How community theatre is carefully moulding ‘wasted’ talent into stars

254 Rock Latin Micasa dancers at Nakuru Player’s Theater. [Harun Wathari, Standard]
Nakuru, like any other major town in Kenya, is full of talent and rich in culture. The talented individuals are actors, dancers, rappers, comedians, among others, who walk around their businesses in the town.

When the name Nakuru Talent pops up, people think of artists like Professor Hamo (Herman Gakobo), a comedian at Churchill Show, Avril (Judith Nyambura), a local musician, and Ng’ang’alito, a runner-up in Tusker Project Fame show, just to mention a few.

What the artists above have in common is that they were given many platforms to showcase their talent and that is how they gained entry into fame and success. It however took some of them years of sweat, auditions, challenges, disasters, and even exploitation to have their breakthrough.

Before his breakthrough, Comedian Hamo was performing at Nakuru Player’s Theater, the only playhouse Nakuru has to showcase local talent.

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According to Benson Ngothia, the current chairman of the team managing the playhouse, the theatre is society owned and was developed in 1949 by settlers.

“In 1990, a Kenyan was brought on board to manage the theatre, which had been previously managed by whites,” says Ngothia.

Seeing them in action demonstrates how many have nurtured their talent to fame by sheer determination. “Come along and join us and let us enjoy the talents that will be featured today,” beckons Eric Wanyama.

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Other than being the secretary to the management of the theatre, Wanyama is the executive producer of a show called Theatre Unplugged.

The name ‘unplugged’, according to Wanyama, literally implies unplugging a television set, radio or other electronic devices from the power socket, thereby turning them off.

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Wanyama says Kenyan audiences and fans have been swayed to believe that for a talent to be great, it must appear in electronic, print or social media. “People praise talents that they have seen on television and social media, and those that they have heard on radio, forgetting that the performances had to go to greater lengths to make it to the media,” he says.

Powerful platform

Wanyama says he, together with the Theatre’s management, decided to come up with the show that will tap into dormant talented individuals who feel wasted and give them a platform to showcase their talent, grow and hopefully succeed in the future.

“We decided to create the show to unplug minds of Nakuru artistes and audiences from media perspective and make them understand that there is talent outside electronic, print and social media,” he says.

Unplugged show was piloted on January 31, and has been featured every last Thursday of the month from 3pm to 6pm. It marked seven months on July 25.

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Among the performances in the show is a play by Rift Theatre Production that tells a story of how two people from different backgrounds and classes fell in love.

The leads, Clingtone Aswani (Prince) and Maureen Wangui (Betty) are from different worlds. Betty is from a rich family while Prince is poor. Prince has to face obstacles from Betty’s parents and ignore his close friends’ advice to win her heart. Before sundown, Ben Karanja and Veryl Akinyi (Mkaliwao), the hosts of Unplugged, mention the name 254 Rock Latin Micasa and the audience goes wild.

A group of five dancers pop out of the back stage garbed in black and white and faces painted with horror markings. In breakdance moves, the group wows the crowd in Kizomba dance fused with modern styles.

Eric Rutah, the director and creator of the dance, says the members work hard to ensure they create and bring something unique on stage.

To cast no doubt to Rutah’s words, when the group exits the stage, it almost marks the end of the show as a majority of the audience leaves the theatre with them.

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Wanyama says to ensure every presentation is competitive, they have to go through auditions to make it to the main show.

“We look for unique talents packaged in a theatrical way. To make auditions tricky, we come up with different themes every month and the arts must adhere to the themes,” he says.

The themes chosen, Wanyama says, are ones that provoke conversations, including politics, love, health and education.

“The arts and the artists themselves have grown in confidence. Some who were shy are now the stars in a play and they are still improving,” he said. 

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