Students swamp new online theatre classes


Fanuel Mulwa and Sheila Munyiva in a past performance. FILE PHOTO | NMG

The Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS) has been flooded with calls from enthusiastic applicants for its first-ever free “4-Week Online Acting and Singing Course” which began on May 7.

The course, says NPAS’s founder and artistic director Stuart Nash, is specially designed for secondary school students to “help parents through these difficult times.”

Created in partnership with the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, the course has multiplied into more than eight online classes in order to meet the immense response from the public, specifically Form One through Form Four students (plus a number of persistent pre- and post- high schoolers).

“Right now we have a bit over 300 students attending classes taught by Fanuel Mulwa and Hellen Mtawali. But we get calls coming in every day from students asking to join our ongoing classes,” says Stuart. “But we can’t extend the course beyond the deadline set by the Kenya Government which extended the lockdown, after which we assume students will be back in school,” he adds.

Nonetheless, NPAS did create a set of “catch-up” classes for late-comers who took Fanuel’s and Hellen’s repeat Introductory sessions this past week. This means that all those early “late-comers” will be able to take part in the second phase of both the acting and singing classes along with the others when they start up again this weekend.

Those students who had the good fortune to see NPAS’s poster which was circulated all over social media, (from Facebook and Twitter to What’s App and various other online chat groups) since late April have been getting crash courses in the basic elements of performance.

Their teachers are seasoned Kenyan performing artists. Both Fanuel and Hellen can easily be considered professionals since both have extensive theatrical experience in their respective fields of acting and singing. And since NPAS first opened in 2017, both have been in all the studio’s musicals, including Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease, Caucasian Chalk Circle and most recently Sarafina where Fanuel played Crocodile and Hellen was the mother of Sarafina (played by Sheila Munyiva)

Both have also taught at NPAS so Stuart felt secure putting secondary students in their hands. Indeed, this online crop of students has the benefit of being ‘personally’ trained by creatives who know their craft.

Meanwhile, Stuart also decided to take his production class online. It’s been a bit of an open secret since far fewer signed up for his course. But what they are working on is NPAS’s next production of ‘I’ll Marry When I Want”, the production by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii which made history in the 1970s (and even up to now) when it was banned by the Kenya Government for being staged in the Kikuyu language and attracting literally thousands to attend the Kamiriithu open-air theatre in Limuru.

Ngugi’s provocative script scared the government back then, primarily because of the way the production drew masses, many of whom had never been to the theatre before, to come and watch indigenous Kenyans perform in their local language. Fearful it would give other Kenyans ideas, especially as it addressed serious social issues of the day, the play was banned just prior to the detention of the playwright. And the rest is history.

NPAS’s choice of Ngugi’s play to stage is a slight departure from its history of solely staging musicals. But it also reflects Nash’s desire to bring relevant theatre closer to larger numbers of locals who can learn greater appreciation for the stage.

In his production class, Stuart is doing what he does when the Studio is in full session. And that is to involve his students in the hands-on approach to working directly with a show that’s in the process of being constructed for an actual production. This one is tentatively set to open in October. But that date is obviously conditioned upon the Government’s decision when it feels it can safely open up the country to face-to-face classes as well as to all kinds of entertainment, including sports, theatre and film.

Everyone is hopeful that the lockdown will end soon, even if it means everyone must continue to practice social distancing, wear their face masks and stay sanitised.