Local theatre festival with a global reach


National Theatre Percussionists at KITFEST. FILE PHOTO | NMG

This year’s Kenya International Theatre Festival (KITFEST) already blasted off last Tuesday afternoon when the Royal Burundi Dancers staged a performance outside, in front of the National Archives.

The official opening of KITFEST took place shortly thereafter at the Kenya National Theatre, which is the venue where all the performances, cultural activities, and workshops will go on daily up until November 14th.

Kevin Kimani, the Festival’s founder and executive director has scheduled a meaty agenda of activities this year. He has been busy since founding KITFEST back in 2016, when he proved he could feature as many (if not more) international teams as local ones every year.

This year is no exception. The festival will be featuring performances by artists from no less than ten countries. Most of them are African, including those from Burundi, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe.

Outside Africa, there will be multiple performances and displays by the Chinese Embassy as well as by an award-winning musical by a cast from Cincinneti, USA and a play by an Indian company as well.

The program promises entertaining performances by a wide range of artists. They include everyone from straight actors, spoken word poets, and singers, to puppeteers, acrobats, and dancers. There will be workshops on all aspects of theatre being held throughout the festival. There will also be scheduled tours taking festival participants and friends around the city and beyond.

Kimani has ensured that Kenyan thespians are also well represented this year. That hasn’t been a difficult task since so many interesting performances have already been staged following the loosening of the COVID lockdown. It’s been as if the thespians have stored up their creative energies so they could burst forth on stage at KITFEST with highly original shows.

Already we have seen Men of Ambitions by the Journals of Orino which was the opening play of the festival. That followed a modern dance troupe from Egerton University and French song by a solo singer Shirleen Ishenyi.

The Journal of East African Theatre was also finally launched at the opening. It had been promised for several years, but due to Covid and the curfew, it wasn’t published until now. Hopefully, it will evolve into an authoritative, scholarly publication that can shed global light on the artistic activities of our regional thespians.

Other productions to be staged by Kenyans during the festival include Black Out by Millaz Productions, Contract Love by Kenyatta University, Audacity by Tellerscope Entertainment, and KCA’s Sheng-styled interpretation of The Lion King, Simba Bazenga.

There will also be performances by thespians from Nanyuki and Meru where KITFEST 2020 was quietly staged.

And every Thursday, the Festival will jump into the ongoing Poetry After Lunch (PAL) afternoons, introducing new audiences to Nairobi’s young and talented spoken word poets.

The other performances that reveal the Festival’s far-sighted focus on youth will be two plays from Nanyuki High School which did well during this year’s Kenya Schools Drama Festival. And finally, there will be a repeat performance of Men of Ambition on the last day of the Festival.

But the Kenyan contribution is only a fraction of the festivities scheduled for the coming days. Already, we saw a Senegalese evening on Wednesday following the francophone production D’Ou tu Vas? (Where are you going?) by the troupe Brrr Production.

The Egyptians plan to also have an evening of cultural offerings. And then on the final Saturday, the Chinese Embassy will host a slew of cultural activities, including the preparation of Chinese food.

In the interim, there will be a number of dance performances, one by the Tanzanian Waka Waka Dance Theatre, one the Egyptian Kemet Dance Theatre entitled Faust, and Kenya’s Sarakasi’s dancer-acrobats who will perform today with their talented team of dynamic percussionists.

But the upcoming plays by regional and international troupes are especially noteworthy. This evening, the Ugandan Lantern Meet Foundation is staging Killing Time.

Then there will come the Zimbabwe Theatre Academy staging Zandezi the American company coming from the Cincinetti Conservatory of Music who will perform their musical interpretation of ‘Water’.

Finally, South Africa never fails to bring powerful performances to KITFEST. This time round, they have brought two exciting shows, one by Intokozo Productions entitled Munyari Eclipse and another by Kekeletsi entitled Chronicles of a Whore.

And for those who didn’t attend KITFEST 2020 in Meru, Kimani brought back the star performance, ‘Nyota ya Meru’ by a troupe of older mothers who will illustrate how theatre can help solve local social problems.