More than 100 young people, mainly secondary school students, zoomed in from around the country last Sunday night to watch the Finale Monologue Challenge online.
Organised by the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS), with an endorsement from the Ministry of Sports, Culture and Heritage, the Challenge was the culmination of a month-long series of free online performing arts classes run specifically for Kenyan high school-age youth.
The brainchild of Stuart Nash, NPAS’s founder and creative director who’s been self-quarantined like most Kenyans for several months, the classes were “an experiment,” he says.
“I wanted to see if we could help parents get through these weeks before school begins again,” says Nash who has staged a wide range of musical theatre shows since coming to Kenya in 2015.
“But I had never run a programme that was free, leave alone one in which all the staff were volunteers,” he adds.
What he quickly discovered, however, was that once the first poster advertising the acting and singing classes was posted online, on Facebook and Instagram, his phone and that of his assistant Ciru Mwangi were ringing off the hook.
“The interest was so high that we had to open four acting classes and two singing ones,” says Nash who has produced and directed shows such as Annie, Grease, Jesus Christ Superstar and Caucasian Chalk Circle among others since coming to Kenya initially at the request of one local private school.
For teachers, Nash selected Fanuel Mulwa who is best known for playing Crocodile in Sarafina and served as students’ acting “prof”. Hellen Mtawali, the students’ singing teacher, is widely known as a gospel singer but in the local theatre world, she is best recognised for playing the long-suffering mother of Sarafina.
The top three contestants won two tuition-free classes and the second set of three got scholarships for one class each.
All eight contestants wrote their own monologues, which was one other factor that impressed the judges who included Brenda Wairimu, Bilal Wanjau and yours truly.
But the judges didn’t have an easy time selecting the winners. For in spite of their youth, virtually all of the students’ performances were impressive.
The top three were Mwendwa Mule, Joy Wangari and Linet Wanjiru in that order while the close runners up were Brandon Muceke, Tana Mati, Keza Sitati.
Thanks to the popularity and success of Nash’s experiment in online theatre instruction, there will be a second series starting June 15 with registration opening from June 7th.