlit with an arm upraised as the rest of the cast circles him in the dark.

I started looking into Zeus as a father-figure and found countless essays and critical studies which concluded, without a doubt, Zeus was and had always been a sexual predator, a serial rapist, and a violent, vengeful, callous God. I could not unsee it and had a choice to make: write the nice story about a Nigerian basketballer or write about Zeus and tell his unfettered truth. I chose the harder option—to do both in the same story.

It took seven drafts and eight years to complete… years in which many aspects of my personhood changed many times over and caused me to change Demi’s trajectory. Each discovery meant a re-write, and each re-write sent me questioning my relationship with my three sisters, girlfriends, lovers, parents—particularly my mother, gender constructs and norms, the prevalence of sexual harassment, domestic violence, law, rape, rape-culture, rape-convictions, feminist theory, masculinity, power, propaganda, male privilege, Black male privilege, euro-patriarchal knowledge production, sports industry, journalism, censorship in education, pre and post-colonial educational policy, Africa’s exodus—the great brain drain, US and British immigration policy… it sent me questioning every aspect of my life.

The epic poem opened as a play in England in 2019 as a two-hander. I had incredible actors who assumed the role of storytellers, allowing them to flit nimbly between the numerous characters on a bare stage with minimal lighting design. It was a passionate production which taught me a lot about how the story worked, but also that a larger cast and rich projection design would be necessary to fully communicate its many meanings to an audience.

As soon as I met Taibi Magar, I knew I’d found a collaborator who could see the minimum and maximum possibilities of the poem. Working with her, Orlando, Tal, Stacey, Linda, and Mikaal was a planetary aligning of a collaboration where we could conjure a god’s thunderous walk across the sky and a newborn’s distinct tiny cry within minutes of each other.

In the rehearsal room, we staged an entire basketball game with the cast moving and describing as they flew across the space, but also stripped movement back to just a figure, standing, looking, holding space.

The true success of theatre is when all the tools of communication are combined with actors, where their thoughts, meanings, feelings, mischief, and magic can pour out with the words and between them. We encouraged the actors to do this, to be themselves onstage, to cajole, taunt, flaunt, admonish, and flirt with the audience whilst delivering the text, and this gorgeous blend of instincts and precise direction is what we are offering. I hope you will come ready to receive it.

—Inua x

Inua Ellams is a poet, playwright, performer, and graphic designer. His plays include Black T-shirt Collection, the 14th Tale, Barber Shop Chronicles (A.R.T. 2018), and Three Sisters. His poetry books include Candy-Coated Unicorns and Converse All Stars (Flipped Eye), The Wire-Headed Heathen (Akashic Books), The Half-God of Rainfall (4th Estate), and The Actual (Penned in The Margins).


Inua Ellams in rehearsal for The Half-God of Rainfall. Photo: Marcus Middleton.
Mister Fitzgerald as Demi in The Half-God of Rainfall. Photo: Joan Marcus.

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