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KIZINGO Takes Averted Curve of Film-Distribution

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Fatuma Ali and Jakes Israel as Soni and Johni

 

When celebrated director, Simiyu Barasa, swung his spectacles from the front of his eyes to his bald head and broke the news to me, I thought it was something he was only considering; Only to find out that it  was an ongoing project. He had teamed up with the prolific (producer)Betty Kathungu-Furet, to produce the film, Kizingo.

In a country where film making was introduced as early as the 1950’s with marks of approbation  for its first president being a featured extra in one of those films, it is a considerate surprise that not much stride has been made towards making film an industry as well as a culture. All intricate challenges however point to one major impediment: Distribution.

Still our best hope is on the independent film maker who prioritizes an artistic aim and desire to connect with his/her audience. One may wonder how to categorize an indie from a mainstream film maker in Kenya. This argument is substantial as film making is still not a main source of livelihood in the country. Based on numerical availability,we could refer to  N.G.O and donor funded films as mainstream. A few are usually free to explore an authentic narrative while most are purely meant to proselytize or sustain a didactic social awareness theme.

The main reason why most film makers seek refuge from N.GO’s is purely financial. However, the only way they can create their own financial independence is by creating a consumer market. This is not a brand new idea neither is it a solution that I have just thought about and offered. It has been discussed in the film circles for as long as I have been in it. Unfortunately, no one has ever given it a serious try. Not until now!

“With Kizingo, the mission is to make a high quality film and then go on a countrywide tour to make sure that it is screened in all the counties via box office. The film makers will attempt to disapprove the myth that box offices only exist in Urban cities in Kenya, in film theatres. With a laid out plan to bring Cinema to the people, we aim to take the film to social halls and other screening venues across the country.”Said Simiyu.

In deed the two film-makers have kept the vision and laid the ground work. The film will premiere in Machakos People’s Park on the 5th of August 2016. Not only will this be the first feature film of national allure to premiere outside Nairobi, it will also be the first film ever, in Kenya, to show simultaneously in 8 counties from the premier date to the 7th of August, 2016. Logistically, this means that in future it will be possible to rank films according to box office performance.

What this also means is that Betty and Simiyu will inevitably  make a distribution channel which other film makers can follow later on. I love  that he stressed that the film will be of high quality. He expounded on how he would go about it:

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Mohammed Juma Said as Roba.

“Kizingo is a Kiswahili comedy drama about two bumbling thugs, KAUZI and ROBAA who lose their loot to two kids, SONI and JOHNI. Attempts to terrorize them and retrieve the loot turns into more comedy than horror. What is more , by picking children who have never acted on screen before, and mixing them with seasoned actors from Nairobi and Mombasa, the film not only aims at showcasing raw exciting  talent, but also creating partnerships between Nairobi and Coast film productions. Plans are also in place to work together with film producers in  Kisii, Embu, Nyeri, and the coast .”

In deed  the film is a good cocktail of stars and newbies. Evans Isaya, who stars in Sumu La Penzi and Lies That Bind as well as several Zamaradi films, and commercials, has a major role. Pretty Mutave who is based in Mombasa and  has built a following from the TV show, Arosto is also starring in it. Eleven year old Fatuma Ali and ten year old Jakes Israel are soon going to be the darlings of film. Other cast members include Muhammed Juma Said, Ali Shahibu and Julian ‘Mwazele Tindo’.

It is of course challenging to work with new actors whether young or old since acting is a profession as any other. But one could argue – or hope – that when you discover natural talent and place it in the hands of a creative and talented  director like Simiyu Barasa, magic is made;(remember Abraham Attah as Agu in Beasts of No Nation).I am positive that independent distribution is the way to go and Kenyans will later appreciate the trailblazing structures that this initiative will leave.

SAVE THE DATES !

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2nd forum final poster

We at An Actor Develops Studio are extremely excited about the next forum and workshop to take place this weekend- from the 6th to the 8th of May, 2016. I really don’t know how this idea first came about but it was definitely propelled by the feedback I got from the articles on this blog. I discovered that actors are willing to sharpen their craft, network and hope to leave this sector better than it was when they found it. Most actors can attest to the struggle to ‘join the club’. Up to the early 2000’s when I joined, it was not easy to have opportunities to work as a professional actor. Back then TV actors were gods (not that there was much happening on TV), theatre was still where the magic happened but the most available ones were set book plays. So do not get tired of listening to all this ‘old’ actors talk about how they started with doing set book plays.

It is therefore a delight to see presently that actors have more more choices of where to start from. I have met a few well known TV faces who confess to me that they have actually never been on stage even though they wish to. I believe different groups, companies and individuals have demystified the profession of acting and encouraged newbies to be optimistic about getting work. The growing demand by Kenyans to consume their own  media products has also enabled  TV stations to outsource more material from local producers hence create more work for actors. However these opportunities are still not enough to declare this an industry. Actors also feel locked –up in the rat-race instead of pursuing artistically gratifying projects.

It is therefore important that you as an actor contribute to the development of this sector. The era of assuming it is okay to let someone else fight for your battles is coming to an end. When you understand your contribution in the society and know your worth, you become more confident to demand for  better treatment.

An Actor Develops Studio promotes an informal environment where actors meet as peers and challenge as well as motivate each other. This  Friday forum is going to be fun simply because  the presenters are known to be of hearty personalities. Gerald Langiri (who stopped food jokes by the way) is witty and always knows how to break it down and make one feel appreciated. John Karanja has been a producer from zile ma days za Waridi and is extremely passionate about film. Melvin Alusa is stylish, intriguing and always brings the house down. Of course we will have zile typical wasanii arguments that I’m not going to even touch on this blog.

Still we are glad to see so much support from fellow actors who have either applied  for the workshops or promised to attend the forum. It makes a clear statement that we are ready to take charge of our destiny. So how about you turn up with your ideas, or just a listening ear and let’s help each other figure out this ‘thing’?

I’ll leave you  with copies  of two out of   forty feedback comments that were given to us by participants after the  previous event. See you on Friday!

“This was my workshop and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. The topic on character development was an ideal area to begin.I know I am work in progress and I know I have left with items or point that I will apply to my work . More group work would have been useful.” – Muthoni Gathaecha

“ Felt at home with all the talented actors in attendance. Learnt alone in the three days that would have probably taken me  five years to learn on my own. Hopefully if we have another workshop we could use mentor-ship from legendary actors like Ken Ambani” – Damaris Kaeche.

RIVERWOOD AWARDS & LESSONS FROM #OscarsSoWhite

RIVERWOOD AWARDS & LESSONS FROM #OscarsSoWhite

 

On the night of 12th March 2016

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Actor Gerald Langiri deals with press -two at a time – on the red carpet.

I let the lingering Chris Rock’s monologue twirl through my mind as I headed to the National Museum to catch a performance. I walked towards the Louis Leakey auditorium praying that I wasn’t so late as to miss the beginning of the show. How I hate that! Introverted voices from within had to hush as I used more focus on finding parking; but not before reciting Chris Rock’s most profound statement at the 2016 0scar awards: “…Well here’s the real question. The real question everybody wants to know in the world is: Is Hollywood racist? You know. You gotta go at that at the right way. Is it burning-cross racist? No. Is it “Fetch me some lemonade” racist? No! It’s a different type of racist…” I wondered how it would be received by our Kenyan acting fraternity and other stakeholders if an actor stood on an awards podium and instead of kupaka mafuta (oiling egos) get close and candid on matters that make actors not sit easy?

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Appie Matere, a prolific mainstream producer was present.

 

Familiar faces of actors greeted me outside the white tent. I’m always excited to see friends so I hardly noticed the red carpet and the screen projector set on the left hand side of the building. Soon my paranoia kicked in and I began to wonder why poetry show set-up would be decorated in this manner, with the voices of charming MC’s coming from the loud speakers? I also wondered if this is the kind of crowd that comes to a poetry reading? Not really – and especially not when everyone is dressed in pristine black and grey dinner suits only worn by actors when they are attending…damn! How could I have mixed up the dates?

After I realized what was happening, I began to take in the glamour and glitter attributed to a ceremony of this caliber. A table at the beginning of the alley way was occupied by black occasion dresses, speaking pleasantly to the guests and ushering them inside. The long red carpet diligently led to a photo section where momentarily important film practitioners were greeted by two chatty and welcoming MC’s, whose voices I had noticed earlier on, and a crowd of camera men quite eager to take their pictures. These things make actors feel good and appreciated. So, I loaded my camera and put it in front of my eyes. Through its lens I saw buoyantly posing actors whose hearts were enthralled and grateful that someone had prepared a prestigious event in their honor.

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From left: Actor/producer Kamau Wandungu , Actor/producer Naomi Kamau and producer Gathoni Kimuyu.

As I took a back seat and watched the event proceed, I wondered what was different this year at the Riverwood Academy Awards? First it goes without saying that the choice of venue helped to create an air of prestige. The Louis Leakey auditorium at the National Museum had enough space outside to set up additional facilities like the catering sector, extra tents, and a projector meant to assist with the over flow of attendees. Inside, the auditorium was classy and glamorously decorated with lots of ambience and a spacious stage.

Apart from the venue, there was a genuine interest in the actors by the organizers. The ushers must be given a ‘thumbs up’ as they appeared organized and simply happy to be there. I wasn’t even invited and yet the organizers treated me with appreciation and respect as an actor. I couldn’t help but imagine how much the nominees were being pampered.

A significant aspect of the awards was the presence of professional actors amongst them celebrities. The Riverwood Awards organizers seemed to realize that the industry could expedite its growth process by embracing the mainstream sector and therefore transform its image from this downtown tribal-homemade video business to a business where many more Kenyans appreciate and consume homegrown film products.

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Power-pose: Actors Joe Kinyua and Muthoni Thiong’o

I entertained the idea that just like an influential group of black American actors had protested to Hollywood, our own actors might have aired their views to Riverwood for these positive changes to be made. Perhaps the organizers inherently saw the need for this improvement after self-assessment and only harkened to sporadic feedback from actors.

All in all It makes me confident to disclose my reservation as I am hopeful that the Riverwood Ensemble might have taken notice too, so here we go: I was a bit disappointed –partly with myself- that I had not watched any of the films that had been nominated. Not one. I received messages from a few actors who were nominated asking me to vote for them. I could not do it simply because I had not watched any. I know it is not upon the ensemble in to ensure film distribution in its entirety but it is only fair that the nominated films are shown to the public or at least the fraternity. I propose that next time they have a showcasing week end right after announcing the nominations.

By that virtue I don’t feel qualified to announce the winner. You can find the list of awardees at http://www.actors.co.ke/en/mer/articledetail/763.

The Riverwood Academy Awards may have a long way to go but this ceremony proved that there is an audience and a market that appreciate Kenyan products and encourage actors to keep up their struggle for success.

On the other hand, the #Oscarssowhite ‘campaign’ which culminated in a racism-themed monologue by Chris Rock, also gave us important lessons in bravery, artists’ advocacy and oneness of voice. Black actors in America have made huge strides ever since they were allowed into the mainstream stage. Their success does not inhibit them to continue demanding for a fair playing ground in the American film and TV industry.

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Kibanda Pictures cast and crew had a reason to smile – Best Director, short film, actress, supporting actress.Martin Githinji,David Kariuki,Brian Elvis Muchara, May Wairimu.

What of us who only demand dignified treatment during awards… who only want at least sixty percent local content from international and local broadcasters…who want a structured welfare package? What of us who are determined to see the success of Kenyan theatre and film as a self-sustainable cultural element of our beloved nation?

NICE FIGHT FOR ACTORS

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If The Kenya National Theatre is the home for thespians in Nairobi, then the Alliance Francaise is their pub. A joint in which you will assuredly ‘bump’ into the artist you have been looking for. All you need is the right timing. Some like coming here at midday when they can be freely idle, jam or katiana until one day they manage to convince the management that they are indeed serious artists and deserve a free space, the Sauti Sol- ish kind of artists. Some also come in the evening to catch the latest plays or concerts as they have a beverage and flash their afro-centric fashion. The other group comes in the evening, walk-racing to go upstairs and try to begin rehearsals on time. This group is considered the ‘hustler’ type. Mostly familiar faces on film and TV yet with a strong desire to maintain their theatre connections.

It’s in this last group that I was sure to find Nice Githinji. Pinning her down had proved to be even more difficult than I had thought. Talking to Nice on the phone or in person leaves one with an “it’s done” mentality. However the girl is in demand and even making time for an old buddy doesn’t seem to work within her time schedule.

I look around me and ponder on the architecture of this building. I frown at the carton –box like designed building that hosts the busiest theatre in Nairobi. I wonder loudly why the architect saw the need of wrapping the building with railings painted in the same beige and grey colours as the building?

I’m unable to draw a conclusion as my thoughts are interrupted by the ever-present Nice. I could hear her small yet assertive voice as she explains something to her pal. She knows what I’m here for so she apologizes for not being able to answer the questions I had sent her as we hug. She then apologizes a second time as she is running late for a rehearsal. It’s her professional debut as a theatre director and what better place to begin from than the FCA, one of the most popular theatre groups in Nairobi. So if you want to see a ‘Nice’ version of The Diplomat’s Wife, go to Alliance Francaise on 25th -28th February 2016. I agree to wait for her so I watch her pass through security before I head to a new restaurant nearby that someone had encouraged me to check out.

Nice’s appearance stays with me for a while. Her glossy creamy and free dress enhanced her bubbly intelligent nature. She is the kind of person who can talk about world politics, romance, theatre and her family all at once. Don’t ask me how she does it. I recall an encounter with her, about six years ago. I hadn’t seen her for a while and when we bumped into each other I exclaimed,

“You’ve lost weight.”

Nice replied by reprimanding me for not being honest with her when she had added weight. This time I was glad she had maintained her slim curvaceous figure but I wasn’t going to  bring it up.  Nice is an objective free thinker and you can never truly guess how she would reply.

The change to our industry that she had promised to speak to me about was concerningNice makutano her victorious fight in convincing most theatre houses in Nairobi to subsidize tickets for actors so that the guild can encourage members to support one another by going to watch each other’s performances. I was also going to try and sneak a mini-interview.

I caught up with her again outside the Alliance Francaise. By now the new crescent like moon could be seen on the right side of the sky. People however ignored this enchanting enigma and continued as if it was just another street light in town. Many went in to catch a play as Nice and her friends came out. I said a quick Hi to the cast members I knew. Of course ‘quick’ is never quick enough. You have to hug the girls tightly, comment on their appearance in a charming manner and throw in a quick gossip over some event a few nights back with the boys.

I walk with Nice who looks as fresh as she had just woken up even after a grueling rehearsal. I was feeling tired and idle so to avoid feeling guilty about my appearance, I break the Ice by stating under a yawn,

“Nice name,” I try to smile smartly.“ I know right? I honestly have no idea why they called me Nice. I like to assume when they looked into my eyes they saw all the nice things that could happen in one’s life when you let life happen.”

Interesting philosophy, I think to myself. But I remember Nice Githinji as opinionated and always exploring the nature of the world. I’m tempted to invite her back to the restaurant I had tried out but there was nothing really to go back to. After all there is something about the small crescent new moon and talking to this lady whose lips volunteer a smile as quickly as they volunteer to tighten up, I offer her a take away coffee and a muffin as we sit on a metal bench right after the alleyway that connects Alliance Francaise to Koinange Street.

“Tell me about your love for photos and joy of posting on line…?” I ask her as I observe the gradual appearance of tiny stars in the night sky.

“Oh my word! I love photos. I love taking them. The posting part is not always so muchnice paint fun because I’m not exactly active on social media like whatsapp. I’m more of an observer unless something makes me feel ‘sum typa way.’ That said I like posting pictures when I want to. I have moments when I feel I have to because my work demands it and I still don’t do a very good job at it. I sell reality better than fiction. Social media is all about fiction.”

She notices that the stars jitterbugging above us take me and she watches as well. Her light skin and short curly hair glow in the streetlight. I look into the diamond pearl -shaped eyes and reckon she is nostalgic.

“Life is funny and interesting,” she exclaims matter of factly.

“A short while back, Planets Theatre performed at my high school and one of the actors was an alumni. I asked him how to get into professional theatre. He gave me his producer’s number, which I called soon after and by the next year I was on stage. At 18 I was doing travelling theatre and progressed to public shows three years after that (travelling theatre is so addictive!). A year or so later I auditioned for Better Days and the rest is history. Acting and I have had a very long, lustful affair.”

It’s amazing how she is able to sum up her preliminary acting experience in such a short statement. The truth is, Nice was immediately identified as a rising star in these travelling theatre groups. Even through the many ups and downs that are well known to this “ set-book” world, she overcame them and soon became a favorite with professional film and theatre producers and obviously has become a favorite house hold name in Kenyan theatre and film. She is the only actor who has a ‘celebrity’ effect on my siblings!

“What would you consider your biggest low in your acting career?” I ask, digging deeper.

“There are a lot of those, I can’t really pick one. Such is life. Fortunately, every low is followed by such a high in my life. It’s almost ridiculous. Ah! Here’s one. See my mom was always asking when I’d  finally get on TV for her to come and see me. By the time Better Days screened, she was gone. That sucks! She was  my only honest fan, family wise, I dare say.”

“Do you think if you were in a different country especially where film is celebrated that your celebrity status would have a much higher value?”

“Well, not necessarily.  I am sure I’d be making a butt load of cash though. So if being a celebrity is proportional to the money we earn, then yes.”

This opens up a voluntary school of thought that makes me go easy on my coffee.

“My business partner and I are constantly “stalking” Shonda, for good reasons of course. We completely idolize her. She said people are very creative within their fences because that way there’s no need to push boundaries. It’s a good and a bad thing but therein lays our problem. We don’t have fences here. We don’t know what is allowed and what isn’t because we’ll be viewed by a ‘diverse target audience’  as merely accepting violence or nudity   amongst other things. When done within it’s no longer seen as an expression (which is my idea of what art is) but we now look at the morality behind it. When you have creative fences that are clearly delineated, you come up with ridiculous angles for stories. Look at how many versions of medical or crime shows that exist abroad!  We do not take enough risks and our audience is not very accepting of our few trials and errors.”

I think about that as I stare at her unconsciously. Here is a woman who has defied all odds Nice with gunand stayed in the game. Her Nation advert on, ‘ Know the truth’ is big on TV and billboards. She has starred in popular shows like Better Days KTN, Guy Center NTV, Saints NTV, Changing Times, KTN, Makutano Junction, CITIZEN TV and Break Time show, NTV. Some of the films she’s been part of include Benta, House of Lungula and Lost in Africa among others. She has won several local awards. Yet her quest for success and vision for the Kenyan industry is still as fresh as a newbie.

I realize she has to go so I quickly ask her about the theatre houses that have agreed to subsidize rates for guild members.

“The theatre groups that agreed to allow members to watch shows at reduced costs and requirements are; Fanaka Arts, Strathmore, Culture Spill, Ikenia Arts, Phoenix theatre, Friends Ensemble, Heartstrings Kenya, Wholesome Entertainment and Liquid.  They all agreed to shave 50% off on tickets to members of the Kenya Actors Guild. The Festival of Creative Arts (FCA) agreed to 500 for guild members as opposed to 600 and 400 for groups of 40. Johari agreed to the 50% off on Saturdays at 3pm only.”

I watch as she relays this information passionately but impartially, then I hug her  and before I say good-bye I ask her a sincere question.

What would you say is an obligation to every Kenyan actor living in this era?

‘Say no to mediocrity!’. We have to push ourselves harder as actors.  If you’re comfortable, something’s wrong.”

Nice Githinji will be a member of panelist in An Actor Develops – studio debate:

(Why) Have the acting standards gone down?

Venue KNT

Date: 22/2/2016

TIME: 10 AM

FREE

Book now: 0716603866

 

 

 

 

On Yoga and Kenyan Artists

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Kelly Alomba is a Baptiste Power Yoga instructor in Lamu

As our eagerness is piqued by the ‘Yoga world’ preparing to participate in the Lamu Yoga Festival from the 2nd to the 6th of March 2016, I cannot help but bemuse myself by reminiscing about my early beginnings in this beauteous practice.  I dedicate this memory to all those actors I have trained or worked with and complain or simply pout whenever I enthuse about yoga…they know themselves!

My new friend Mapaint and I trekked through the lush green Westlands area. We made a mutual decision to ask a man selling piles of madafu loaded in a thin wooden and dusty cart if the junction before a rusty bridge was in deed the beginning of Thigiri Ridge? Having walked for about twenty minutes under the scolding sun, we did not want to risk missing directions–again – even though we were well prepared with long caps and easy rubber shoes, which actually made my toes bake inside. My armpits were damp and I hated feeling my own sweat in this intense heat.

However Mapaint and I were not alarmed when we arrived late. Our theatre director had insisted we take a yoga class with a lady who he claimed, “Was just amazing”.

I didn’t quite believe him, as we artists are notorious for hyperbolic descriptions. However the reasons for stalling were more intrinsic and based on individual convictions. We had both done yoga before. I had been introduced to it the last year and enjoyed mostly the end of it. The Savasana , where one lay on his back with hands to the side and  zoomed into a deep power nap. In fact we enjoyed this last bit so much that my late friend, Small Ogutu would tap me on the shoulder from the back. When I turned to look at his cheeky grinning face, he would wave and say, “good night”. The stretches were liberating and I enjoyed my own discovery of how supple or rigid some of my muscles were. But I hated staying in those poses for too long. Our director would leave us at a tense position like Adho Mukha-svanasana , the downward-facing dog and spend forever correcting other people’s postures as our arms and legs trembled.

This time we were informed that the instructor was a Malaysian lady whose studio looked like a temple. Mapaint confided in me that he was “born again” and he was not sure about doing this spiritual kind of yoga. I was also a bit edgy on who I would give my divine allegiance to, if in deed this was some kind of cult that we were being forced to attend. We mulled over our predicaments as we knocked on the gate and were ushered in by the security guard. He pointed to a room – a stone throw away – on the right hand side of the main house. The wooden studio was under a huge indigenous tree, which made the space cool and calming. For a minute I forgot about Mapaint as I climbed the stairs and went through the door. I noticed that my fellow cast members were in a Sukhasana pose and I deduced that the session had just begun. So good for lugging behind! I quickly removed my hot rubber shoes, pushed out my sweaty cap and piled them in a corner. I then sat behind a short row of fellow actors, crossed my legs and placed my right foot on top of my left thigh then used my impulse to pull it back and touch the floor.

“Be comfortable with the stage you are in at this point of your practice …take a deep breath in and rest your hands on your thighs, palms facing up,” spoke the new instructor in a clear, melodious and soothing voice.

I was shocked. How did she know that I was struggling to get into the pose? I followed her instruction as I looked up quickly to see if she might have been stealing a glance. Her face was radiant and steady and from her position it looked like she was looking at me and everyone else in the room at the same time. I noticed that she was in padmanasana , meaning that both her legs were laying on the opposite thighs and her knees were flat on the ground. Juju!

I think I might have stared for a longer period as she returned a sedate but lively smile. I have played games about guessing people’s personalities at first site for such a long time that many times I’m usually right. I assessed that she was a talkative and passionate woman. From the way she gave instructions I could tell she was not one of those expatriates who were extremely chummy to the locals that it felt patronizing, neither was she condescending. I concluded that she was a well-trained yoga teacher giving a class to well-trained actors. Why can’t all human relationships be this simple?

My reservation on spirituality had however not disappeared. The studio, though serene, had a diagram on the wall of a man in sukhasana and the Chakras (energy points of a human body) illustrated. I found myself thinking, that’s not what I was taught in biology. I watched Mapaint from the sides of my eyes and was a little bemused as he struggled with the Trikonasana .

“Stretch your arms up as if you are embracing Mother Nature then roll forward from your waist  and bend over reaching for the earth’s face,” she instructed softly as she walked from row to row.

‘Shit!’ I wondered as I pulled my arms and waist so that my fingers could touch the well-treated sepia-like floor. ‘Did I just bow down to worship an imaginary idol?’ But the stretch that I felt on my hamstrings and back was just too sweet and beckoned for attention.

“Do not fight the thoughts that come into your mind, allow them to come but also allow them to leave as they wish. Imagine your mind as a bridge in which your thoughts cross. But not as the actual thoughts,” she instructed.

So I allowed my mind to think of all unmentionable theories and fantasies that appeared at that time. Soon I could not remember having any staying thoughts within the present moment. After braving through the initial poses it was time for the warrior position. I hated warrior 2. As soon as I had stretched my hands side to side, facing my right, she came to my side and raised my arms higher to shoulder level. I could not hold the posture and we both chuckled as I wiggled my hands to release the strain. I thought she would go to the next pose but she only said that she also used to dislike this pose but now it was one of her favorites. There was just something about her energy that was encouraging and re-assuring. Oh and maybe my cultured ego that men should be physically stronger than women also checked in. So I stretched my arms and followed her signature simile-rich   instructions. I imagined that I was pulling a tight bow, aiming and ready to release an arrow.

By the time we reached Savasana, my whole body was warm and all my muscles were pulsating with life. It was as if parts of me were waking up after a long sleep and other parts of me were being born into the physical world. I could hear her speak clearly to me. At some point it felt like she was by my side, so I opened one eye, but she was nowhere nearby. Still her voice was with my being as though we were on a journey. Then her voice left me and I moved on. I could still hear her but only from a distance. Thoughts came back but this class of thoughts was neoteric. They did not fear questioning the divine. They did not fear the science of spirituality and the input of an ancient scientific Sanskrit-technique. These thoughts felt it was all right to wonder. To wonder why we have used religion to divide and destroy. Wonder why every religion in the world feels it is more authentic than the rest. And wonder if there is a difference between religion and spirituality. The thoughts meditated on premonitions and predestinations, individualism and integration. And they finally settled on love. Romantic love, blood –line love, patriotic love, global love, inhibited love and just love. They got lost exploring the idea of pure love – ‘just love’.

I listened to her voice again and realized that everyone was back in Sukhasana except me. She smiled warmly as I came back to my senses and recorded new play concepts at the back of my mind. Just in time to chant out the creative mantra in unison, “OM.”.

On Guild ,Sense8 , and a TV-less living room

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Lana Wachowski , Chichi Seii  and Andy Wachowski at Sense8 set .

I’m seated here in my office –a converted corner in my TV-less living room – drinking freshly blended mango juice, mixed with cinnamon and ginger and thinking loudly about what I’m looking forward to this year.   I find that making resolutions at the end of January is usually more effective once the New Year euphoria is over, which makes the set objectives more attainable.

I look forward to Season 2 of Sense 8. Yes, I finally got round to watching it (did I know it was available with movie-vendors?) and I have to say it is easily one of my favorite shows from 2015. There was a bit of an uproar among actors about ‘foreign’ themes and I must admit this view influenced me to put it at the end of my to-watch-list. Shame on me since I went for those auditions and some of my friends had roles in it! Kumbe this ‘foreign’ theme my fellow actors were talking about was purely homophobic sentiments. I will only point out that latest studies confirm that 95% of homophobic people are actually biologically homosexual which suggests that homophobia could be a defense mechanism. But please stay and don’t kasirika in case you are homophobic – you are in the remaining  5% bracket.

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Peter King Mwania is an elite actor from Kenya

The most interesting theme according to me in this series was that of unquestioned social values verses individual lifestyle. It propagates the age-old argument in modern political history: Who is more important in the society … the people or the person? I think that this is what makes the otherwise ordinary plotting of Sense 8 unique. For those who haven’t watched Sense 8 yet, it is a Netflix sci-fi series -produced and directed by the Wachowskis! – Partly shot in Nairobi, about eight strangers from different parts of the world who suddenly become mentally and emotionally linked.

It was interesting to watch our Kenyan cast against the other cast in India, America, South Korea and Germany. Peter King definitely had the best performance and I would not be surprised if he was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Award. The kind of depth this dude is able to emit from his body language always amazes me. (Peter King si you teach us this thing bana!) Another Kenyan actor who pulled an interesting stunt was Chichi Seii. Our local casting directors/agents frequently typecast based on the real life personality of the actor. Due to her pristine looks, eloquent English and enthralling demeanor, she has always played upper middle class characters.

chichi in action

Chichi Seii as Capheus mother,protecting young Capheus

In Sense 8 she plays the H.I.V-AIDS infected mother of Capheus who lives in Kibera and grew up in the village. And woii… didn’t the make-up transform her usually mellow face. She delivered the role as intensely as she delivered baby Capheus (sorry about the spoiler). I’m sure fellow actors who haven’t met her in person before watching the series will be unable to tell her real age.

[Enough of Sense 8.]

I am also looking forward to a strengthened Guild. If you are enthusing on how a guild would make actors lives easier and you are even planning the next step, you will be glad to know that the Kenya Actors Guild already exists. The Guild is still in its early stages so structural and implementation challenges are bound to emerge. This does not mean that the welfare is not making progress.  If you are on the other side of this line of thought and do not see the need of a guild, well, a guild is simply a welfare organization that protects professionals with the same set of skills.  Something better might be discovered in future but at this point, I highly encourage you to register with KAG, at http://www.kenyaactorsguild.com/ KAG logo 1

More than this, we could promote actors’ forums. This is simply transforming our WhatsApp group-conversations into an oral space. It is high time actors engaged in meaningful discourse on the current issues and future of our craft. The more experienced should mingle with the upcoming and everyone should be willing to share and learn something new. At the end of last year we had a very successful actors’ workshop at the PAWA 254. It was facilited by Gilbert Lukalia, Joseph Wairimu and I. This time we shall have an even more intense event. A discussion forum made up of an elite panel of actors and film/theatre stake holders. The topic will be in question form: ‘(Why) have acting standards gone down?’ . We will then have a one on one interview with a legendary actor who will –for sure – inspire you, then we shall have a two day workshop on character development. Please note that this workshop will actually be about exchanging ideas, experiences and allowing your current or previous work to be criticized. Its intention will not be to educate. Therefore it is more suitable for experienced actors even though new actors are invited to observe and get inspired. All this will happen at the Kenya National Theatre main auditorium from the 22nd to 24th of February, 2016. Space is limited so apply early .Let’s call it, ‘An Actor Develops Studio’.

Lastly I look forward to acquiring a TV set. I have always disliked those things as anti-social tools and culture-stealing media. Yet I still pop into my friends’ houses to enjoy a local TV show so that I can praise or critique its actors on this blog.

For anyone wishing to get me a gift for my birthday on 25th September, I hope I have made your life a lot easier.

Embers of Jacky Vike And ‘Managing’ A Stereotype Like Awinja

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She spotted me waiting for her outside a Nairobi mall as she navigated her black sleek car through the parking barriers.As she shouted my name, I could see her unending smile literally bursting out through her car window. Her cheek bones under her smooth ebony skin together with her smoky eyes portrayed a truly warm and unique aura. We finally got to meet. I was especially delighted since it had not been easy squeezing into her schedule.

I could tell from the speed of her hand gestures and intensity of her soft face that her pointers were burning to come out but she did a good job of letting me yap along. My main wonder was how a versatile actor and city-girl like her managed to slide so easily into the famous Awinja character (the feisty and gregarious house help of the peculiar couple Wilbroda and Papa Shirandula). It is amazing to see how much she physically transforms when playing the Awinja character. As a matter of fact nothing about Awinja – apart from the sense of humor- resembles the real Jacky Vike!

How on earth is she able to pull off the mannerisms and accent of a Luhya maiden straight from the village?

“It was neither automatic nor easy. As you know I’m a born-Nai girl who grew up in Kanuku.” (Kanuku is a small ghetto in Easleigh near Biafra.Oh and Nai is Nairobi …just in case). “Getting the part was rather interesting. I was invited to try a role for a new project in which Papa Shirandula was involved. (I let my thoughts interrupt her; she just called Bukeko by his character name. As a matter of fact, the whole Papa Shirandula cast has so integrated their characters that some even introduce themselves as those characters. That’s when you know you take your job seriously!)

“He auditioned me to play different situations including a role of a girl with a Kikuyu accent. The common story then happened…that project did not come through. A few months later Papa Shirandula called me and told me that there was a new character that he would love for me to play on his show. He explained that it was about a naive and excited Luhya girl from the village who would come to work for him and Wilbroda (played by the comedy maestro herself Jacquey Nyaminde). “My first reaction was, ‘I’m not sure I can pull off a Lughya accent’ so I recommended a friend. Papa however insisted that he wanted only me for that role.”

Despite Vike being a risk-taking performer , I could understand that often playing characters with heavy ethnic accents in Kenya quickly evolve into stereotypes,who are just but a distorted view of a type of person. They most certainly have their place as the audience understands a particular character. However, when the stereotype becomes the primary focus of character development, the many unique and interesting layers that make a human being are left out and one is often left with caricatures or cartoon like characters. This may not be a bad thing for a simple viewer who just wants to see a part of himself or his community on stage and enjoy the skit.

Vike admits that once she was confirmed for the role,she was prepared to make her character as interesting as possible by exploring the different layers and many aspects of Awinja. It is mostly the honesty with which she allows her character to experience and react that makes her the number one house help on East African TV. I am very curious to see how new found fame has changed her compared to the lady I knew back then in 2009/10 when I used to direct her at The Theatre Company. As she is one of the most focused and committed actors I have worked with, it was easy for me to believe that she had committed to work hard to give this character its many layers.

So, who was Jackie Vike before Awinja?

Vike belongs to the last generation of actors who had to learn on the job – and had to learn the hard way. (It is a common trend nowadays for an inexperienced and untrained actor to get a TV job from producers who wish to pay cheaply and enjoy his/her fame bubble by showing sloppy talent.) She first joined Theatrix Ensemble Travelling Theatre, (owned by seasoned thespian and musician, Aliwah) .This was the same group that Felix Jalang’o had pioneered a few years back but at the point of her entry , his star had already shone bright .Interestingly though, she became known through the same TV show as Jalang’o and share a record with the prolific comedian as the only two comic characters who have been able to host two seasons of Sakata Dance Show in a row. Vike continued to ‘hustle’ in theatre moving on to public plays and then to more distinct forms by then provided by The Theatre Company. She attended a number of workshops and finally starred in two successful stage shows that still make me smile at the memories. I remember that in those days she was also much disciplined in attending her dance and vocal classes. “I still dance. It helps in keeping fit. Actors sometimes forget that they are an instrument and therefore have to stay healthy…watch what you eat as well!” I let her stress the point even though I’m aware that she is actually a professional dancer and yoga instructor.

I find Vike quite intriguing as she is currently one of the most famous entertainers in the country. However unlike others she can still go about her business without floods of fans interrupting. There is only the constant stare of people trying to recall where they “met” her.This is of course due to her elegant, chilled out fashion which is totally opposite from Awinja’s mshamba (up-country) dressing. Children however stare smiling and laughing when they see her. “Children recognize people more easily than adults. I adore them!”

“I do not regret playing Awinja. To be honest with you, this role has transformed my life. Being in the Papa

Shirandula show has opened so many doors for me. Through this I have MC’d numerous events and traveled to many places.It is however shocking sometimes how my supporters react when they see me in character.” I stop her and declare they are fans and calling them fans and reckoning she is a celebrity doesn’t bite. She won’t really see it that way so I let her continue. “We go for road shows and some of those guys forget you are also human beings and treat you like demi-gods. Sometimes, they block traffic and we have to get help from local security. My most touching encounter was in Western Province where a young woman came into the caravan and gave me a goat as a present. I knew how precious a goat was in this area and I insisted I could not take it. The locals were starting to feel offended and revealed that according to their traditions one could not reject a gift. The promotion team had to find ways of letting the woman win a few gifts to at least complement the healthy goat that she had given me!”

As someone who knew her from the past and could read through her deep smoky eyes, I understood what she meant by the show changing her life. From hustling through set books and public shows as she lived in Kanuku ,the ghetto of Eastleigh

and later Madiwa (still in Eastleigh) to living in a decent neighborhood, driving her own car and being able to give to charity, it is clear that the acting profession has been faithful enough to pay her for her years of loving labor.

“It is unfortunate that those opportunities to grow are so limited in Kenya and yet not everybody is Lupita to go and make it big in Hollywood. (Even though she too must have gone through various challenges that ordinary actors may not even afford.)”
What can be done therefore? “The answer is in expanding the local production. We must produce more films and TV even at the neighbourhood level.” This is when I discovered that she is planning to open a production company and give opportunities to people from her former hood.

“I will not stop playing Awinja because I enjoy the character and the character takes care of me as well. So as long as it exists, I will play.”