International theatre festival finds range after ban threat

Kagayi Ngobi in a performance of “For My Negativity” at the National Theatre on November 23. Photo | Daudi Murungi

What you need to know:

  • A week before the festival, Tebere Arts Foundation Limited—the organisers of the fete were informed by the Media Council of Uganda (MCU) that they were required to pay statutory fees for both local and international plays.

The Media Council of Uganda’s threat to ban this year’s edition of the Kampala International Theatre Festival (KITF) over failure to seek classification of the plays from the statutory body – contrary to provisions in the Press and Journalist Act, Cap l05—sent shock waves among the theatre fraternity.

A week before the festival, Tebere Arts Foundation Limited—the organisers of the fete were informed by the Media Council of Uganda (MCU) that they were required to pay statutory fees for both local and international plays.

They were also required, among others, to present the scripts of each play, each signed by the playwright on every page, with videos or audios for each play as well as artists’ identification documents, insurance of a certificate or classification and affidavits for each writer.

The MCU cleared the staging of the festival a few hours before the opening day after the organisers had fulfilled all the requirements.

“As a presenting body, we were not aware that these laws directly affected us. Also, I guess because we have been presenting this festival for close to 10 years and it had never been a problem, this came as a shock to us, and more so because it came a week to the festival yet we had been advertising the festival for over two months,” Ms Deborah Asiimwe Kawe, the producing artistic director at Tebere Arts Foundation, told the Monitor.

She added: “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that a body which was established to enable the work of artists would come after us with threats to stop this festival just six days to the opening.”

Ms Asiimwe said the cloud of uncertainty that hovered above the event saw some artists who were scheduled to perform pull out. The five-day festival was nevertheless staged from November 23 to 27 at the Ndere Cultural Centre and the Uganda National Cultural Centre-National Theatre in Kampala.

Negative energy

The plays at this years’ edition were Hibernation (Germany), KTO TAM (Spain/Russia), For My Negativity (Uganda), People of Mine (Uganda), A Country Funeral (Uganda), and audio dramas, among others.

“The recurring themes across many of the works include dealing with the temporariness of life, and questions of life after,” Ms Asiimwe revealed, adding: “We have plays that take a deeper look at being products of ‘post’ colonial nation-states and fragile democracies.”

Written and acted by Kagayi Ngobi, “For My Negativity” questions the role of poets in Uganda. Why are today’s poets so negative? What makes them sad, pessimistic, sarcastic, angry and miserable? What are they reading into the crucible of today’s currents that makes them ‘lament’ and ‘protest’? What do they protest about?

“For My Negativity” affirms that Uganda doesn’t belong to Ugandans but to those in power. This explains why the people will continue saying, ‘This Country Is Not Ours, Munange.’

In his protest poetry Kagayi says he is sorry for the state of his country and for his negativity. He adds that his negativity is his strategy. The people will hear the poems, but they will not listen. He asks how Ugandans are expected to sing the national anthem on empty stomachs. Why does he have to address Ugandans in English? Why is the constitution written in English?

 From hibernation to Domovoi

Directed by Samuel Hof, “Hibernation” is a visual performance that traces our relationship of hygiene and infection, to care and disposal, to technology and what is left over. It combines object theatre, visual theatre, live video, DIY-robotics and a lot of music in one poetic and thoughtful performance.

Directed by Igor Mamlenkov, “KTO TAM” tells a story of a family that once lived in a wooden house with a spirit called Domovoi. They had some animals, a bee-friendly garden; kids were running around barefoot and playing day and night. Then they grew tired of the routine tough lifestyle in the village. One day they just left to seek a better life in town, but they forgot to take their Domovoi with them.

Domovoi happens to be a responsible and respectable spirit; he took his duty seriously and started to take care of the empty house alone together with his friends, a fluffy plush dog and the house itself.

Written by Brenda Tendo Nakyejjwe, “A Country Funeral” (reading) revolves around Jacob, David, and Anna, who find themselves caught up in a brutal strike after the death of the country’s first lady. In an attempt to find solace in this anomaly, they begin to pin each other’s skeletons and pasts in relation to their ascension to the top. This lethal setting unleashes a new wave of cripples and insecurities, leading to a second murder.

Audio representation

The organisers curated an audio installation for the first time at the festival to exhibit works of art that exist in a different medium. The audio plays by the Tebere Arts Foundation Emerging Artists were: “Make a Joyful Noise” by Brenda Ibarah; “My Nightingale” by Dorothy Muhirwe; “The Odd Redemptor” by Chris Tenderi; “Songa Mbele” By Alex Kitaka and Ubia Hope; “My Little Brother” by Lubwama Duncan; and “Political Affairs” by Micheal Tamale.

“Songa Mbele” is an exploration of corruption and entitlement from a police woman who thinks that she has a right to rob citizens of their money because they are being paid less and have expenses to take care of. She finds pleasure in putting men in cornered conditions and exercising her authority over them.

Careful what you wish for

“The Odd Redemptor” is a story about a 35-year-old man—Bravio—who on his last day on honeymoon jokingly wishes to die. Unfortunately, he does encounter death. Bravio, however, wants death to undo what has happened to him. Will death grant him a second chance at life?

“Political Affairs” is about Justice and Maverick who are on the run from their father, the president. They have in their possession a piece of evidence which could damn him and his reign. He will go to all lengths to get it back and keep the information secret.

The audio plays by the Nairobi Musical Theatre Initiative were: “Rambo Bambo Boom” by Tina Nduba-Banja and Mayonde Masya; “Pani Puri” by Aleya Kassam; “Nairobae” by Aroji Otieno; “Moonlight” by Wacuka Mungai; and “Kabaseke” by Benjamin Kabaseke and Paul Kades.

“Nairobae” revolves around Nkoba, a young woman who—frustrated by her daily routine—leaves her village for Nairobi with a dream for a better life. On a whim, she leaves behind her mother and child. In Nairobi, she encounters constant challenges on her journey to success until she stumbles upon social media and becomes an overnight sensation. Life at the top is not what she imagined, and her past mistakes soon come to haunt her. 

“Rambo Bambo Boom” is about Malaika, an immortal being who insists on travelling to earth, against the will of her Queen Mother, to spread love, peace and harmony. She lands, by mistake, in Nairobi, and discovers chaos, love and life.  “Kabaseke” is about a musician saved by his music who tells the story of his starting journey from the Congo to Kenya.