While all our theatre companies are taking a break over the holidays, there’s one intrepid actor who’s been on the move this season, keeping the spirit of Kenyan theatre alive.
Mumbi Kaigwa is a force of nature whose artistic powers are apparently more widely recognised outside of Kenya than within.
How else can one explain the fact that Mumbi just recently received a call from Carthage in Tunisia to collect an award for her invaluable contribution to theatre not only in Kenya but all across Africa and the Middle East.
What’s more, it was just over a year ago that Mumbi received a similar call, this time from Cairo, to accept another accolade.
This one was an award making her the only African female actor in 2016 to receive recognition for her lifetime contribution to the performing arts.
Two years before that, Mumbi was called to Johannesburg to receive her first Lifetime Achievement Award.
The previous two accolades had come as part of international theatre festivals that had support from their respective governments.
Her South African prize for being Africa’s Most Influential Woman in the Arts and Culture was from a private media corporation that had surveyed the entire region and found no other African woman with her artistic credentials.
Mumbi is an actor (on stage, TV and in film), director and theatre producer who founded The Theatre Company in 2000.
She followed that by forming her second arts production firm, The Arts Canvas. She’s also an award-winning playwright whose trilogy has been staged in Europe and the US as well as in Kenya and East Africa.
Her most recent script entitled Orchid premiered in the UK last year and has been on tour ever since. Having begun her acting career at age 10 when her uncle Jagi Gakunju called her to perform on KBC-TV in Wole Soyinka’s Strong Career, Mumbi has been acting ever since.
She’s been in international sit-coms like Neighbours as well as in films like The Constant Gardener and The First Grader.
But for me what revealed Mumbi’s true devotion to the dramatic arts was her decision in 2000 to give up a lucrative job with the United Nations to become a full-time professional artist.
It hasn’t always been easy for her but she is now reaping a few of the fruits for her daring leap of faith.