Mercy M. Mutisya is an award-winning filmmaker, performing artist, writer and researcher. She was part of the research and writing team in the recently staged Too Early for Birds show about the late Tom Mboya, and was also among the cast.
1. How is the theatre landscape in Kenya? Is there any potential for growth?
I read somewhere that Kenya’s Entertainment and Media Industry is meant to hit Sh290 billion by 2022. That’s three years away from now.
I am just starting out but who knows where I will be by then? I tell those who don’t view acting as a serious career to just stop doing it.
That is my job and there is a lot of potential, if the figures projected are anything to go by. Acting is a billion-dollar industry in some parts of this world and I believe that we will someday get there.
2. In your profession, what is more important? Auditions or networking?
Both. People get acting jobs through networking and auditioning. Most of the casting directors I know like to work with actors whose performances have been positively reviewed by others, or those whose work they’ve seen firsthand.
There are no shortcuts. You’ve got to have the right contacts, and be good at your trade.
3. Do you think that support groups like Actors Kenya are important?
Of course. To understand why, one has to be a student of history. Picture this. The year is 1952.
Tom Mboya is a sanitary inspector with the City Council, and he dreams of transforming the local staff association into a trade union. The colonial government fights him. He fights back and wins. How? Courage! Mboya’s selfless work brought about improved working conditions, better pay and better housing for Africans. The arts scene is in dire need of change, and these bodies have the power to make that happen.
4. Do you prefer to be in fictional or non-fictional shows? How do you get into character while on stage?
I like to be involved in any well-written story. I have been privileged to be cast in productions with exemplary stories such as the Too Early For Birds Brazen Edition, Written on the Body by Andia Kisia and of course, the Tom Mboya show.
To get into character, I aim to fully understand the character I am playing. I never shy away from asking my director any questions and offering my suggestions. I also study the behaviours of those around me who possess traits that are similar to those of my character.
Additionally, I always share and discuss my ideas with fellow cast members and finally, the costume. Something magical happens to me when I put on my acting clothes.
5. How do you memorise your lines?
To begin with, I have a great memory. This, paired up with regular rehearsals, helps me internalise the lines.
However, it is more important to understand the context from where your words get their premise, to absorb the message to be communicated, and to take note of who, what and why the lines are being delivered.
That way, even if you forget your lines during a performance, you can keep your performance up because you’ll be aware of what that specific scene calls for.