Students came from Kilifi, Korogocho and Karen last week to take part in a series of musical theatre workshops organised by the Youth Theatre Kenya (YTK) and led by two thespians from the National Youth Music Theatre of Great Britain.
Some, like Antonia Akinyi, 12, of Kivukoni School, Kilifi, travelled eight hours by bus.
Nina Redinger, 16, walked across the street to Hillcrest International School where Lizzy Jago and Jazz Moll of YTK had worked out logistics for NYMT’s Adam Gerber and Chris Cuming to run what were essentially master classes in music, acting and dance for nearly 100 youth, ages 9 through 21.
“It didn’t matter to us where they came from,” says Chris who, like Adam, runs workshops with NYMT all over the UK and beyond. “Once we get to work, nobody cares or has time to think about where somebody comes from. We’re all in it together,” he adds.
On a clear last Friday night, YTK in association with NYMT staged a showcase of musical theatre performances at Hillcrest featuring all the 100.
“The show was based on songs from Broadway and West End musicals like ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Hairspray’,” says Adam who appreciates that he and Chris were introducing songs to young Kenyans, few of whom had heard them before.
But as such songs are the staples of contemporary musical theatre, he reasoned they were the best way of teaching basic skills of singing, performance and dance.
“NYMT conducted three [rigorous] two-day workshops in which each group learned two songs from Adam which were then choreographed by Chris,” says Kayla Hotz, 17, who is both a student at Hillcrest and Dance Centre Kenya as well as a member of YTK.
During the Showcase, each group sang and danced to either ‘Good Morning Baltimore’ from ‘Hairspray’, ‘When I grow up’ from ‘Matilda the Musical’ or ‘Seize the Day’ from ‘Newsies’.
There were also several solos, like ‘On my own’ from ‘Les Miserables’ which was sang by Resila Muganda who’s a music student at Kabarak University, interning in Korogocho with the Art of Music which runs Ghetto Classics, the arts programme that was represented by other youth attending the workshops.
“This has been an amazing experience for me,” says Resila who was beaming during a rehearsal. “But it has also been quite demanding. I’ve loved it.”
The final piece of the programme had all 100 youth on a stage (normally used as a gym) that YTK had converted into in a theatre-in-the-round.
Then the full cast performed ‘This is us’ from ‘The Greatest Showman’. It was such a powerful performance, it practically ‘brought the house down’ on Friday night.
The finale was also a thrilling moment for the cast and the artistic directors.
“What has made all the difference between our experience here and elsewhere is the passion that we’ve felt coming from these young people,” says Chris.
“It’s what has made this project so exciting. We could feel how much they really wanted to learn all we had to give,” he adds, delighted that the audience was just as moved by their performance as he had been, working with them all week.
Both Chris and Adam are trained professionals who in addition to working with NYMT, also lecture at the Royal Centre School of Speech and Drama.
“I actually majored in piano and conducting for opera, but I moved into musical theatre when I found it was much more fun,” says Adam who is also a composer.
Meanwhile, Chris also splits his time between NYMT, lecturing at the Royal Centre School and choreographing musicals like ‘Chicago’ which he says is on in Cambridge and ‘Growl’ which is just leaving London for China in a few days.
The two NYMT mentors first met Lizzy and Jazz via Skype after she approached the company earlier this year.
“I first saw a NYMT performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival when I was still teaching drama in Devon,” says Lizzy who actually started YTK with Jazz and Mimi Muturi in 2014 after scripting and staging several plays with Kenyan casts.
Lizzy took one of those plays to the International Youth Arts Festival in the UK and that’s where she linked up again with NYMT.
“We hope to get back to the [ITAF] in 2020 when we take our latest production, ‘Matu Maini’ there,” says Lizzy. “That is our next goal.”