The public took seriously the Kenya Theatre Awards this year, judging from participation in online voting running into the thousands and reflecting healthy growth in Kenya’s fledgling theatre industry.
What’s more, the public also displayed a determination to take full advantage of the interactive feature of this year’s voting process.
And while some members of the public felt that 20 percent given to public participation in the voting process was too small a percentage to have much impact on the final vote, one could see that there were times when the public vote swung past the jurists’ percentage, causing their candidate to emphatically win the first-place prize.
It was one more illustration of how attuned theatre lovers are to rewarding genuine stars, not just media ‘celebs’.
But let’s be clear, there was stiff competition in practically all 28 categories of judging this year. It was especially true for the top awards that would go to the best production, best actors, director, producer, playwright, and particularly the best ‘breakthrough’ male and female actors.
All the winners were announced last night, Thursday, February 23rd, at Kenya National Theatre, so I’m not being a spoiler to say that it was Nyokabi Macharia and Dadson Wakenya who won for best breakthrough female and male actors.
Both are not really new to the Nairobi theatre scene, but their performances this past year reflected breakthroughs in each of their practice and professionalism.
The best male and female actors were equally if not more competitive than the breakthroughs. Ultimately, they went to Bilal Mwaura for his role in I Will Marry When I Want, and Clare Wahome for The Dying Need No Shoes.
Nice Githinji was a close competition but as one observer noted, her vote was split between her being considered twice, once for her role in I Will Marry When I Want, and once in Cheaters’ Guide, so her vote was effectively split. But so be it.
What was just as tough a choice was the picks for supporting actors. The competition was nail-biting for some who couldn’t stand the suspense, but finally, the award went to Nixsha Shah for her part in Speak Their Names.
The other outstanding women who were awarded were Wakio Nzambe for Best Female Monologue, Dr Zippy Okoth for Best Female Solo Performance, Esther Kahuhi for Best Comedy Production as Manmade Woman and Mercy Kui for best Stage Management.
Among the awesome men we saw on stage this past year, Mufasa won Best Spoken Word Performance, Charles Ouda (Best Male Monologue), Martin Kigondu (Best Male Solo), Cyprian Osoro (Best Male Supporting Actor), Stuart Nash (Best Producer and Best Director) and Martin Kigondu (Best Male Solo Performer and Best Playwright) for his script Blessed Be The Fruit.
Best playwright was also a tight race since Kigondu was competing against Andrew Tumbo for Mekatilili, Fred Mbogo for scripting The Dying Need No Shoes, and Silvia Cassini for Speak their Names.
Tumbo may have lost on that point but Mekatilili won for everything from Best Musical Theatre and Best Choreography, to Best Set Design, Best Costume Design and Best Lighting as well.
In other categories, Sarakasi’s Circus won for Best Dance Theatre, Super Nova won for Best Sound, Cheaters Guide won for Best two-hander, Manic Monologues won for Best Adaptation, Something Must Kill a Man won for Storytelling, and Kenyatta University for best university or college contributing most to advancing theatre.
The big win of the night was of course, for Best Production of the Year. That went to the Ngugi wa Thing'o’s I Will Marry When I Want which also won for best Kikwetu production in its Kikuyu edition, and Best Musical Score.
Finally, the best theatre company this year was Heartstrings Entertainment which also had stiff competition in Nairobi Performing Arts Studio, Fanaka, and Millaz.
Then came the four awards that the judges had reserved for their own picks. That is when their award for most Global impact was tied between Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ogutu Muraya, both of whom share Kenyan theatre beyond the confines of our border.
Then there is the Ushirikia award that went to Dance into Space for their inclusion of the disabled in their performances.
Then the Jury’s Special Award went to the French Embassy for their support project which has transformed the infrastructure of several theatre spaces around the country.
And finally, the Lifetime Achievement award went to Anabel Maule, who in her 90s was represented by John Sibi-Okumu and received it on her behalf.