Kenya Theatre Awards debut with plenty of new local talent


Simba Bazenga cast on stage at KNT in September 2021. It won Best Production and Best Musical Theatre Production awards. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NMG

Kenya Theatre Awards (KTA) gave their own premiere performance Thursday night at an event abuzz with the newest set of notable accolades to be extended to our up-and-coming local theatre industry.

The awards held at Kenya National Theatre’s (KNT) auditorium was filled with leading local luminaries like Gilbert Lukalia, Nice Githinji, Paul Ogola, and Wakio Nzenge, all of whom had been nominated in any one of the 28 categories.

There were also lots of local theatre lovers, many of whom were among the 46,893 who voted for the nominees of their choice.

One big incentive to getting a high online voter turnout was the decision made by the five KTA jurists to give the public 40 percent of the decision-making power over who won and who did not.

“In some cases, that meant the jurists and the public shared a similar perspective as when Ted Munene won the most votes among both groups for ‘Best Break-through Male Performer’ in ‘Blackout’,” said KTA founder, Kevin Kimani who is also the new Programme Director at Kenya Cultural Centre.

In other instances, the two groups differed as when the public favored Nick Ndeda by a small margin over Paul Ogola for Best Performance by a Male Actor in a lead role.

But what was possibly the most impressive feature of these awards is that all the votes were handled and tallied digitally. No personal bias could be injected into the data since it was all worked out mathematically and digitally.

[As a consequence, there were a few upsets, but even more revelations as to the growing interest in Kenyan theatre.]

The biggest issue of the night was, of course, who would win Best Production and Best Musical Production as well as who would win Best Director, Producer, and Playwright? And which university or college theatre troupe would be deemed ‘best’.

The issues have lit up local social media for the past two weeks, ever since the voting opened up for the public to cast their votes online for their candidates.

There was also tremendous interest in who would win Best Theatre Company in 2021, a year that, in spite of Covid restrictions, saw no less than 38 shows staged in Nairobi.

Naturally, those results came out after 25 other awards were handed out for everything from Lifetime Achievement (David Mulwa) and the Jury’s Special Award for Outstanding Contribution to Kenyan theatre (Alacoque Ntome) to the World Impact award (John Sibi-Okumu).

But it was worth the wait, especially as the KTA jurists had worked hard to streamline the ceremony and get to the central point of who won the awards!

In the end, the Best Production went to Simba Bazenga and the Best Musical Theatre Production also went to Simba Bazenga. Xavier Nato of Millaz Productions was voted Best Playwright, while one of the closest contests was for Best Theatre Company which ultimately went to Liquid Arts Productions.

In part, Liquid’s win was for its consistency of performance in 2021, even while Covid was raging round the country and the rest of the world. And the Best Virtual Show went to the radio theatre piece, ‘Calls of the Hummingbird’, produced and directed by Ogutu Muraya.

One of the more engaging features of the KTA awards was its inviting so many representatives of foreign embassies, Kenyan universities and even government officials, like Professor Lagat, Director of Culture to attend the awards.

In some cases, they were also asked to come on stage and present trophies to the winners. Not all were able to attend.

Nonetheless, it brought many new faces into KNT to see the dynamism of our burgeoning theatre industry.

Finally, the one other feature of these awards that gave them a professional touch was the screening of clips from as many of the shows as they possibly could get their hands on.

“Also, by nominating an actor like Mundawarara Sean from Zimbabwe, the awards got international attention from media like the BBC and All Africa,” noted KTA’s Chairman Benson Ngobia.

“As it turned out Sean, won Best Male Actor in a Lead Role in a Musical [Subira] which was well deserved,” Nbogia added.