By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 14 November 2018)
Kenyan theatre got a big boost last week with the third Kenya International Theatre Festival happening mainly at Kenya National Theatre.
Organizers Kevin Kimani and Gabriel Thuku deserve immense praise, especially for pulling together local and international theatre troupes who went on stage and showed each other what they could do.
But the exposure to both fellow Kenyan companies and groups from Sweden, South Africa, Egypt and North America (both Canada and US) also revealed certain things, both positive and negative.
One thing positive was the revelation of Kenyans’ appreciation of artistic collaboration. It was apparent first when The Theatre Company of Kenya and thespians from the States staged a ‘collabo’ based on Muthoni Garland’s story, ‘Tracking the scent of my mother.’
That appreciation was also seen when actors held workshops for two days on everything from acting and dance to puppetry, directing and set construction.
But it was on the final Saturday night that the thrill of actors working together got the best of the night. It happened after the one major disaster of the week occurred: the accidental fall of South African actor Sgomotso Modise, who was one of the stars ‘Woza Albert!’.
The audience had already been wow-ed by the one-man performance of Goitsemang Pholo who played Jika in ‘Jika: Reform or Revolt’. So we were prepared to be dazzled all the more by the dynamism of ‘Woza Albert!’ But this was not to be.
Instead, Modise’s costar, Hamilton Dhlamini went on stage and performed a theatrical metamorphosis that made heads spin and hearts cry for missing these brilliant South Africans perform together.
It was during the Q and A that Kenyans spoke up (specifically Mwaura Bilal who’d just costarred with Immanuel Mulili in Matchstick Man) wondering when they could perform with the South Africans. From there, the evening’s MC Andy Ruri suggested that it start right then and there.
Ultimately, the internationals and the locals both got on stage and performed an absurdist improvisation that showed how comfortable the two groups had become over the week. But it also exposed the need, mentioned during the two-day KITF Conference, for more regional unity among thespians, both at the national and international levels.
One major weakness revealed during the festival, and noted that same night, was a complaint I invariably raise. It relates to Time! It is an issue that Kenyans don’t seem to understand is an integral part of performance and appreciation or lack thereof. When shows and events begin a half hour, hour or even two hours late, some of us are inclined either to leave without seeing the show or having a negative perspective no matter how outstanding the performance.
Time and its delay were intrusive features of the Festival that factored into my interpretation of this year’s KITF. I won’t recount all the minutes and hours wasted waiting for actors and audience. Until this problem is rectified, one has to appraise this year Festival with mixed feelings.
For instance, the Egyptian troupe was prepared to go on as per the program, starting at 7pm. But due to prior delays, their amazing performance didn’t begin until well after 9pm. Their performance of dramatized poetry, based on the Arabic verse of Salah Abd Al-Sabour, was a powerful critique of political tyranny. But the show time wasn’t fair either to the audience or to the actors.
There were many good things about this year’s KITF, especially the staging of so many original Kenyan plays during the week, including Martin Kigondu’s Matchstick Men, Peter Tosh’s Sabotage and Marvin Kibicho’s Maxwell. It was a challenge to see all the shows, especially as one never knew when a show would go on. Otherwise, one looks forward to more KITFs as well as to more performances of the Kenyan plays that were only staged once during the Festival.
One thing KITF confirmed is that theatre in Kenya is thriving and local thespians are filled with passion to write, direct, dance and perform. Congrats to the Fete for confirming that fact.
Finally, both Martin Kigondu and Walter Sitati staged original works this past weekend, and both will be bringing more original scripts to the stage very soon.
Kigondu’s Matchstick Men featured large at KITF and one of his other works, ‘Of Cords and Discords’ will be staged November 23rd and 24th at KNT.
Meanwhile, Sitati just directed ‘Sins and Secrets’ last weekend. His group, Hearts of Art returns with ‘Scars and Stilettos’ December 8th and 9th at PAWA254.