By Margaretta wa Gacheru (posted March 2015)
Just as Black History was celebrated last month with performances staged everywhere from Paa ya Paa Art Center and USIU to the US embassy and Phoenix Players, so this month the spotlight is shining on women since March 8th is International Women’s Day.
The month as already seen powerful performances by women rappers and poets like Shailja Patel whose passionate orature preceded an inspired presentation by the charismatic widow to two Southern African heads of state, Graca Machel-Mandela at the Nairobi National Museum. In the country to launch the Kenya chapter of her new regional NGO, New Faces New Voices which is focused on the empowerment of African women, the event entitled ‘Beyond the barriers, Kenyan women Unbowed’ was also part of the Wangari Maathai Day celebrations which brought together a stunning assembly of dynamic Kenyan women activists, from Njeri Kabeberi and Anne Njogu to the Deputy Speaker of Parliament Joyce Laboso and Betty Murungi.
But it’s over the coming weekend that several more groups will be celebrating women theatrically. Tomorrow, a wide range of women will be performing at the Michael Joseph Centre as part of the Women of the World Showcase.
Then on Sunday March 8, the NGO One Billion Rising will produce Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues at Alliance Francaise at 3 and 6pm. Directed by Caroline Odongo—Boy, the best thing for me about The Monologues is their affording Kenyans an opportunity to see how remarkably gifted our local actresses are.
MAYA ANGELO CELEBRATED
The one production that celebrated both black history and women’s day was The Caged Bird, a musical adaptation of Maya Angelo’s poetry devised, directed and produced by George Orido with support from the US Embassy.
Caged Bird’s premier at Phoenix Players late last week was a triumph not only for Orido who assembled a fresh young cast of multi-talented performers, but also for Maya herself whose immense legacy of love, struggle and poetic genius was underscored with glowing words from the US Ambassador Robert Godec and also well represented by Orido’s choice of her inspired words.
More than a dozen poems were presented through dance dramatically choreographed with live music largely composed or selected by the musical wizard Nicholas Moipai whose youngest daughter Seraphine played flute and sang, providing one of the high points of the show.
But all the actor-dancers were passionate about bringing Maya’s poetry to life, confirming what Orido told me before opening night. He boasted, “I don’t work with stars; I make stars,” and one feels he actually did set a whole new crop of Kenyan performers on the path to theatrical excellence with The Caged Bird.
Meanwhile not all the March productions have been focused on women. At Alliance Francaise for instance, Festival of Creative Arts retained their rare talent for staging ridiculously funny comedy with ‘It’s Complicated’ last weekend.
There’s also a welcome message to this play, which is that keeping secrets from those you love can get you into disastrous trouble. That was true when Beatrice (Veronica Wacuke) refused to tell her spouse (Melvin Alusa is finally back on stage after being a star in South Africa’s reality show Big Brother) that she’s pregnant.
Alusa’s character picks up instantly that something’s amiss with Bea who’d spilled the beans to her talkative girlfriends who constantly threaten to give her secret away.
But then Alusa has a secret of his own so the mutual cover-ups cause chaos generating juicy suspense and visceral tension, all of which could have been avoided if Bea had told the truth in the first place. But then there would have been no drama, no comedy and no chance to see FCA bring back some of Nairobi’s shining stars to the local stage.
Finally, there are a wide variety of cultural activities unfolding this weekend starting tonight from 7pm when Choreographic Conventions are staged at the GoDown, followed by Saturday’s tribute at the Mazangira Institute to Pio Gama Pinto who was assassinated 50 years ago this month.
Then, both Saturday and Sunday, the Zamaleo Sigana Storytellers will give Fireside Storytelling Performances at the Kenya Cultural Centre at 3 and 6pm.
And finally, the Johari Entertainment is staging another hilarious Kikuyu play entitled Icembe Igonyoku at Phoenix Players this evening from 6:30pm through Sunday when its last show will be at 6pm.
It was economist Dr David Ndii, speaking at the National Creative Economy Conference late last week, who encouraged local groups to feel free to stage shows in their local languages as it will be in line with Government policy of devolution and enhance grassroots participation in the performing arts.