Theatre festival seeks to take drama to the people

 KITfest 19
National Theatre band KITfest 19 opening. PHOTO | MARGARETTA WA GACHERU | NMG 

Kevin Kimani didn’t build the Kenya International Theatre Festival (KIT Fest) all by himself. But he is the guy who first came up with the idea. He also held on tight to it when sceptics advised him to give it up, saying it would never work.

But now that the KIT Fest is in its fourth edition, Kimani can take credit for sticking to his conviction that the festival deserved to continue and thrive. This year he is doing things a bit differently from the past when the festival took place concurrently with the more academic theatre conference.

“The conference will take place early next year, at the same time as we launch the first issue of our Journal of East African Theatre,” says Kimani right before the Festival officially opened last Tuesday afternoon at Kenya National Theatre.

Among other features that are new, this year’s festival fulfils one of the organisers’ long-range goals which is to take theatre to the people.

“The festival actually opened on November 1 and ran for three days outside Nairobi,” says Kimani, referring to Nakuru and Mombasa where performances were held both inside theatre spaces (at Nakuru Players Theatre and Mombasa Little Theatre) as well as outside (in Nakuru National Park, at Fort Jesus and on the beach).


Nairobi will also expand its performance spaces to include not only KNT but Nairobi Cinema, Bomas of Kenya and Nairobi National Park where ‘theatre in the wild’ will feature performances by storyteller Ogutu Muraya and spoken-word poets Mufasa and Teardrops. Tomorrow will also include a ‘game drive’ through the park given that this year’s festival theme is ‘Promoting Cultures and Tourism through Theatre.’

Ogutu, Mufasa and Teardrops also performed last Tuesday during the Nairobi opening when the keynote address was given by Prof John Mugubi, Dean of the School of Creative and Performing Arts, Film and Media Studies at Kenyatta University.

Tuesday was also when most of the international thespians had arrived and two of them kicked off the programme with performances. First came the all-women Indian theatre group from Bangalore, Theatre for Change. TFC is one of two troupes from India that participated in last Wednesday’s India Theme Night. TFC staged ‘When the rainbow is enough’ and Aum Yash Kendra, the other group, performed ‘The Hunger Artist.’

The other international artist was American actor Ronald Rand who performed a charming one-man reminiscence about 20th century American theatre entitled ‘Let it be Art.”

In addition to the American and Indian performers, thespians from Egypt, South Africa, Uganda and Czech Republic also made it to this year’s Festival. Greater global participation is another feather in the organizers’ cap since they wanted to balance the local and international contributors to the fete which happened this year.

As far as the Kenyan contributions are concerned—in addition to Ogutu, Mufasa and Teardrops—the 10-day fete also featured two plays by Dr Fred Mbogo, ‘The Dying need no Shoes’ and ‘A Revolution ate my Son,’ David Mulwa’s ‘Redemption’ performed by Kenyatta University students and the group calling itself Kauzi Creatives.

This year’s festival also featured a series of workshops on various aspects of performance. For instance, Ogutu Muraya gave one on storytelling, Esther Kamba offered several on directing, Ronald Rand covered the ‘art of transformation’, acting by South Africa’s Goitsemang Pholo and dance by Jingo Ismail of Uganda.

Fortunately, the festival continues through Sunday. Today features the Egyptian Theme Night preceded by Fred Mbogo performing his powerful one-man show, ‘A Revolution ate my Son.’ And prior to Fred, the Kauzi Creatives will also be storytelling.

Then, Saturday will start early with outings to both Bomas of Kenya from 9am and Nairobi National Park from 2pm.

Meanwhile, back at Kenya National Theatre, KU students will perform ‘Redemption’ followed by Mbogo’s startling script, ‘The Dying need no Shoes’ with Nice Githinji and Ben Tekee culminating in the South African Theme Night which also promises to be outstanding.

Finally, the festival’s last day will split the showcase between Nairobi Cinema where the mixed-media show, ‘Thearama,’ will be screened and staged, and the KNT where those who missed Mbogo’s masterpiece, ‘The Dying need no shoes,’ will have a chance to see it from 5pm.

Elsewhere, there will be more theatre at Alliance Francaise where Strathmore’s Drama Club will stage Francis Imbuga’s classic ‘Aminata’ from today through Sunday.

And Too Early For Birds brings back its ‘Tom Mboya edition’ on Saturday and Sunday at the Oshwal Centre due to a resounding public demand.