New theatre group out to tap talent from drama festival - Daily Nation

New theatre group out to tap talent from drama festival

Friday August 19 2011

Isaac Mwaura (left) as the bus driver and Jeffrey Juma as the bus conductor in the narrative comedy ‘Lukendo Mcity’ last week at the Alliance Francaise. Photo/JOHN MAKENI

Isaac Mwaura (left) as the bus driver and Jeffrey Juma as the bus conductor in the narrative comedy ‘Lukendo Mcity’ last week at the Alliance Francaise. Photo/JOHN MAKENI 

By JOHN MAKENI [email protected]

A fortnight ago, a group of former thespians in the National Schools and Colleges Drama Festivals staged a narrative comedy at the Kenya National Theatre.

The cast was mainly past winners who once showcased their skill to the President at State House.

They are little-known at the moment, but would like to change all that, if their debut performance was anything to go by.

In the group are Job Masika (best narrator, nationals, 2002); Jimmy Wanjala (best narrator, nationals, 2005-2006) and Jimmy Mwaura (best narrator, Western Province, 2000)

Others are John Paul Wafula (best narrator, nationals, 2003) and Augustines Oluoch (best narrator, nationals, 2003-2004), among many others.

They call themselves Kiqwetu, and are the latest entrants into the world of theatre in Nairobi. The crowd at Kenya National Theatre auditorium seemed to love them, too.

Their comedy, Lukendo Mcity (the journey to the city), will be staged at Alliance Francaise on Saturday and Sunday.

The comedy is a compelling story of Wafubwa (John Paul Wafula), a villager from Mulumbukha village in western Kenya who plans to travel to Nairobi for the first time.

He has heard tales of the city, about Kangemi and Kawangware estates, where his fellow villagers are residing.

Acted in English and Kiswahili, the narrative is rib-cracking.

Wafubwa fund-raises for his journey, and leaves for the city loaded with sugar cane, a radio and a cockerel, a typical stereotype of a Luhya man.

Travelling with passengers from other communities opens Wafubwa’s eyes as he realises that there is the wider Kenya out there.

Job Masika, one of the directors of Kiqwetu, says the comedy outlines the hurdles that the country had to go through before getting a new Constitution and the events around the 2008 post-election violence.

It incorporates both story telling and musicals, with Jimmy Wanjala improvising Luhya, Luo and Kikuyu songs.

The national drama festivals have been criticised for failing to harness the talent churned out of schools and colleges every year.

Not many good actors in schools and colleges end up with a successful career in the arts after studies, probably apart from the Redykylass crew that was nurtured by Kenyatta University.

So, where do the thousands of students and pupils who perform during the national drama festivals end up? Do they give up on their talent altogether after school?

These could be some of the questions that drama teachers and officials in the ministry of Education are asking.

Sirengo Khaemba, the executive secretary of the Kenya National Schools and Colleges Drama Festivals, says the sole intention of the festivals is not to produce actors and actresses.

“The aim of the festivals is not necessarily to train film and theatre related-speciality. It is part of the curriculum. It is used to encourage other aspects like academic success. It is a holistic approach for the growth of the student,” says Mr Khaemba.

Mr Khaemba says the ministry usually commissions researchers to track the progress of the previous actors and actresses.

“They end up doing well, not only in acting. Most have ended up in university, and that tells you something about the festival,” he says.

Some of the products of the drama festivals, Mr Khaemba says, include Vincent Ateya, now a renowned radio presenter.

Despite such success cases, there are others who are forgotten immediately after the festivals.

Asked whether they kept records of all the performers, Mr Khaemba says the tracking method is not yet structured.

Mr Edwin Saka, a veteran actor who instructed drama groups at Ngara Girls, Moi Girls, Nairobi, Limuru Girls and Buruburu Girls high schools, says whereas some get a footing in acting after school, most are wasted.

“Some of the schools do well in the drama festivals and yet five years down the line you do not hear anything about their alumni. Their talent goes to waste, especially the ones in the rural areas,” says Mr Saka, who has since branched to development work in the NGO world.

Mr Saka, though, vividly remembers the likes of Jamillah Mohamed, now a news anchor at NTV, and Wangeci Murage, now with Zuku.

Both were talented actresses in their days at Ngara Girls and Limuru Girls respectively.

Kiqwetu group members are determined to make a living out of theatre.

In an interview with the Saturday Nation, the Kiqwetu team said the national drama festivals were an enriching experience and that they were just carrying forward the lessons learned.

Mr Job Masika, one of the Kiqwetu directors, says the group will stage a narrative comedy every month in Nairobi. Mr Masika is also the theatre director at the United States International University.