THE THEATRE COMPANY TOUCHES LIVES
Actors and Scriptwriters Workshops are changing the theatrical landscape of Kenya as indigenous thespians are given opportunities, both theoretical and practical
Published May 27, 2012 in Sunday Nation, Nairobi
By Margaretta wa Gacheru
Last Friday night, The Theater Company wrapped up almost seven months of non-stop creative activity that culminating in a multifaceted showcase of plays called Fire by Ten at Kenya National Theatre.
Featuring five brand new 18 minute productions which were being seen for the first time during TTC’s ‘grand tour’ around the country, the original plays had all be written and/or devised over the December holidays of 2011. That was when TTC was running a ten-day Writers Training Workshop which was attended by aspiring as well as experienced Kenyan playwrights, led by Cajeton Boy, Ogutu Muraya and Keith Pearson, TTC’s producer.
The plays that were staged included Trees by James Gathitu, What are the Odds? by Ogutu Muraya, Ice Cream Treat by Naomi Wanjiru, Intersection by Tony Mboyo, and Mwiba, a musical devised by members of that Writers Workshop and woven together with music and dance by Sharon Nanjosi.
A scene from one of the Fire by Ten plays staged all over Kenya from March to May 2012
The response, according to TTC cast members James Gathitu and Squich Musau was overwhelmingly positive. Both obviously biased since they each had great parts in Fire by Ten, Gathitu as playwright and cast member and Squich as cast in three out of five of the plays. Yet one can feel their enthusiasm as they speak about the showcase that went on tour around Kenya and a bit of Tanzania over a three month period from March to May this year.
“We performed first in Nairobi, then went to Arusha in Tanzania, after which we came back through Naivasha and Nakuru, and lastly we performed in Eldoret before we returned in May to stage Trees and What are the Odds? one last time”.
One reason the two know Fire by Ten was well received by the public everywhere they performed is because the cast help Q & A sessions after every show.
“People were hungry to see quality theatre of the kind we brought,” said Gathitu who was recently recruited by Keith Pearson from Mombasa where he regularly performed with Kwezi Multimedia Artists and Talanta Festival.
“I was fortunate enough to take part in two [TTC] Acting Workshops since November last year,” said Gathitu, whose performance as Dan Geronimo in the historically-based play of the same name, scripted by Kenyan playwright Kuldip Sondhi, is what convinced Pearson that the actor-playwright would be perfect addition to TTC.
Held back to back, the two six-week acting workshops took place first, in Western Province, followed almost straight away by the second one held in Central. During the break in between the two workshops, Gaithitu was also invited to take part in a Writers Workshop, which is where several exciting new scripts were born.
The idea of The Theatre Company, ever since it was started back in 2000 by Mumbi Kaigwa, was and still is to train up new crops of indigenous Kenyan actors and writers, who can transform the local theatre scene with all of their creative energy, critical insight and keenly honed originality. Those goals haven’t changed since Keith Pearson took over TTC, although the TTC program has grown and gotten ever-more multifaceted in recent times.
Currently, TTC has touched the lives of more than 400 performing artists all over the country. That includes actors, musicians and writers, according to Gathitu who has been with TTC less than a year, but in that time has felt privileged to work not only with brilliant Kenyans writers, actors and directors such as Lydiah Gitachu, Antony Mido, Ogutu Muraya, Sharon Nanjosi, Tony Mboyo, and Naomi Wanjiru among many others. He has also had the opportunity to work with visiting directors such as Robin Denault from Canada and Daniel Goldman of the UK as well.
Goldman directed the TTC cast that went to perform Shakespeare’s Merry Wives of Windsor in Kiswahili during the UK’s Cultural Olympiad, where the same play was performed in 37 languages. Sponsored by the Globe Theatre in advance of the London Olympics, it was an opportunity of a lifetime for the TTC cast.
Theatre Company's Kiswahili version of Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor was one of 37 versions of the classic performed in UK in preparation for the London Olympics.
But then, what TTC is ultimately aiming to do is inspire its own Kenyan equivalent of the British bard. It’s a heady ambition, but Gathitu and Squich both feel TTC is well on its way. Among the TTC playwrights to watch are Gathitu whose Trees was one of the five Fire by Ten scripts. So were Ogutu Muraya’s What are the Odds?, Sharon Nanjosi’s Mwiba, Naomi Wanjiru’s Ice Cream Treat and Tony Mboyo’s Intersection.