Having found her passion in the art of performance, Grace Wangari, 34, started Wangari The Story Teller, a story telling business.
My background is in performance. I landed in it quite by mistake. After high school, I found myself with nothing to do and I got into stage acting. I have always been an introvert and never ever imagined that I could even act in front of a live audience but because of curiosity and the encouragement of a friend, I tried out for an acting group. In my first performance, I even forgot my lines, but I was able to bounce back and the rest, as they say, is history. I went on to perform in schools all over Kenya with the acting group then went on to feature in TV shows like Makutano Junction, Saints and Mnazi Lane. In 2013, I joined Mount Kenya University to study Development Studies. I graduated in 2017.
While I was still doing travelling theatre with the acting group, I had a friend already performing stories with a different group back in 2006. As time went by, she would sometimes ask me to sit in for their rehearsals and attend some performances. For the first time, this introvert fell in love with the art of storytelling. I loved everything from the music, to dance, to seeing how the audiences would be captivated with an enthralling performance. I felt drawn to it and I knew I had to give it a try.
My chance came when I met Aleya Kassam of Story Moja in 2012. I told her about my love and passion for storytelling and performance and she hired me to help market story books through storytelling.
This time, I was alone as I had no one to rely on but myself and so I was forced to grow as a performer. I was able to nurture my craft and to fall in love with performance storytelling. It felt like this is what I was created to do.
What happened next
I stayed and worked for a year, and after I left, I decided to take a chance on my own brand of performance story telling in 2014. I did not know how it was going to work as a business but I knew that I loved it and I was good at it. So my business Wangari The Story Teller was born.
I now do story telling in a broad way, not just for entertainment, but for marketing, training and sometimes development projects. My audience is not just children but also adults. My clients range from schools to corporates. When I have a client, I adapt and conceptualise interactive stories according to the core-message they want me to emphasise when performing.
Basically, my performances are made to fit my audience. I also ensure my performances are highly interactive and fused with music, dance, riddles, call and response and other interactive tools that help me engage with my audience.
Running a start up
Starting the business did not cost me much financially because my performance is what I was selling. In fact, I began with Sh. 20,000 and I used it to make a website for my business. However, it was difficult trying to explain to people what it was that I was selling. My friends and family kept asking me when I was going to get a “real” job.
Secondly, it was a challenge getting consistent bookings. Lastly, because I was starting out, I was not able to hire anyone, so I had to do everything. It was not easy doing the performances, researching, adapting and marketing all on my own. However, the experience helped me grow. I am now able to effectively multitask the different roles I have to play in order for my business to work.
Where I am now
First, my family finally stopped asking me when I was planning to get a “real” job because they have seen that I really love what I am doing and I am able to make a living out of it.
I have also now diversified into writing children’s books. I have three books out: The Forever Tree, The Colour Magician and Mti wa Milele. So, I go to different schools and do performance story telling for my books as part of their co-curricular activities and also during their social events.
Additionally, I now run workshops for various groups like teachers, parents, churches, and libraries on how to use storytelling to encourage children to read more and enjoy it. I also do workshops on story telling theatre.
I recently did a workshop in Tanzania where I taught students from Edinburgh, UK how to do performance storytelling in Kiswahili.
Further, I have had the privilege of travelling to India, Germany, Tanzania and Sweden to perform.
Make sure when you get into business that you do something that you enjoy; do not start a school for children when you know you have no patience for children. Do something you love so that when they get hard, which is a given, you are able to stand and keep fighting for your dream.
More about Wangari’s business:
Start-up costs: Sh. 20,000