Could this be the renaissance of the Kenyan Theatre?

Seating through the sweltering heat at the Aga Khan high school hall in Mombasa last week, one thing was crystal clear; Kenyan theater has come of age.
All the decorum, well scripted plays, young confident actors and modern day themes addressed left not an iota of doubt in my mind that finally, Kenyan playwrights have washed their proverbial hands and are now ready to dine with literary kings of Shakespearian likeness.
A Keen follower of the current affairs in the country would notice that most of the themes tackled at the drama festivals were contemporary. Words like ‘ni Kama ndrama, Kama findeo ’ and ‘wainganjo’ were frequently used much to the charm of the crowd which roared with laughter and glee.
This however, would have struck a nerve with renown American poet and professor Billy Collins who argues that writers should desist from using fad dialects or making reference to contemporary culture because with time this will make the writers work dated and hence drastically reduce the shelf life of the piece of work.

Themes handled.

Various contemporary themes were well tackled by the crop of actors amongst them :
Drug abuse. This was best illustrated through two plays and a solo verse. Menengai High school’s ‘ the docker’ creatively set at sea, tells the story of a rich foreign drug lord, ‘Octopus’ whose ship is about to dock . Octopus’ has two lovers. One is a high school girl who spends most of her time on social media chatting with him. (She later discovers he is her biological father.) The older lover, who sells drugs for Octopus, turns out to be the school girls’ mother
The other play on the theme was ‘Bishop Gatimu’s ‘Search for Anaconda’ in which a rich high ranking official who is a drug trafficker, implicate his helpless juniors as he goes scot-free.
Moi Girls’ Nairobi’s solo verse, ‘My director’, powerfully told the story of a youth who, neglecting good advice, indulges in drug abuse in order to gain fame and prosperity.
The disintegrating modern family was a topic well illustrated through Kakamega High schools’ hilarious play, ‘One More Case’. In this story, after years of rejecting his family, an absentee father shows up in his child’s life. The child, driven to the brink of insanity by loneliness and lack of mentorship; and desperate for acceptance, joins a gang which introduces him to drugs. Unfortunately, he commits an act which could lead him to spending a life time in jail, or worse still, lead to a death sentence .
Ngere High school charmed the crowd with ‘the skirt’ an emotional play which heavily borrows from former Minister Mutula’s short skirts drama . It advocates for bridging of the communication gap between school administrations’ and students through dialogue instead of strikes, strict rules and suspensions
Unfair distribution of jobs and tribalism was tackled by Butere Girls in their infamous play ‘shackles of doom’ which attracted a mammoth crowd , periodical uproars and a standing ovation from the bewildered chanting crowd.

Peer pressure and erosion of morals in society was well handled by Laiser Hill, in their well choreographed play ‘ a funeral in heaven’ whereas The Kenya Institute of Mass Communication tackled power transitional dilemmas in their classic ‘Expandables in 3D’.
The fight for resources like land and water causes pain to both communities fighting. This was smartly tackled by Alliance Girls in their play ‘Do unto me’ which handled this theme in a delicate and intriguing way

The plight of the Girl child even in the modern day was tackled in the delightful ‘Delta of Turmoil’ by the Riara Springs. It is the story of a young girl Sanaipei’ whose future hangs on a balance when she is forced to choose between further studies abroad and marriage to a rich old man. The story, artfully told, kept the audience at the edges of their seats.
The crooked police unit and human greed were addressed in the hilarious but realistic play ‘Acts of Subterfuge’ by Nairobi Aviation College. A traffic police, wrongfully deployed to the anti-riot unit in the city, has to contend with his wife who is a hawker. He is torn in between and together with his wife, they craft a way to get out of the stalemate and this includes buying miracles.
Kisii University invokes the spirit of Achebe in fighting for the teachers rights in a solo verse ‘Unoka’ which delves into the teachers plight of poor payment by comparing teachers to Okonkwos’ father Unoka who was a very poor man in the book Things Fall Apart.

Theatre Trends.

Through this week of theatre, I couldn’t help but notice that the high school plays were of better quality than most University ones. This can be accredited to the fact that up until now, many high schools have outsourced professional playwrights to script and even direct their plays.
A chat with university drama students revealed that most universities do not support drama in their institutions. When I exclaimed disbelief at the very poor quality of a play by a private university, a student from the institution was quick to point out that the script was poor because it was written by a fellow student who lacked support from the university administration. I was left wondering whether good scripting is made up of pure talent or a supportive administration.
Even with the close of the celebrated festivals a few questions linger in my head.
With Thursdays’ ban of external playwrights in high schools, what quality of plays we are likely to see at the nationals come 2014?
Since some universities are unwilling to support drama clubs, could it be true that the modern higher learning institution is more bent on profit making than on producing respected thinkers and scholars.
With the coming out of unafraid controversial playwrights, could this be the renaissance of the Kenyan Theatre we have been awaiting for so long?
The writer is a teacher, trainer and blogger at http://www.glominage.wordpress.com twitter@mwanigaminage

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Instead of Banning the Play, make it a Set book

The first time I heard about a play being banned, it was during a staged monologue titled Fritz Lang showing at the Goethe institute. Set during Hitlers’ regime, the plot revolved around Fritz Lang,a playwright of Jewish descent who lived during Adolf Hitler’s time .Having just produced his best play ever , Lang’s career was at a rapid takeoff when he was summoned by the minister of propaganda in Hitler’s government and asked to write scripts that would be used to brainwash the citizens and promote the governments agenda. In his quest to get away, Lang confessed being Jewish, to which the minister simply answered ‘the government’ is the ones who decide who is or isn’t Jewish’. Choosing morality over fame and money, the playwright declined the offer. This led to his plays being banned from the theatre ,his life’s work crushed with a single blow and he found himself a refugee, fleeing a country he desperately loved.

The only other time I’ve heard of a play being banned was last Week, when I heard that the Butere Girls’ Play Shackles of Doom was termed too controversial and hence banned .

If I recall well, this year’s theme for the drama festival is ‘National Healing and Reconciliation and In Kenya, you can’t possibly tackle this topic without talking of issues like nepotism , corruption and greed which are the root causes of the division that necessitates healing.
Back to the play, it revolves around people in a land known as ‘Kanas’ who refer to themselves as ‘True Kanas.’ They live on a land rich with oil,. However, they aren’t aware of their riches down under in large oil deposit. Nonetheless , the neighboring community knows of this and so they offer a beautiful bride- wamaitha to a kana-ite in exchange for land where they settle.
Wamanitha’s community settles into that land and constructs an oil refinery company . This of course is seen as a silver cloud to the kana community who have lived their lives as nomads and fishermen; they now hope to get jobs in the new company . Sooner than later their hopes are drowned when the Human Resource of the new oil company announces the new employees. All the positions (except for the watchmen and manual workers ) are taken by the visiting community.
The kanas then discover that the piece of national caKe that they would have was but a very thin slice. In the fullness of time, profit from the oil company are siphoned off and the rather pitiful lot of kanas are left wondering what befell them.
Great story, right?
This is a story full of life lessons. Just like the timeless tale of ‘acres of diamonds’, the first lesson I draw from it is that we need to open our eyes and not be blind to the riches around us because if we don’t, a stranger will do so. This play also shows the foolishness of not having a vision.
To term such a play corrupt and full of nepotism is a rather shallow and unrealistic viewpoint especially to children living in a country where the political language used during campaigns is nothing short of oafish. Children who are governed by a group of individuals(forgive my not using the word leaders) who demand for salary increments before they even get to work and once they do, dream only of hefty sendoff packages.

I work in Baringo and every time I travel from Nakuru, I pass by worn out tents of IDP’s; a national report on state and public service jobs shows that most public service jobs are skewed in favour of certain communities : a political analyst, basing his judgment on tribes or what is Known as tyranny of numbers can most accurately predict the outcome of an election. And what’s more? In Baringo, oil has also been discovered. And just this week, stories have been going round of the young school girls who are now leaving school and giving birth to White Babies courtesy of the foreign oil drilling companies .
This school children watch the television every day. They read newspapers filled with findings like the one by the state and public jobs commission,
They listen to suggestive conversations by their parents but they cannot act a play depicting the same moral wrongs.

The novelist Ben Okri once argued that the decline of nations begins with the decline of its writers. “Because writers represent the unconscious vigour and fighting spirit of a land. Writers are the very sign of the psychic health of a people: they are the barometer of the vitality of the spirit of the nation.”
By mitigating its writers, a country only manages to live in a bliss of ignorance and denial. In Kenya, with the happenings in our politics; we surely are experiencing our richest moments historically. We are experiencing a functional judiciary system; A studded CJ; A youthful president and even an era of free laptops .

If we do not write now then when? If we do not speak now then when? Shall we, then wait by the by side or shall we set the trends and speak aloud?
I have listened to professors and award winning writers discuss , over lunch,why they need to get ‘this thing to our people’(politically). I have sat through a church youth session where a young adult from a leafy Nairobian neighbourhood confessed that her elite parents warned her against marrying people from a particular tribe or else she would end up poor. I have taught students who pick up their fathers first name because they do not want to be judged by their tribe.
For this peace and reconciliation thing to work, then we definitely need to be open and truthful about the depth and effects of the tribal vice in our country. We need to take this debate to our pulpits and classrooms (of course this requires the approval of the ministry of education).
We need KIE to get such plays as Shackles of Doom , published and approved for schools to replace Betrayal in the City , which is quite a good book but definitely overtaken by modern events. (Since we are experiencing totally new challenges and very few political prisoners if any). We need Shailja Patels’ political activist poems from Migrite like Shilling Love and Maasai Women Rioting replacing Rubadiri and Cooks’ Poems from East Africa.
Having ever met Cleophas Mallala, the Playwright in question, I can say two things of him; He doesn’t mince his words. He is quite a forthright and outspoken fellow and secondly, he is good at what he does. His plays pass off as witty, spiced with good humor and twists. And if we don’t endeavor to nurture such talents here then, like the renowned playwright of yester years Wenslaus Masinde, who has since moved to write and direct Nigerian Movies in Nollywood, we will lose all our promising playwrights.
From what I hear, Malala is ready to adjust the script to suit the agreeable standards and resolve the stalemate. But are the ministry officials ready to talk? Plus, we need to consider the poor Butere girl who put in endless hours of practice and hoped to bag the best actress award, and the resources put in by the school administration.

As I pack my bags and head down to the coast for the drama festivals, I can’t help but wonder whether I shall be bombarded by the creativity of the modern playwright or bored by what one of my writer friends call sickeningly enthusiastic plays that are more of boot licking than addressing the ugliness of the modern society we live in.

SOMEONE TELL NIGERIANS….

I have something to tell them Nigerians and since 160 characters aren’t enough, I shall blog about it.(I  hope they are holding their ears and listening…)

Dear Nigerians ,it looks like it’s not only  Okonkwo and the others elders who were treated badly in Umuofia in Nigeria. Even our boys  ‘Harambee Stars’  got some ‘bad bad’  treatment from you Oga’s .

So, you check them, our golden boys! into a 2 star hotel (this is where I snap my fingers and rotate them over my head to mean abomination in a Nollywood fashion).

 Whats  more ? You left them to eat yamfufu and bitter herbs and then, as if that is not enough, denied them training space and one Adel , our coach,  had to look  around,  and go beg a’ beg ooh  for a place to train in.

He got a little rural school i.e the back of a classroom in the despondent ‘Ajai Primary School’  (which, if the pictures on TV and online are true, it looks like Mukibi Educational Institute For the Sons of African Gentlemen, where Holy Moses Schooled. )

My troubles do not end there!

I have a deep suspicion with the name of  that School. AJAI PRIMARY SCHOOL And this is why. If you went to High school on the Mid 2000’s in Kenya, Then you studied an anthology of stories called ENCOUNTERS FROM AFRICA. You must have come across a story called ‘AJAYI AND THE WITCHDOCTOR’. This is a story of a man who was so poor that everyone believed that he had inherited the poverty from his father. So dear Naijas’ does this story have anything to do with the proximity of the hotel you checked our golden boys into? And your thoughts on our play tactics. Why in Ogubwefi’s name didn’t you take them to Calabar to warm up?

 

 

OUR YEARS OF JUBILEE.

Like you Know, Kenya is a Christian state. And what’s more, this is our year of Jubilee, so we are enjoying something called ‘favour’.  Shelve your assumptions that you will beat us automatically. That should explain why in the 11th hour(read the 92nd minute, you ponyoka’d with an erroneous goal. Arrrgggghhh! ) but our mboys showed you dust. And that is no palaver palaver.

A NEW COACH CALLED ADEL’

We do have a new coach called Adel Amrouche.  I heard him speak on the ‘JSO’ John Sibi Okumu show last week and you know what, you will never find someone like him. He sets fire to the rain and soon and very soon, we shall be packing them bags  and sending them off to Brazil-o’.

PACK WELL WHEN YOU COME TO KENYA.

As you know, revenge is a dish best served cold, and it’s a rather  cold and rainy season here in Kenya. So brethrens, don’t forget your  training boots because the ground at Matopeni primary school is rather wet and the elephant grass has sort of overgrown(of course we can lend you slashers if you want , we are generous , you Know..). Also, the madondo’s are ready, fermented and waiting to be served. And if you dare speak. One Mzalendo kibunja’s ears will be on the ground, listening out for hate speech.

 PS : There can never be extra time, run- offs or penalties. Ask Willy if you doubt me Oh’ !

Till then, we shall wait for you and forever perpetuate  our Nyayo philosophy of tweets , love and unity.

A Kenyan’s guide to the complex legal language; in Kenyanese.

Of law Jargon, complex language and the Kenyans on Twitter.

Achebe once rightfully stated  that Proverbs are the palm oil with which stories are eaten. That might be so in Nigeria, but in Kenya, legal jargon is the palm oil with which our long wait during elections has been broken.

One wouldn’t really blame us since we have had more than our fair share of politics. Live hearings , failed election equipment and a very complex election where, unlike before what we are used to, we had to vote for  six different positions.

Justice came to Kenya in the form of a studded former activist; his nose pinching assistant and recently a young, attractive and intelligent daughter of one Mutula kilonzo (is it any wonder he rears lions instead of dogs?)

Not only have we had to wait for  six days for presidential results to be announced (okay the figures on our  TV  screens were  constantly the same) but we have had to watch for days unending , as lawyers explained, in very complex terms, why the presidential petition had to be accepted or rejected.

Here are some terms that as a Kenyan, you need to write down:

  1.     Amicus

We were promptly invited into the courtrooms by one Amicus Curiae, aka Our chief justice.

He that is ‘a friend of the court’ sent many Kenyans on a wild word tour from whence the following new terminologies were created.

AMICUS SOTAE- A broke friend.

AMICUS WAIGANJO-A fake friend

AMICUS STRONGHOLDAE- A friend of TharaKa Nithi (remember waiting  for the votes from this stronghold to be counted?)

2.   TYRANNY OF NUMBERS.

A couple of days ago, while watching the election petition, a friend casually remarked that as Kenyans we ought to accept the complex nature of the tyranny of numbers. Okay? So seer Mutahi Ngunyi (who I hear has suddenly developed wings since his exactly prediction a few weeks back) during a Solomonic moment, taught  us a new ‘voca’ that is spread across our political discourses like the proverbial beans in githeri.

Tyranny of numbers apparently means ; in a layman’s’ language , the domination of numbers

3. JURISPRUDENCE .

This was another term commonly used in court. It means case studies from countries that have had similar rulings.(e.g if Zimbabweans have decided to use the biometric voter registration , they  could look at the Kenyan  jurisprudence). Get it?

 

4. Cordeshians.

  This is a name given to those supporting the Cord coalition. They are presently thought to be causing a lot of Ndrama nd Findeo in the Amicus Strongholdae of the Cord Coalition (just like the kardashians that they are named from.)

5.     My Lords, My Lady / My Lady, My Lordship or (whoever comes first)

This was how those in court (with the obvious exception of Nazleen Omar) addressed the bench of judges. These were indeed Lords and Ladies since they managed to deliver a unanimous decision in a whooping three minutes. Huh?

6.     Nyanza si Kenya.

This was a phrase made by a weeping Cordashian after the historic ruling of the Chief Justice.

7.     Kethi Kilonzo aka youthful Trendifilova aka Amicus Afrocog-ae aka anythingelsekenyansarecallingher.

So, the young lass who put a consistent smile on the face of the Chief Justice(I promise I noticed it) has become something of an overnight celebrity. She has many face book pages opened in her honor;  Numerous  letters streaming into media houses asking for her hand(I advise such people to visit the kilonzo and kilonzo advocates – ps, it’s a  lion-guarded  law firm) .

 There are also others professing that she is surely the first Kenyan female Chief Justice (Okay, Kenyans please stop being so overly dramatic here).

So, there you have it dear reader….now you are a true wordsmith, And whats more?  you can become a friend of my blog: that will make you  my Amicus blogga-e or something like that. Right?  www.glominage.wordpress.com