By Victor Ochieng’ and Michael Masinde
Last Saturday, at around twilight, Harambee Theatre Group staged a play called Merimela at the Dagoretti South Empowerment Centre in the informal settlement of Kawangware.
This happens to be close to our neck-of-the-woods Riruta-Satelite, Nairobi.
When we received the cordial invitation to attend this artistic event, we did not dare to dither due to two reasons.
Firstly, Kennedy Saita, the Director of the famed theatre group, was our erstwhile student of English language and literature.
So, we proceeded there to prop up his pioneering spirit and promote his programs.
Secondly, as literary puritans, we felt enthused by the royal role this theatre group is playing in society, which gave us a riveting rehash of the iconic varsity-traveling theatre groups.
Ideally, theatre groups perform plays on stage.
Through ingenuity and creativity, they act plays already published as books.
For instance, when secondary schools are in session, Harambee Theatre Group crosses counties across the country to act the KCSE set texts.
Their peerless performances complement analyses of set texts done by teachers in the classroom setting.
Again, through the help of playwrights who pen playlets and plays, theatre groups stage their compositions to achieve umpteen purposes like raising modicum levels of income.
On this, Alex Nderitu published an insightful article on 28th June 2017 in the Theatre Times titled: Kenyan Theatre – the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
In that great text oscillating around the role of theatre and performance, he posited that the Kenya National Theatre (KNT) was started as a recreational center for British soldiers in the colonial era.
Currently, KNT is classified as a cultural center, which means that it should remain true to one of its regal responsibilities: taking us back to basics and building gabions that can ward off cultural erosion.
Literary enthusiasts and historians by extension know the essence of people preserving their customs and tradition through available means like theatre.
Again, theatre groups play the role of edutainment: they entertain and educate people at the same time.
Being that plays are stories acted on stage, people glue their eyes on those performances so that they are teased and tickled for the essence of comic relief.
Through a literary style like satire, thespians speak the truth to the audience laughingly and in the process, people get educated.
For instance, Merimela, which was a comic play we watched recently, taught us plenty of family values.
The protagonist Merimela, who was a naughty nanny in Brian and Teresa’s house, brought out evils perpetuated by various domestic managers commonly called ‘maids’ in Kenya.
Through nemesis, a literary technique where virtue is glorified, and vice is vilified, the writer, directors and actors of the play ensured that Merimela reaped what she sowed.
Her absurd and subtle schemes were unearthed.
The twist of fate did not allow her to go scot-free.
Therefore, plays as pieces of literature mirror our society and meet the purpose of education.
It is also what the Kamirithu Theatre Group, directed by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii, did in the sunset of the 70s.
Plenty of people from the lush slopes of Mt. Kenya thronged Kamirithu Community Education and Cultural Centre just to get entertained and educated on the culture and luster of the local language.
Plays rife with local flavor like Ngaahika Ndeenda (I Will Marry When I Want) were banned by the then government because they sensitized the public on oppression and exploitation by the same government.
Government arrowheads did not like the way such plays caused sudden awareness and awakening in the conscience of common citizens, especially in relation to socio-political evils meted out on them by the state.
Furthermore, theatre groups nurture talents, carve careers and design destinies.
That is what we witnessed at Kawangware, as Harambee Theatre Group staged the Merimela mime.
The performance of the play was prefaced by interesting items from eloquent poets and exuberant dancers.
The master of ceremony also evinced his good gift of the gab as he cracked ribs through wise use of humor.
When the play was staged, we spotted talented thespians whom we believe that through patience and persistence, can rise to stardom and touch the acme of the lucrative acting career.
This is in line with what was done by the Kenyatta University Traveling Theatre (KUTT).
It is acclaimed for the pivotal role it played to churn out the finest in the sphere of drama and comedy.
Daniel Ndambuki aka Churchill was a member of KUTT.
This must have had a puissant impact on him starting his laugh industry, which entertains and educates the masses to a great extent.
In conclusion, theatre groups raise writers of plays – playwrights.
To abut this argument, on Tuesday, January 3, 2017, the Guardian featured an article to this effect titled: Beyond Blasted, How the 90s Changed Theatre in the UK.
The oeuvre of that tantalizing treatise explained explicitly how the proliferation of theatre groups led to the meteoric rise of many playwrights.
Apart from what we can see beyond the sea, the performance of plays built the writing careers of the putative East African playwrights like Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Francis Imbuga, John Ruganda, David Mulwa, and many more.
The writers are enthusiasts of the English language and literature.
Contact: Victor Ochieng’: firstname.lastname@example.org 0704420232
Michael Masinde: email@example.com 0710719183
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