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After captivating Kenya drama festival, what next for talented students?

By George Orido | Published Tue, April 28th 2015 at 00:00, Updated April 28th 2015 at 00:04 GMT +3
Six-year-old Syprose Atieno of St Kizito Lake Region presents a poem ‘Mwizi wa Mapenzi’. [PHOTOS: FILE/STANDARD]

NAIROBI: The annual Kenya Schools, Colleges and Universities National Drama Festival is a ritual every budding actor wants to be part of.

During this year's festival, which was held in Nakuru early this month, more than 15,000 participants showcased the very best of Kenyan theatre.

The dance "Khalsa" by Dagoretti High School under Wycliffe Wafula's choreography was as majestic as it was magical. Syprose Atieno's poem "Mwizi wa Mapenzi" was simple but a true reflection of matters mundane and family. Kenyatta University's play by Derrick Waswa was bold and fit for any commercial stage.

Daniel Ndambuki aka Churchill would not to go for a talent search if he watched St Mary's School Yala with their rib-tickling comedy. In fact, the quality acting in the Film category would leave the Nollywood brigade, green with envy.

The talent during the annual festival is simply mindboggling. But year in year out, one question has been begging for an answer: What next after the national drama fete?

Well, this is a legitimate question given that Kenya has hardly any infrastructure or industry to absorb the exuberant talent that is exhibited at the fete. And why even bother to go through this annual ritual with all this talent going to waste?

Notably, the Kenya National Theatre has been closed for over a year now due to the ongoing renovation courtesy of the East African Breweries' injection of Sh100 million.

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When it opens next month, its capacity will reduce from 420 to 370 seats.

This means that not so much activity can take place in this facility to gainfully employ more than 100 people every month.

Kenya needs at least five ultra-modern theatres with a capacity of at least 2,000 seats each to boost a critical and commercially viable theatre going-culture.

During the commissioning of the rehabilitation, President Uhuru Kenyatta promised to have the land grabbed from the facility reverted.

To date, there is no sign that the over two acres sandwiched between Harry Thuku Road and Uhuru Highway will be freed back any time soon for expansion the theatre.

There is, however, some good news.

At the end of this year's festival, Deputy President William Ruto announced that the Government had set aside Sh400 million for establishment of an ultra-modern film school to build human capital, which is critical to the film industry.

The presence of the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development's (KICD) Edu-Channel at the festival gave some hope that the content produced by the students will be circulated in the mass market.

Regrettably, however, the benefits that accrue from the airing of such content never trickle down to schools; teachers and students involved in its production.

Not even the sale of videos by KICD of the productions gets back to the institutions.

"Last time when I wanted to watch a copy of my own production, I had to buy the CD from KICD," said a teacher who feels the schools were being a ripped-off.

Worse still, the audience can record with their mobile phones and I-pads and stream them the art on You-tube, Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and other social media outlets without regard to copyright.

"We want to focus on Intellectual Property Rights in the future and before the year ends, we will organise a workshop in this regard to mobilise the players on the need for respect for intellectual property," the festival's Executive Secretary Sirengo Khaemba said.

According to the Chairman of the Artist Forum International Jeremiah Ammbbaassaah, county governments to also invest in building theatres in their regions.

"Machakos County has just done a 3,000-seat capacity theatre and Nakuru County has committed Sh25 million for the rehabilitation for the Nakuru Players Theatre. That's the way to go," he said adding that Machakos facility also has a film studio.

The world International Property Organisation says the creative contributes five per cent to Kenya's GDP.


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