Hope for young talents as State lifts ban on book plays

Theatrix Ensemble during a performance at Nyakach Girls. [George Orido]
After many false declarations by government officials, Theatre in Education groups in the country can finally breathe a sigh of relief after the State lifted the blanket ban imposed two years ago.

Through their umbrella body The Kenya Cultural Centre Association of Artistes which has been engaging the ministry since May last year, says the positive response by the Education ministry has given them impetus.

“We play an important role helping students interpret and understand literature,” says David Alliwah the Secretary General of the association.

The associating chair Michael Mboya welcomed the Education Cabinet Secretary’s intervention and has promised to stick to the regulations as spelt by the Quality Assurance Directorate at the Ministry.

“All the groups in the country have been profiled, are accountable and responsible in ensuring that nothing less than quality is followed,” said Mboya.

He noted that this is in line with the new education curriculum’s goal to actualise the discovery of talents.

The theatre in education performance is also seen a strong outlet for young talents that come out of school.

Presentation of theatre performances in schools in Kenya and Eastern Africa has a long history that goes back to the famous Free Travelling Theatre movement, founded at the then East Africa University College, Makerere, under the Department of Music, Dance and Drama (MDD) in Uganda in the early 1960s.

The MDD would select texts including those being studied at ‘O’ and ‘A’ Levels, rehearse them as productions and then hit the road into rural Uganda to present the respective performances in the village arenas, markets and schools.

Pioneer names associated with these practices include Prof Rose Mbowa and Dr John Ruganda among others.

They were then young students and lecturers working with Makerere’s MDD. Others were Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, now the Governor of Kisumu and Pheroze Nowrojee among others.

In time, things fell apart in Uganda in the early 1970s during the rule of President Idi Amin.

Many academicians were being persecuted and had to flee the country. That is how John Ruganda landed at the University of Nairobi, as a lecturer at the Department of Literature.

He brought with him the Free Travelling Theatre experience and together with other lecturers and students, introduced it as an annual practice.

Names like Kivutha Kibwana, Okot p’Bitek, David Rubadiri, Micere Mugo, Joe de Craft came to be associated with the movement.

In the 1990s, name like Opiyo Mumma, Odera Outa, Mueni Lundi, Mshai, Mwangola, Oby Obyerodhyambo, Ayal Gad, Winnie Mitula and Gachugu Makini among others would feature in such performances.

Francis Imbuga, Wasambo Were, David Mulwa, Stella Awinja Muka, Konga Mbandu, Aghan Odero, Ian Mbugua, Sammy Mwangi, Victor Ber, Ken Waudo, Bob Nyanja, John Sibi Okumu, Paul Onsongo and Hassan Wario Arero are among other names that featured in set book performances.

From the current entertainment scene, some of the notable actors who have graduated through the schools text book drama and traveling theatre include Daniel Ndambuki aka Churchill, Jalang’o, Wilbroda, Chipukeezy and Jackie Vike aka Awinja.

The CS seems to be reading from the same script as the President who has been quoted in various art platform calling for a programme to ensure young artistes are accommodated and left to earn a living out of it.

Whilst addressing students and teachers at the finalists’ concert at Sagana State Lodge last year, President urged the Ministry of Education to fast-track a programme on Implementation of a broad-based mentorship for these young artistes.

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Book playsTheatreKenya Cultural Centre Association of Artistes