The second edition of the Kenya International Theatre Festival (KITF) will be opening next Thursday at Alliance Francaise, running through Sunday night.
But after the first festival ended up running on a “zero budget” (apart from the GoDown Art Centre covering the rental costs of Kenya National Theatre), it is unlikely that anyone other than the festival’s founder Kevin Kimani Kahuro would have thought a second theatre fete was feasible this year.
But Kevin is passionate about theatre. He’s also persistent, having what seems like a prophetic perspective on what such a festival could mean to the future of Kenyan theatre both in the region and in the world.
His vision has been clear since 2013. It’s all about what he says is the need for Kenyan thespians (like the ones he works most closely with at Kenyatta University) for a wider, more expansive platform where the abundance of the country’s theatrical talent can perform and shine. That vision is what led to his dreaming up the Kenya International Theatre Festival.
Still a student of theatre, a master’s degree candidate in KU’s Department of Theatre and Film, Kevin explains that his insight came gradually, starting with the feeling that he and his peers needed more exposure and more opportunities to perform publically. So first, he managed to persuade his fellow KU students to enlist in the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival.
“We didn’t do very well that first year (2011) but we were much better prepared in 2012. Thus, we won in every single category the following year,’ Kevin recalls.
Then when 2013 rolled around, KU thespians was keen on keeping up their momentum at the Drama Festival. But this time round, they didn’t win in a single category, which Kevin found bewildering.
That was when it dawned on him that Kenyan thespians needed to expand their vision and broaden their performance platform.
In essence, he felt the Drama Festival was just too small for Kenyan thespians, be they university-trained by professionals like David Mulwa or the late Francis Imbuga or trained on the job in theatre troupes like Heartstrings Entertainment or The Theatre Company.
Last year, it was only the Ethiopian National Theatre Troupe that managed to attend the first KIT festival. But Kevin and the KU casts who also took part in the fete found the “international” exchange both enlightening and entertaining.
“Fortunately, the Ethiopians were able to get their Kenya-based embassy to cover the cost of their transport,” Kevin says, admitting he was hard-pressed to cover the costs of the troupes’ accommodation.
This year, KU and KITF are cooperating with Unesco’s Kenya National Commission to bring three international theatre troupes to Kenya where they’ll take part in the four-day festival.
The three are coming from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Uganda. The Black Ice Dance Company from Uganda will perform November 16 during the official opening of the Festival.
The following night, the Hurungue Arts Festival from Zimbabwe will stage the play entitled Caged all about corruption. And on Saturday night, the Zika Theatre Movement from South Africa will perform Devil’s Disciple.
In addition to the three African troupes performing, there will be a number of productions staged by mainly KU student thespians. They’ll perform plays like Francis Imbuga’s The Successor and Ole Rotimi’s Our Husband has gone Mad Again, among others. But the first two days of the festival will embrace a conference whose theme is “Linking Academia and Practice”.
It is a concern that is shared by both UNESCO and the Festival organisers as well as by KU.
Through a series of exploratory talks, thefestival will address issues related to linkages between Kenyan university theatre programmes and public theatrical practitioners, which currently don’t seem to exist.
Why that chasm exists between the academics and the public practitioners and how it can be bridged will open up discussions that will hopefully bear fruit and also strengthen Kenya’s theatre scene.
Speakers will include Dr John Muguti, Dean of KU’s School of Creative Arts, Dr Emmanuel Shikuku, Chairman of KU’s Department of Film and Theatre Arts, Ian Mbugua and Millicent Ogutu.