Theatre in the making in 2018

Actor Elsaphan Njora (left) and actress Nice Githinji. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Actor Elsaphan Njora (left) and actress Nice Githinji. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Exciting news has just come in from the Kenya Cultural Centre (KCC) where the whole of 2018 has already been programmed and promises to provide quite a bit of professional theatre in the coming months.

Nairobi Performing Arts Studio has been especially busy in the past few weeks auditioning for upcoming productions. According to NPAS’ artistic director Stuart Nash (who recently acquired a second ‘hat’ having been appointed artistic director of KCC as well), three out of the four shows that the Studio intends to present in 2018 have almost completely been cast.

Not quite, however, since the title role of Seraphina (which will be staged in July) has not been finalised. But as of early this week, Nash was still on the lookout for the perfect Seraphina.

Meanwhile, the most important news for Kenyan youth is NPAS’s decision to produce two plays simultaneously in May, both of which are set texts. That means, of course, that both plays have been specially selected by the Ministry of Education in tandem with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) as mandatory reading for students who’ll subsequently get tested for comprehension.

One thing we know about theatre is that it’s especially equipped to bring emotion, humanity and life to the written word. By definition it makes plays more meaningful, particularly if they are done well.

In past years, a whole range of Kenyan thespians have tried to stage set texts, and to a greater or lesser degree, they have been successful. Their performances have certainly been money-spinners for the producers since they are certain to have house-full audiences made up mainly of students.

Quite a few of Kenya’s best actors have cut their theatrical teeth performing in set-text shows. So those ad hoc productions have played an important (albeit invisible) role in the development of theatre in Kenya.

Nonetheless, one can’t be sure that the time, skill, experience and comprehension required to stage those set-texts were always available for staging those shows well.

That’s why it’s so refreshing to hear that NPAS has already gotten to work on the productions of Bertolt Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle and Pauline Kyoti’s Kigogo.

The leads in both plays have already been selected by Mr Nash who’ll direct both works, assisted by Daniel Otieno who’s translated Ms Kyoti’s Swahili script into English.

The leads are Elsaphan Njora and Nice Githinji, both of whom have worked well with Mr Nash, starring in both Jesus Christ Superstar and Grease in 2017.

“The rest of the cast will be drawn from students [studying] in the [NPA] Studio,” says Mr Nash whose productions also serve as brilliant on-the-job training tools, be it in acting, directing or all-round stage management.

NPAS’s choice of the two set-text plays might seem to be a huge departure from what the Studio has been doing since it began back in 2015, which is musical theatre.

It actually is in the sense that the two plays will be staged mainly during the day so that students can attend. (There will only be two evening shows, I am told.) What’s more, the shows will be touring, just as set-text shows have done in the past. The big difference is likely to be that greater time, attention and experience will be going into the NPAS shows.

The tour will include traveling to Meru, Nakuru, Machkos, Mombasa and Kisumu.

The other difference that NPAS’s set-text experiment will have is in pricing. As these shows will be geared to students, the entry fees will be significantly less than those listed for NPAS musicals at the Kenya National Theatre. Nonetheless, I recommend students start saving their pennies since the ones based in Nairobi will pay Sh500 while students outside the capital will pay just Sh400. Those prices are much less than for normal NPAS shows. But they’re still more (twice as much) than what other set-text productions tend to cost.

The price differential is more than likely to be worth the difference since Mr Nash is a professional thespian with years of experience working on London’s renowned West End. He’s already proved his professionalism with his productions of Grease and JC Superstar.

The other challenge NPAS will have in coming months will be rehearsing Brecht and Kigogo at the same time as they’re rehearsing Seraphina. But Mr Nash is undaunted.

Meanwhile, Heartstrings is currently staging First things first at Alliance Francaise and Sammy Mwangi’s giving his fans what they want, pure entertainment!