The eighth edition of the Kenya International Theatre Festival (KITFEST) is nearly upon us and it is bound to be bigger, better, more festive and flavourful than in years past. That is because it has already signed up more than a dozen global, regional and national theatre troupes who will be performing from October 31 to November 21.
They will be coming from Ireland, Italy, Finland, Germany, Holland, and Switzerland as well as from India, Malawi, Nigeria, South Africa, and Tanzania. And from Kenya, there will be groups coming from around the country as well as some of the best productions seen in recent times, with most of them scripted by Kenyans themselves.
Those include shows like Prevail Arts’ interpretation of John Sibi Okumu’s play Meetings, Ujumbe from Beyond the Mainstream by Wakio Mzenge, Son of Man’s Drums of War by Mavin Kibicho, CMG Posh Media’s Big Boys of Shibale by Mark Wabwire and Allan Wantonyi, Mumbi Kaigwa’s own They Call Me Wanjiku, and Crony Players’ collective creation, Husband Home and Away.
What most people do not know about the KITFEST is that it has been busy all year long. For instance, its ‘County Theatre Fiesta’ programme ran a series of workshops in six counties as a means of strengthening theatre performances country-wide.
It assembled some of our finest thespians to train local groups everywhere from Eldoret, Kisumu, and Nakuru to Mombasa, Embu, and Kiambu.
“The workshops included training in everything from scriptwriting, producing, directing and acting, to stage management, light and sound design, marketing and even the legal aspects of doing theatre in Kenya,” KITFEST founder Kevin Kimani told BDLife.
“We’ve been following surveys which indicate that up to 95 percent of theatre activities in Kenya take place in Nairobi, so our focus has been on training theatre groups in areas included in that remaining five percent,” he added.
The workshops ran for 12 days each, nine days for training, three for rehearsals and performing on the last day of each workshop.
“The six counties where we ran our training will be represented at KITFEST by the theatre groups that went through the program,” said Kimani.
They will include Young Women for Peace or YOWOPE from Nakuru, Blink Theatre from Uasin Gishu, Masafa Arts from Kiambu, Amazon Theatrix Ensemble from Kisumu and E-14 Dancers from Embu.
There has also been another series of workshops running over the last three weeks by the KITFEST Trust.
These have produced four new radio plays that were scripted, cast, produced, directed, edited, and finally performed by the four teams trained by the Swiss audio theatre professor Erik Altorfer.
With support from the Swiss Arts Council, Prof Altorfer was able to work with a mix of 16 Kenyan creatives who came from various backgrounds.
Some were musicians, some actors, directors and scriptwriters, others sound engineers, along with several filmmakers. What brought them together was the desire to learn how to make radio plays.
“I was here briefly a year ago and ran a three-day workshop on the production of radio plays. But I felt the time was too short. So, we managed to arrange for my return to run this [extended] workshop,” he told BDLife.
Preceding his arrival in Nairobi, Prof Altorfer worked online with the 16 to develop the four scripts that would take their cue from the KITFEST theme, entitled Echoes from Earth: Stories of Climate Action.
Each script was a collaboration, evolving as it bounced back and forth between the Kenyans and their mentor, the professor.
After that, came the casting by which time he had touched down in Kenya and was working with the four teams at a recording studio in Nyali.
Speaking to the professor’s students, most of whom had never produced a radio play before, they all were elated for having this opportunity afforded to them by the KITFEST Trust. The plan is to have a tent set up where the plays can be heard at any time.
Unfortunately, all the other performances won’t be repeated, so one will need to keep track of programming and time management. “We are going to try to stay on track, as close to the program scheduling as possible,” said Kimani.
Staying on track for him has meant keeping his purpose—to help create a dynamic, world-class Kenyan theatre movement—always at the forefront of his thought. That hasn’t been difficult since Kimani’s whole life has been wrapped up in theatre. “It was like love at first sight.” And clearly, that love has never died.