Theatre festival makes an impressive first cut

05:21 by Kaggwa Andrew
When the Kampala International Theatre festival opened on Wednesday, November 26, many people were skeptical; some thought it was one of those borrowed ideas, totally irrelevant to the sector at this time.
The five day event, courtesy of Bayimba Foundation in partnership with Sundance Institute East Africa (SIEA), was geared towards showcasing plays from emerging and established African playwrights, who are topical and focused on gaining a diverse audience and space.
Thus, the diverse choice of productions, which included a South African/French production, Ster City, by Jean-Paul Delore, DJ Lwanda by Kenya’s Eric Wainana and Radio Play by Rwanda’s Rubiza Wesley.
This came at a time when theatre has globally gone through tough days, not only in terms of a diminishing audience but even a roughly worse content delivery, production, and management.
However, SIEA had put all this little bits to connect the dots to a good production. They were not simply here to showcase theatre but teach how a production should be handled, managing space and working under a tight budget.
For instance, the audience was expected to be settled at least five minutes before the show. And when action started, whether the auditorium was empty or not, no one would be allowed in.
According to Bayimba’s Faisal Kiwewa, this was intended since they didn’t want the cast to be disrupted by people coming in and out all the time.
Festival curator Deborah Asiimwe noted that one way of being professional and respecting what you do is through time keeping.
“The audience and cast can easily lose concentration if people keep walking in and out during a production,” she said.
The productions were minimalistic, lasting between 30 to 90 minutes as opposed to the Ugandan three hour productions. They also kept the cast small; Ster City, for example, had two actors and a musician, while DJ Lwanda had one actor and two musicians: Eric Wainana and our own Suzan Kerunen, which makes economic sense in terms of cost cutting.
In Uganda, when you talk theatre, the faces that come into mind are those of Alex Mukulu or Ntare Mbaho Mwine, who usually stage shows for elites, then Bakayimbira Dramactors, Diamonds Essemble and The Ebonies for the common man. These shows usually happen in theatre settings. This according to Asiimwe has confined the art to the stage.
Thus, the festival wanted to give theatre goers an alternative. Desperate To Fight told an African story of a woman (Gladys Onyenbot – a bankable actress) that has had misfortunes as far as marriage is concerned. She looks up to the neighbors whose relationship seems perfect. Unknown to her, the marriage she admires is also rather abusive.
This production was staged behind the theatre’s main auditorium, known as the Big Hut.
The purpose for this, according to Asiimwe, was to show people that theatre was not only about the stage and auditorium but rather for any venue.
In fact, after Desparate To Fight, more shows such as DJ Lwanda and Wimbowa Nyongo were done in the Green room and the CICP room respectively.
The festival ended on Sunday with the screening of Strings, a Ugandan production and Maria Kizito, an American play about a Rwandan nun that aided the massacre of 7,000 people, who had taken refuge at the church during the 1994 genocide.
Asiimwe assured Ugandans that her team has learnt a lot from this pioneer and pilot festival, promising to do an even better job next year.
This year’s productions were affiliated to SIEA. In the next festival though, they will be welcoming entries from playwrights in Uganda, East, Middle East and North Africa, with or without connection to SIEA.
Asiimwe is optimistic that the festival will become an international platform for budding and talented playwrights, directors, and actors, among others; plus, give a chance to open theatre thinkers to execute their ideas the way they ought to, without being locked in a box.


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