Art

Zoomed ‘monologue challenge’ fine-tunes young theatre talents

Sister-Act 4

Sister Act and/or Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s I’ll Marry When I Want: Fanuel Mulwa PHOTO | POOL

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Summary

  • The creation of the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS) with support from the Ministry of Culture, the Challenge has grown out of free acting, singing and production classes for children which began shortly after Kenya got shutdown by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • It was the shutdown of schools that got NPAS founder and artistic director Stuart Nash concerned about not just the children, but their parents.

The Fourth Monologue Challenge took place this past weekend on the first day of November via zoom.

The creation of the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS) with support from the Ministry of Culture, the Challenge has grown out of free acting, singing and production classes for children which began shortly after Kenya got shutdown by the Covid-19 pandemic.

It was the shutdown of schools that got NPAS founder and artistic director Stuart Nash concerned about not just the children, but their parents. How were they to keep them engaged when the virus had obliterated what had previously been the ‘normal’ routine for children and parents alike?

What was stunning to Stuart was the rapid response he received once he put posters up on social media advertising his free classes. They began last April and have been running virtually non-stop ever since.

Starting with just three teachers- Fanuel Mulwa for acting, Hellen Mtawali for singing, and Stuart himself running the production classes, the NPAS classes attracted children starting from age 7 on up to 19.

“There are many requests for us to open a class for adults, but our intention was primarily to serve the kids,” Stuart says.

The NPAS director doesn’t speak much about all the notes of appreciation that he has received from parents. Their gratitude has been boundless, not only because their child is occupied in such a constructive and creative way, but also because the parents get to live vicariously through their child’s performance.

Many Kenyan parents have taken part in schools and colleges Drama Festival productions in the past. They have delighted in the theatrical experience they gained back then. But as Kenya’s entertainment industry was still underdeveloped, they had nowhere to go professionally once they had graduated from whichever institution had performed for.

The problem of getting “bit by the theatre bug” is a difficult one, especially when there were no professional, money-making careers open in the entertainment arts.

Yet that situation has changed dramatically in the last decade, not only in the field of live theatre but also in television and film. Now we have new and dynamic industries in film, television and even in live performance. Live music has been doing relatively well for years. And even stand-up comedy has come alive as exemplified by Churchill Live.

But live theatre has been struggling for years. Fortunately, a theatre-going audience has gradually grown as was seen in pre-pandemic days when groups like Heartstrings Kenya and Millez Productions brought comedies and social commentaries to the Nairobi stage.

But a qualitative change has taken place with the coming of NPAS which has produced professional shows like Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, and Sarafina among others. Casts and crews have been paid, even as the Studio’s students have learned valuable hands-on skills in the process of productions.

So by taking the best of NPAS for free out to children, Stuart and his crew have given kids and parents new views of the opportunities opening up in Kenya’s fledgling entertainment industry.