By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted 2 October 2019)
Given the prosaic title of ‘Acting Class Graduates Showcase,’ the final performances of students graduating from the Nairobi Performing Acts Studio could have easily been given a more glamourous name.
The short three-minute skits of the 19 young actors who’d been studying with Davina Leonard and Stuart Nash could have been called something like ‘The Actors Showcase’ or The Actors’ Revue.
But drawing from her own experience, having studied theatre in Scotland, Davina wanted her students to experience a testing time similar to what she had.
“At the end of class [in Western drama schools], the acting graduates’ ‘showcase’ is more like a ‘meat market’ where the big players in the performing arts industry show up to appraise the performances and potentially give students jobs,” she said last Tuesday night at the Michael Joseph Centre where her best 19 students staged a snappy range of skits.
They performed scenes which, in some instances, had been written by cast members themselves. This was the case with both the first and last acts, ‘The Engagement’ and ‘Huduma Numbers’ which were written by Fabrice Mukhwana who also performed in both, and also scripted ‘Perfect Match’.
All three were cheeky commentaries on current social realities, such as pretty young Kenyan women shamelessly going out to snag rich, old, white men and then taking them for all they were worth. This was the gist of ‘The Engagement’, which like ‘Huduma Number’ made us marvel at the writer’s ability to reflect a Kenyan reality so clearly in just minutes.
Caroline Gitonga and Linet Malika Achieng did something similar when they both scripted and starred in ‘KWS 102’. All about two competing sex-workers who both had been with the guy known only by his car’s number plates, their verbal sparring made us cackle at their mini-sex war over who was going to claim the man’s business.
Otherwise, students adapted bits from copyrighted plays like ‘Woza Albert’, ‘Entirely as well’ and even Margaret Ogola’s ‘The River and the Source.’
On the whole, one saw an impressive array of theatrical talent on MJ’s curtain-less stage. But their performances did not conjure up a ‘meat market’ for me, although one hopes all of these ambitious young actors do attain their dreams.
NPAS, which has staged professional musicals, like ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ and ‘Grease’, clearly has a role to play in developing Kenya’s dynamic performing arts industry. Its young actors’ ‘showcase’ clearly illustrated that.