The Kenya International Theatre Festival has been running for three years. But it is this third edition, which opened last Tuesday that is the best one yet for FITF’s founder Kevin Kimani and his co-KITF—organiser Gabriel Thuku Kimani.
It was low in starting. But it only took Buganda, Bunyoro and Luhya Dancers to shimmy their way into the audience’s heart and make us forget the delay.
The Ganda Dance Troupe set off a stream of stunning performances that will run through this coming Sunday. On opening night, the most impressive performance was by The Theatre Company which had teamed up with American thespians from the University of Colorado to dramatise Muthoni Garland’s gripping novel, Tracking the scent of my Mother. That same night, another Kenyan company, Art Ukwazi, presented an absurdist play entitled Woman. What’s more, puppeteers from Sweden and Egypt also made presentations.
The other Kenyan companies that are featured in the festival include Prevail Arts’ Matchstick Man, PBAG’s Unforgiven Sinners, Latent Theatre’s Dead Men, Liquid Arts’ Sabotage, Furnace Africa & Son of Man International’s ‘Maxwell’, Thespian Assembly’s Roses of Blood, Baragumu Arts Nash, the Love Doctor and The Talent House’s Annabelle. The Theatre Company is also bringing a Kiswahili production entitled Salim, Kwani Hana Damu.
Among the main attractions of this year’s festival is the wide range of theatre companies that have come from around Africa and beyond. They’re here from Egypt, Sweden, and US, as well as from Canada, South Africa and Rwanda.
There have already been a number of amazing performances. But this weekend, the public is still invited to watch productions from Canada and two from South Africa (including Woza Albert) on Saturday as well as from Kenya, such as Peter Tosh’s Sabotage today and Martin Kigondu’s Matchstick Men on Saturday.
There will also be a series of drama workshops today and tomorrow at KNT. They’ll be focused on dance, directing, acting, puppetry and production design, tapping into the talents of the international and local thespians attending the festival.
The other feature of the festival that has made it more than simply a showcase for exceptional performances was the two-day Theatre Arts Conference which was held Wednesday and Thursday. It was attended by theatre practitioners as well as by academics, students, journalists and representatives from the Kenya Government including the Kenya Film Classification Board. It was up to them to tackle the theme of the festival which was “Paradoxes of State Aid in the Growth of Theatre in Kenya.” It was a slightly peculiar topic since the State has provided little or no aid to Kenyan theatre, leave alone aid that would enable theatre to grow and prosper.
But what made the topic quite timely was the recent talk by a senior Kenya government official to the effect that university courses in the arts and social sciences ought to be abolished in favour of more technical and vocational training. That perspective, that courses in the humanities have little value to the Kenyan economy, was countered by the former chairman of Kenyatta University’s Theatre and Film Department, Dr Emmanuel Shikuku.
Dr Shikuku, who was speaking on the topic of “The University Curriculum and the Creative Economy,” observed that the creative economy (fuelled by the humanities) has the capacity to become the “driver” of other sectors of the Kenyan economy. It is a perspective that many politicians fail to understand. But it was elaborated further by Dr Rosemary Murundu, a senior lecturer in Literature at Moi University. Her view was that it is only the study of the humanities that can teach a person to understand him or herself, leave alone the rest of the world.
Other speakers at the conference included Dr Charles Kebaya, the KITF’s Keynote speaker, Mueni Lundi who spoke on Participatory Theatre, Fr Charles Kinyua who spoke on Theatre for Evangelisation, Tash Mitambo, founder of Renegade Ventures, Goitsemang Pholo on South African theatre, Mai Mohab Elsayed on Egyptian Water Puppetry and Dr Simon Peter Otieno on the Kenyan Schools and College Film Festival.
Preceding the culmination of the conference, participants gave their views on the way forward for Kenyan theatre.
One way forward is heading to PAWA54 on Friday night to watch Hearts of Art stage Walter Sitati’s play entitled Sins and Secrets. Co-starring Samson Psenjin and Pauline Kyalo among others, the show will also run through Sunday.