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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.

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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.

And my own choice award goes to …

And my own choice award goes to …

The beeping sound of unread WhatsApp group messages annoys me, but I guess the people sending those messages felt like they were warranted to share their annoyance. Not because of me of course but because of an event that should bring a sense of pride to such practitioners. You guessed right…THE KALASHA AWARDS!

Disgruntled comments made by actors due to mistreatment from KALASHA Awards organizers made up the last thread of texts. They complained that they were not invited in a cordial V.I.P manner fit for an event that claims to celebrate Kenyan talent or they received nominations but did not get a ticket for themselves or for their plus one. Meanwhile corporates received more tickets than they asked for…(we all know why).

I decided to interrupt the pity-party. See, year after year KALASHA has treated actors with contempt and year after year actors have complained in whispers. So I threw the spanner in the wax. I called upon all actors to boycott; I urged those who were nominated to demand that their names be dropped. Then by ‘pure coincidence’ all the actors I was chatting with were needed back on set or stage!

Finally a comment came in the negative, then another and another … This is what I had expected. At least now they were refuting a suggestion of a way forward instead of empty talks and complaints that have never changed anything. I well understood that it was on the eve of the awards and boycotting would be too abrupt and crippling to the event organizers…but isn’t that why people do it. And why didn’t they do it earlier? When Alex Konstantaras wrote an article explaining why he would boycott the award, they were quiet. When SAFE and other producers made a silence boycott that was known to most they still remained placid, maybe even hopeful that things would be different this time.

Of course explanations (read excuses) were made. Some needed to get an award like their counterparts before they joined the protest, some were quite diplomatic and presented their complains to the KFC board. The board allegedly refused to listen to them but offered them an incentive at the last minute; to present the awards… hence they could not refuse. Some also felt that those who gave the suggestion or those who would follow through were savage and crass. Never mind that successful welfares like SAG were established through demonstrations and protests that demanded for actor’s dignity. Even nearer our neighbors in Nollywood are known for immediate protest any time the artist is disrespected or taken advantage of. Small wonder if most of our own actors ogle at them and see them as superiors. But we are different and diplomatic and maybe one day the stakeholders will decide to give us the respect we deserve…maybe they will see the light. Anyway, the event went on and of course complaints kept being mumbled.

I’m not here to tackle why actors are afraid of activism but I will talk about the underlying reason behind the complaints. Just like anywhere else, acting in Kenya is an artistic skill that solicits public celebration. However, that is just an extrinsic praise. What the actor truly longs for, the real praise is that from equals, mentors and experts in the same acting circles that they are in. Think of it this way, an average football fun will praise Ronaldo for the number of goals he has made but his fellow professional footballers will probably admire his excellent skills in ball control, speed, dexterity, titles, endorsements and so on. In other words, the average actor feels that the KALASHA awards do not really celebrate exemplified performances. Neither are they able to identify epic moments on screen that can make the acting fraternity to be at awe and desire to replicate or out do such a performance. Of course a few shows and exemplary performances have been recognized in this award (Well done to ‘Veve’ !) but that looks like a peripheral objective.

Therefore, hard-working and extremely talented actors have had to contend with substandard performances being awarded. This in the long term denies KALASHA Awards the prestige and honor it hopes to elicit. When top American actors speak of the Oscars with so much regard, top actors in Kenya mostly say getting an award or nomination in KALASHA did not enhance their careers. It was a bit alarming when I watched an actor who won an award declare that he will now focus on his music career.

That is why I have decided to stop complaining. So my own choice award goes to…

SIX, written by Njoki Muhoho and directed by Gilbert Lukalia. The story felt tight and well matured.

Nice Githinji and Kamau WaNdun'gu in action.They play queer robbers in , 'Six'.

Nice Githinji and Kamau WaNdun’gu in action.They play queer robbers in , ‘Six’.

The director also did justice to it by capturing the mood of the story and being ahead of the audience. The fact that this was a situational drama only happening in two rooms and maintaining its dramatic relevance was a huge plus. Also it was a high quality local production with good sound and lighting and very few continuity mistakes. But the ensemble cast is what stole this show. The Afro-fusion artist and actor, Iddi Achieng had subtle expressions that were coming from a very believable source. You immediately empathize with the workaholic mother who has to come back in the evening to a dysfunctional family. Nobert Ouma  also delivered a memorable performance as the artistic son who is intense and crafty .The drama paces up with the entry of queer robbers, played by Kamau Wa Ndung’u , Nice Githinji and Mwaura Musa.Other cast members included Arabron , Nyokabi Gethaiga ,Jacque Njeri and Martha Juma.   Simple, subtle yet creating an intense performance. Well done.

The best actor award I would give to someone who has been in the game long enough but never seems to get the recognition that I believe he deserves: Joe Kinyua. I’d nominate him for his exemplary performance in

Joe Kinyua is a prolific stage and film actor

Joe Kinyua is a prolific stage and film actor

‘See Them Blind’ …where he plays an investigative journalist struggling with alcohol and single parenthood. However, I would also celebrate his work due to the various roles he has played on screen and stage. He seems to be a hard working actor who goes at length to research. Kinyua’s interpretation of the character is also quite clear as he taps into his character’s psychic and background. He will sit, talk, walk like the characters he portrays. I do hope to get a chance to interview him so as to learn about his technique and so on.

In conclusion …The KALASHA Awards and all awards are meant to celebrate the people in the Industry. They’re supposed to create an aura of pride to the one’s nominated; they should be a highlight of an actor’s career. A moment of recognition for their hard work. And if this is not met…then it beats the purpose.

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.”

How Wasonga Broke Hard Ice At The Arterial Network Forum

Keith Pearson apologized to the audience in advance that the five panelists would now have to leave the floor

and join him “up there”. He used these words to describe the quartet of tables and chairs facing the rest of the would-be audience of this forum at the Goethe Institute. I think the apology was actually directed at us panelists since Keith knew how much we preferred a round table (used here in the literal sense of circular tables) forum of informal discussion than this high table style set up. It just made me feel like I had to be uptight.

As the legendary John Sibi-Okumu and respected director Kamau wa Ndun’gu gave their opening statements, I listened in awe but also kept wondering how I would break the ice. I knew the audience was made up of mostly new actors who revered this panel. The title “How I made it” did not help matters much either. I had a few options in my mind by the time John Wasonga begun. Wasonga is a re-known thespian in Mombasa and is currently the Coastal Manager at the Theatre Company of Kenya. He begun by announcing that he wanted to tell us a story. I couldn’t help but notice the worried expressions. ‘What if he embarrassed himself?’ At least that’s what I was thinking. ‘What if it was too long and Keith as the moderator would have to abruptly cut him off?’

Nevertheless, Wasonga in his trademark smile, was already cruising down memory lane. A close relative had died but he and his father had not attended the funeral. (“What’s the big deal?”I could hear the audience’s wonder). Unfortunately, what this meant was that Wasonga could never eat chicken again at his grandmother’s homestead.

It all seemed inconsequential until one day when Wasonga went to visit his grandmother during a famine. This

clearly limited his diet to “bitter herbs” that were usually pinched behind the huts. It was cool with him and he managed to bravely survive the first three days. However, this adolescent with a healthy teenager’s appetite could not take it anymore and went to his grandma demanding that he slaughters the chicken or go on hunger strike. His grandmother gave in and with greater and tastier food options; he enjoyed the rest of his stay in the steamy upcountry in Lake Nyanza Basin.

When Wasonga went back to boarding school, he fell a bit ill and the school diet wasn’t helping either. His mother came to visit him and noticed that he had lost weight and was a bit weak. She then headed to his grandmother’s house. As they were catching up, she noticed that the poultry were few in the homestead. She inquired of her mother, concerned that a hyena might have attacked and finished all the chicken. To her utter disbelief, Wasonga’s grandmother informed his mother that it was he who had eaten all the chicken during his stay over.

The worried mother gave her own mother a tough lecture and hurriedly went to traditional herbalists who gave her nyaluo medicine. She then went to school, herbs in hand and instructed the headmaster on how Wasonga was to be medicated. Some to swallow, some to drink and some to bathe with –making sure he did not rinse himself until the herbs diffused into his body. She also left party-foods for Wasonga to consume. These were chapatis, juice, loaves of bread and enough pocket money to buy healthier dinner.

Within a week Wasonga was back to his normal weight and high energy. To this day, he never knew whether it was the nyaluo medicine or the improved diet that saved his life.Of course, by this time the audience and I had laughed, chuckled and cackled.

The hard ice had been broken into tiny pieces and it was easier for Fridah and I to give our opening remarks in a cheerful and comfortable space.

UNMASKING GERALD LANGIRI – HIS TAKE ON SUCCESS AS AN ACTOR

Within a span of only four years, former I.T. specialist Gerald Langiri has climbed up the ladder of screen-acting in Kenya to become one of Kenya’s leading actors. Personally, I think

Gerald is one of the hardest working and self-motivated actors around. I first met him in 2012 when I invited him over to my place to discuss the plight of actors and the possibility of a Guild. He was passionate, keen and appeared focused. He seemed ready to brave through the challenges of starting the first website tailor-made for actors as there was no other source of actors getting auditions apart from a handful of casting directors who appeared as demi–gods to many. He later won the best film blogger category at the 2014 African Film Development Awards.

I caught up with him to figure out what he really is about. My thoughts follow the recorded interview. Karibu!

Rogers Otieno (RO): Are you social in spite of being an actor or are you an actor in spite of being social?

Gerald Langiri (GL): Well, I have always been a social human being from as far as my “cha baba na cha mama” years (Children’s game where they play members of the family. The most charismatic one automatically played father or mother). Having been born and bred in Mombasa, a city and town where you did not suspect the next human being next to you and there isn’t much segregation where the rich have their place and the poor theirs, it kinda helps you grow interacting fearlessly with everyone you meet. So I guess I am social in spite of being an actor and one of the outcomes of being an actor is the fact that you do have to interact with lots of people. My being social compliments my acting career I will admit.

[Mhh…so he can think on his feet! Let’s see how he will handle this one]

R.O: Do you really struggle with weight?

G.L: Have I ever struggled with weight? (Thinks for a moment) No I don’t struggle with weight nor have I ever. I know you ask this because of my Facebook ‘foodious’ posts and fat people jokes…but between me and you, I like to make fun of fat people through me. I am very content and happy with the size of my body because I know I am how I am because I want to be this fat/big. Besides, all this bass came about from the days when I would sit in an office the whole day…you should see my pictures of yesteryears…(bear laugh) Then again, the size of my body works well for me because there aren’t many chubby guys in the film industry so guess to whom all those chubby roles go to…

[Ok so dude won’t clown around so let me just start digging!]

RO: Which project do you feel really made you a public figure?

GL: Am I a public figure really? (releases a bear’s laugh).Okay, let me play along… I have met supporters (I like using that word instead of fans) who point out characters I have

played before and I always go “You watched that??” I think I am however remembered mostly from Mali where I played the character Don (the family lawyer) and from Papa Shirandula where I played Mr. Araka Smart although I was there for about 10 episodes…but years later I’d still meet people who call me Araka Smart. The Movie House of Lungula also got so much publicity and stirred a lot of conversation which put my name out there. I am currently on a show on Citizen TV titled Santalal where I play a two faced corrupt Police Commissioner and that has also grabbed people’s attention and I am now being called Commissioner wherever I go.

RO: (Prods) Come on dude…Do you consider yourself a celebrity?

GL: I don’t even consider myself a public figure yet so to even consider myself a celebrity is out of the question. I do not live in a bubble though and I understand that the career path I have chosen does put me out there in the public eye and under a microscope, but I do not consider myself a celebrity…not just yet….There is nothing wrong with being a celebrity by the way, it does have its perks…but I am nowhere near the celebrities I look upto to actually consider myself one…but give me time (bear’s laugh)

RO: But do you find it challenging to live as a famous person?

GL: Yes and no…Yes, because being known and being in the public light, the society expects you to be something else that maybe I am not or do not want to be. No, because I do not let that get to me. I am who I am and I always tell myself, everything will come at its own pace and time…that limo and that house by the beach that I want and that the public assume I live in will come and even when it does, I’ll still be me…so no challenges being famous. If anything, I think the benefits of being famous are more than not being known.

RO: Do you feel like acting as a career in Kenya is limiting and one must get a job with more public influence like being a TV presenter or have a show to stay relevant?

GL: Yes, especially because the more known you become, the less work you get. It’s amazing and shocking at the same time. It’s good you asked about the celebrity question then followed

it with this one because I honestly feel like our celebrities in Kenya are not quite celebrated like they should be, especially if you are a broke celebrity like many of them are. Producers and even TV networks in Kenya start thinking because you are now known, you might be expensive to get or make high demands but many forget its work for some of us and being known is a byproduct of what we do- especially if you do it well. It is why you then find that once many actors get to a certain level, they end up getting into other careers like radio, TV or making their own shows in order to get the money they need to sustain themselves …otherwise they don’t get work as often anymore. Luckily there are producers who understand what star power can bring to them and prefer working with these actors who have built a name for themselves and branded themselves well, mixing that with new actors coming into the market. In Hollywood it’s totally different though. TV executives and production companies want to work with these actors more often than not to rake in their profits.

RO: What was your big break?

GL: Mhh, I am yet to get it. Seriously, despite having been in several projects, I am yet to admit that I have received my big break. Not to take away anything from the projects I have been in before, every project has been a milestone in my career and every project has led to something after that. I guess with that, I can say that every project I have undertaken has been my big break of sorts. I am however still waiting for that project that will turn my world upside down (positively of course) and I guess that is what I’ll consider my big break.

RO: What was your experience at the AMVCA (Africa Magic Viewers’ Choice Awards)?

GL: A memorable experience that I’ll cherish for a long time. One because acting is the reason why I got into a plane and flew to Nigeria,two because its the 2nd largest film industry in the world and I

could see why it is the case. The people have so much sense of pride and appreciation of their own especially if you are an actor. From the airport to the people you meet, simply say you are an actor and doors open for you…literally. The actors and the film fraternity people I met as well had a sense of “This is work. This is serious business” and that is the one thing I most loved about Lagos. The awards themselves were well orchestrated and carried out. We have a long way to go with our Kalasha Awards honestly. It was indeed a huge red carpet affair for that matter because film is huge in Nigeria. I can’t wait for the day I can say the same about Kenya.

RO: What does Kenya have as an advantage over Nollywood?

GL: The locations. Kenya is a beautiful country I must admit. I remember coming back home from Lagos and was in awe of Nairobi. We have magnificent locations and really good weather to make blockbusters. Why we don’t use them or shout about it, I don’t know.

RO: So what did you come back to?

GL: We are currently in the pre-production of the series Stay (Season 2). Many might remember Season One that aired on KTN in early 2014. It is the series that got me my 1st acting award at the Kalasha Film and Television Awards 2014 as the Best Supporting Character on TV for my character Nico. I am excited about Season Two as we also have new cast coming on board. The likes of Kaz, Adelle Onyango, Kingwa Kamencu among others while still maintaining the initial cast of Mkamzee Mwatela, Jason Corder, Joed Ngaruiya…so yeah, I am happy about that.

R.O: You seem to have really taken advantage of your IT skills and developed good PR for yourself. Many actors have also testified to me of finding jobs through your website. You may

not know this but I once cast my actors from your website. However, I hope you appreciate that our fraternity is also in a way conservative. What do you think of those who may dismiss this as too much hype?

GL: Well, I admit I really do know how to push my name out there. I wish many actors could do the same. Otherwise we complain that musicians are usually being given more spotlight and we are not. Well, it’s because in the public eye, we do not matter – because we do not sell ourselves to the public! So corporates would rather musicians brand their products as opposed to actors.

Gerald’s consistency in acting is admirable. In a span of four years, he has played major roles in eight TV programs, five films -and two web series (considering they are still a rarity in our industry!) He has also won about three awards and received at least five nominations.
So would you dismiss him as a socialite or a progressive aspect of the performing arts continuum? Well, they say men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t. I invite you to do the math.
<br /.

Hand-Ball! : The Drama Continues

For some no specific reason you are tired. You feel dehydrated, your lower back is sour and your head throbs a little. Yet you have to stay at it since it’s now your turn. Or did you? You know you had a number of choices available to you – you could throw your hands in the air, wave them like you just don’t care and walk out. You could choose to go and throw a tantrum because surely people need to learn how to respect other people’s time. You could have been elsewhere- don’t they know?

But you choose to suck it up and stay.

It’s your time to shine- your 5 minutes of fame to really impress the Director. You are going to show them how it’s done! I bet you are going to make a mistake which I’m only going to warn you after you have made it. There! You thought you would be a one-take wonder didn’t you? Even worse you thought it was like theatre where you perform to an audience once and you are done and gone. You did the first take and gave it all the energy you have…with oomph and gusto.

Oops, sorry! Now the Director wants you to do it again, exactly the same way. You wonder if you can remember all the gestures and facial expressions you had used. Then he wants you to do it again…. and again and ….again until you can no longer locate your genuine emotion and now you are overacting. You are even worried that you are repeating because the Director is not happy with your performance. Your favorite catch phrase soon becomes ‘again.’ You start hearing it in your head like a particularly bad chorus.

Relax. You passed the audition. The D.O.P has to take an average of 4- 6 shots in one none movement action. He might start with an establishment/wide shot, then a two shot if you are with someone, then medium , then close up , then medium and close up of your fellow actor – Lord, since in this scene you are dialing a specific number and hiding something in your wallet, numerous cut -away shots are needed.

Two hours are now gone and you still wonder when it will start being fun. Now the producer is back and highly concerned that “we are losing light”. Indeed the sun is setting and the Director shoots the second scene as hurriedly as he can. They can’t get to the third and last scene so they kindly ask you to come back tomorrow. Did you hear someone mention TOMORROW? And you have no guarantee that it will not be a worse routine. You obviously have had one of the most frustrating days in your life. You secretly wonder if this is what you signed up for- did Lupita have to go through this to get an Oscar? And there you were ranting about her skipping Kenya for Uganda!

It is now 7 p.m. Crew complains that they are tired and want to be taken home first even though your house is on the way to theirs. At least you (re)discover how big Nairobi is as you drop people on the other side of town. You finally get to your house at 12.30 a.m. (The rush hour jam didn’t help either). Never in your life did you realize that you had the capacity to be this exhausted. You finally manage to leap out of the van and the driver harshly urges you to be ready at 4 a.m. Breathe.

Hand-ball: [In acting: when everything that can possibly go wrong, does in fact go wrong]

Hand-Ball! : A Day In The Life Of A New Actor

Hand-ball: [In soccer]:- touching of the ball with the hand or arm, constituting a foul. (Courtesy of trusty old Google)

I have received a couple of encouraging messages via inbox, text and verbally about this blog. Thank you. (But I wish you could type all these on the Comments tab.)

One such feedback that caught my attention was that of someone who said that the blog articles help her understand things about our (acting) world that she wouldn’t as a non-actor have known or bothered to find out about. She realizes how helpful this knowledge is while relating with a friend or family member who is in the acting business. It is this that inspired me to imagine myself as a tour guide for an ‘actor-tourist’ on set.

So this article today is very basic. Assume with me for a moment that you are a new actor going on set for your very first time in an East African country. Congratulations by the way; that is a BIG MOMENT!

Ok; it’s just before dawn and your pick- up time is 4a.m. Of course it’s your first day so you are either over-excited or plain nervous, having had nightmares that you might be late so you woke up at 2 a.m. A principled actor would have woken up at 3.30 a.m. to be ready by 4 a.m. However an experienced actor who has given into the syndrome would wake up at 4.30 a.m…You will soon gather why.

Your designated driver didn’t call you until 5 a.m. and arrived at 5.30 a.m., one and half hours later. You cannot be furious with him for two main reasons. Firstly, he probably went to bed at 3 a.m. since he had to transport people from Westlands to Eastlands, Kibra to Rongai, Athi River to Kikuyu. If his route was on a main road, he must have driven for about 200 km. Or perhaps he had a three hour drive like from Nairobi to Nakuru. Secondly, the dude earns much more than you! The van probably belongs to him and he hires it out to the production team for not less than 10k a day, assuming it’s a low-budget production. He also gets not less than 5k as labour, if it’s still the same said low-budget production. Be warned in advance that this is a salary that you as an actor will begin to see only in ‘high-budget’ productions.

Finally, you arrive on set. Some dread-locked neat guy or short haired neat guy (They are always neat) comes to you- furious. He is the 1st Assistant Director so try and swallow it up. He has to demonstrate control. His work is to schedule the filming and make sure the schedule is adhered to. Time is (supposed to be) his main concern. Someone else will come with a piece of paper and depending on how kind they are, you might get a copy .Of course the wardrobe and continuity people were too tired to take theirs last night so like a school girl trying to finish her homework in class, they will hurriedly go through it as they have breakfast. That document is the film call sheet and can be your best friend as an actor. We Kenyans as you know suck at verbal communication so you might as well read the program and find out what is supposed to be happening, yourself.

The sun is now up and you look forward to enjoying your first shoot. You are amazed that you have three scenes and you are happy that you will shoot all of them today and go back to your day job in the afternoon. Even though it’s now 9 .35 a.m. and you still haven’t started probably because:

 A star actor is late and they can’t reach him/her through the mobile phone;

 Your fellow actors don’t have their lines and are still cramming;

 KPLC is really enjoying the power monotony so you are waiting for someone to bring fuel to start the generator.

Breath.

Just for kicks, let’s flow with one of those assumptions. The actors now have their lines and the director is ready for you. However the camera guys put a circle glass in front of their eyes and look straight at the sun. The director of photography (D.O.P, is what you will hear people call him. Act like you know) has refused to shoot because the shot is ‘hot’ and has to wait for a cloud to cover the sun.

Finally the weather is favorable and they call you on set. You are still cheerful and optimistic. Your few scenes were supposed to end at 9.30 a.m. but you calculate they will now end at 11.30 a.m. At least it’s still morning, you reason. You go on set and find them prepping for something completely different. You ask the AD about it and they tell you the actress (kumbe) who was late and had refused to pick up finally arrived and they have to finish with her since she has another production that needs her in two hours and she plays a main character. Breathe. It’s never that serious.

Now you have loosened up. You have probably recited the lines to yourself so many times- you hadn’t realized there were so many ways of saying it. You have dozed off and woken up a couple of times. You have noticed the ‘behind-camera’ drama. Someone was going out with someone but they just broke up. Someone in the crew has promised to give an attractive extra (back ground actor) a job so he is taking her home tonight. Someone is gossiping about the producer. She has worked with that production company the longest but she is encouraging the relatively new workers to protest on her behalf. Yawa, child, breathe.

The 1st AD is actually a nice guy when he is not yelling orders. He has somehow apologized for the delay and made you see the bigger picture. He has also promised that your scene will be shot immediately after lunch. You can see the director and producer catching up. You want to go over and say hi and introduce yourself but you are too timid. They seem so ‘up there’ and wouldn’t notice you. Well, I wish you had tried anyway as most directors are usually extra friendly to all actors- regardless of your big or small role.

You are finally on set. The camera assistant and editor come running to the director,D.O.P and 1st AD. They discuss for 15 minutes. You do not understand what they are saying. The most repeated word from their whispers is ‘hand-ball’ or slang it up to ‘handee’. The Director is now smoking openly. (He wasn’t supposed to do it on set but that’s the least of his worries). Another 20 minutes of running around. Tempers flaring. Actors who had left being recalled, then the previous scene is re-taken.

…To be continued.