Devised theatre, frequently known as collective creation, is a method of theatre-making in which the script or performance score originates from collaborative, often improvisatory work by a performing ensemble.
Movements, chants, music, hums, beats, and dialogue come together from a well-brainstormed and studied theme to make up a story, from the audition process to the last minute of the show incorporated by teamwork and improvisation.
Youth Theatre Kenya, the theatre company behind the award-winning kids’ play, Kesho Amahoro, embarked on crafting a 30-minute piece of devised theatre in only 9 days.
For starters, a two-day audition workshop was done which some of the participants confessed to being one of their best auditions yet for it involved body warm-up activities, intricate conversations on; State development, the Deeper meaning of the term “Mwananchi”, and the freedom to craft different stories and characters under one theme to further understand the art of devising.
Spearheaded by Director Jazz Moll, production commenced on the 16th of May, Tuesday, with a cast of 13 who dedicated their hearts and souls to shedding light on the development challenges the country faces, from the depths of real-life Kenyan experiences, the cast, namely; Godfrey Hinga, Derrick Kinyanjui, Dadson Gakenga, Layken Mohammed, Blaise Rukungu, Brenda Murimi, Henriques Katema, Ileene Anyona, Ivy Esther, Jebet Wendy, Jorie Samoka, Mike Ndaka, and Stefen Mwangi, brought these issues to life on stage.
Rehema (Ivy Esther), a 14-year-old girl passes her KCPE examination emerging as the best in the county thus qualifying for the annual national government bursary allocation fund. The MCA, Member of County Assembly (Mike Ndaka) however doesn’t grant her the bursary with the excuse that they have all been allocated, that she is late, yet she availed herself thirty minutes earlier. To further elevate his lifestyle, the MCA builds himself a mansion and wins the crowd in campaigns and church services with the money embezzled from the bursary. Miss Muthoni, (Ileene Anyona) Rehema’s mother’s stage 2 breast cancer worsens, and the news of her daughter’s bursary denial adds salt to the wound. The family of three including Rehema’s grandmother (Jorie Samoka), ends up burdened with expenses from Mama Rehema’s medical procedures since her NHIF insurance cannot be accepted due to a doctor’s strike in public hospitals.
Rehema’s grandmother decides to sell the family land where her son is buried, she sells the land to the church, a church that declined to help her fund her daughter’s medication and granddaughter’s education even though she’s been donating to it for years.
- The area MCA embezzles money from the bursary allocated by the National Government to better his lifestyle and win the locals to garner more votes for the coming elections.
- The church is used to influence locals in the MCA’s political endeavors in turn incorporating big cheques to the area pastor, Pastor Mwizi (Blaise Rukungu).
- A doctor’s strike halts the use of NHIF insurance, and private hospital payment procedures are too high for Miss Muthoni to afford.
- Rehema passes her examination, emerging as the best in the county but is denied her well-deserved bursary.
- In a construction scene, a University Student by the name of Jabu (Godfrey Hinga) opens up to the MCA about how HELB loans haven’t been released yet, hence no option but to work at a construction site exposed to hazardous conditions to pay for his school fees.
- On top of fee inadequacy, Jabu and his construction workmates reveal that they haven’t been paid for weeks but the matter is ignored by the MCA for whom they are constructing the mansion.
The beginning and the end of the piece had the same occurrence, characters going about with their businesses in the busy streets of Nairobi after the events in Rehema’s story, “just another day in the 254”, as the piece describes, raising questions like;
- Is this the norm?
- Is there nothing to be done?
- Does it even matter if a person stands up for change?
- Will change ever come?
Although the story centered on Rehema, a lot of detail and backstory crafting was done on the supporting characters most of who didn’t have much stage time but went a long way to give authenticity to the characters and the story, for instance; In a matatu scene, a makanga (Stefen Mwangi) is infuriated by the fact that Rehema doesn’t have the full transport amount resulting to a somewhat 30 seconds fiasco, but there’s more to him. The tout aspires to become a revered musician, but the only hindrance is income inadequacy to record his music since his job doesn’t add up to much.
Performed on the 23rd of May, in ‘The Round‘, the audience was up-close with the performers, being able to interact with them, giving them a chance to resonate more with the characters. The look, mood, and feel of the piece were soul-stirringly depicted by the lighting technicalities. To enact the busy atmosphere of the streets of Nairobi, upbeat music, the likes of Kapuka, Genge Tone, and other sound effects were incorporated orally in a well-coordinated manner by the cast.
Devised theatre hasn’t acquired much recognition in our theatre space, having been a part of one meant a lot to the cast as reflected in their testimonials.
I have attended several acting workshops, training, and masterclasses but I have never quite experienced something like this before. It’s in the ease, the artistic freedom, the unsuppressed musical expressions, the exploring of soundscapes, the stretch, and somewhat yoga sessions, and even the capability to complete our story in 30 minutes (as artists used to 2-hour performances, this was a great opportunity to explore the concept of ‘short and sweet’). It would be unfair of me to fail to state how easy the director was on us and how that made us easily accomplish our objectives, his directing style is something to be awed about, even his audition style (which goes down as my favorite audition EVER; especially as a performer who gets audition anxiety no matter how prepared I am). The actors were beyond brilliant. This is one for the books, I would love a chance to do it again.
This being my first devised theatre performance, it set the bar high for me moving forward, it was a wonderful experience from the audition to rehearsals to the performance, having us think about issues that we often don’t think about and have us finally tell a story so beautifully in just 30 minutes was a wonderful experience for me. I would like to thank Jazz and the whole team for making the performance worthwhile.
Working on my first devised theatre piece, and play was such a wonderful experience. I am grateful for the freedom that came with devising the play from scratch, for all the stuff that I learned, and for all the wonderful people I got to work with in the process.
I have been in quite several plays, but this was my very first time staging a devised piece. The process was filled with fun and learning and interaction with beautiful and talented individuals with whom I worked. I am thankful to our super director, Jazz Moll, for the opportunity to be a part of the greatness and for his guidance.
My experience devising a theatrical performance with Youth Theatre Kenya was AMAZING. The piece we did is the literal definition of teamwork. Anyway, I was always looking forward to rehearsals because we could get to explore via improvising and getting to see how quick creatives can be to think of ideas and execute them as a team. The exercises we did also were to ease our bodies and bring us together as an ensemble. Had the best colleagues I must say. I would love to develop the piece we did, show it to the world because of its beauty and sincerity and also to work with the amazing team as well.
My experience during the Devising program was great. From the audition process, it was good for once not to feel the audition jitters/anxiety. It was encouraging to know that even if I didn’t get a role, I’d have learned something from the audition. The devising process was a first-time experience. It challenged me as an actor to think outside the box to come up with a story. Getting involved in coming up with a story was also a great experience. Seeing my thoughts/ideas come to life was just mind-blowing. Telling stories that affect us Kenyans was life-transforming and emotional too.
This was my first time working professionally in theatre. I can proudly say my experience working with Youth Theatre Kenya on this Devised theatre piece on development was phenomenal. The deep conversations we had opened up my view of society and what it entails. I learned that we all have to work together and in unison to bring about development. Working alongside a great director, Jazz Moll, and the amazing cast created a safe environment to express ourselves as artists, enabling us to produce the best work. What is brought out in this play is the truth and honesty it entails, and how it resonates with the audience. I truly believe that this play is a unique piece that people can relate to in one way or another and that people can learn from it and strive to improve themselves for the better.
“Take an idea and run with it”, was the most basic, easiest but challenging thing to do but Jazz the director after a series of brainstorming together, “everyone’s opinion matters” led us into creating a masterpiece. I loved the involvement of mind and body in this project. Telling our story by us, our way to reflect what it is like in real-time, splendid I’d call that.
‘Have serious fun’, a rule I plan to carry along every day of my life. This is one of the many beautiful things I got to learn from this experience. Among others was the opportunity to explore my creative abilities as an artist and not just a performer. The beauty in exploring the stories we want to tell and the headache of picking one. Headaches that wouldn’t dare hurt, not with an award winning director like Jazz Moll, who made sure we felt safe, relaxed, heard, accommodated and appreciated. By far my favorite theater experience. I honestly look forward to experiencing more with Youth Theater Kenya.
The uniqueness and messaging of the piece lit a spark in the audience, raising questions on the possibility of it being showcased on a much bigger scale in terms of storytelling, it’s all up to Youth Theatre Kenya now.
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