When a father turns from a loving caregiver into a conniving and deadly monster who preys on his underage daughter, impregnates her and frames someone else for his heinous crime, to whom does the innocent child turn?
This is one of the delicate themes tackled on the first day of this year’s Kenya National Drama and Film Festivals that is underway in Mombasa County.
Students also dealt with serious issues bedevilling Kenya from poor leadership, absentee parents, corruption, dangers of social media, LGBTQI (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex) issues among others in their plays, cultural dances, narratives, plays and verses on stage. Winners are expected to perform before President William Ruto next week at a State concert.
Kiambu County’s St Francis Mang’u set the mood for the festival with their heart-wrenching play, “Pain of Stain”, scripted and directed by Mr Job Masika and Ms Damaris Macharia and produced by Ms Alice Mbugua. It highlighted the teenage pregnancy crisis facing the country.
Mr Masika said he was moved to deal with the delicate topic of absentee parents and teenage pregnancies that continue to affect Kenyan children.
He carefully navigated defilement at home when a mother is too busy to notice how a stepfather has turned from a caregiver into a monster, defiling his own stepdaughter and even impregnating her.
His evil does not end there. He goes ahead and frames an innocent young man adopted by the family, in a story that turns nearly tragic when both children are expelled from school and the man, who is also a medical doctor, executes an abortion plot to destroy evidence. It takes a dedicated criminal justice system to stop him and hold him to account.
“Rampant teenage pregnancies need to be tackled head-on before they turn into a national crisis. This story was motivated by the recent national statistics that show that most teenage pregnancies are caused by people close to the children, including parents and close relatives,” Mr Masika told Nation in an interview. The play is acted by Grace Njeri (Dr Zuma), Favour Mundia (Bahati), and Natalie Njenga (Nala), among others.
The drama and film festival, currently in its 61st edition, is however dealing with crippling budget cuts that have hurt the standards of the annual event, which is one of the best outcomes from the Ministry of Education’s push to nurture the performing arts in schools.
Some learners were forced to perform despite enduring a full day of travel from upcountry and had not even rested by the time they went on stage.
Nairobi’s Ofafa Jericho School took to the stage in the early afternoon with their play, “The Black Canvas”, where the scriptwriter tackles the headache facing most parents when encouraging their children to balance academics and co-curricular activities, which remains a thorn in the flesh for many families.
In the play, a talented student wins the best-performing artist award at the drama festivals. But his father, who sees acting as a waste of precious time in school, is forced to present the award to his son, who acted in a female role in the play by a boy’s school. He grudgingly accepts the assignment. But the story takes a dramatic twist when the son, who has always wanted the coveted award, rejects it to the shock of his fellow students and school. That is when the drama begins.
Other performances that stood out on the first day included Coast region’s Ribe Boys High School with their modern dance titled “Screens that Break”, while Alliance High School from the Central region staged the only play in French for the day and a solo verse. Kangema High School presented a riveting narrative dubbed “100 Percent”, scripted and directed by Mr Jefferson Were, that left the audience in stitches and asking for more.
Shimo La Tewa, the hosts of the festivals, also had their day in the sun when they staged the play “Scent of The Crescent”, while Nile Road Girls from Nairobi performed a spoken word item titled “Vile Tu Inafaa”, which sought to discourage Kenyans from embracing LGBTQI.
Other items presented preached reconciliation, justice and national cohesion to support nation-building. In the primary schools' category, some of the performances lined up included Friends School Busaka (narrative), Chogoria Girls (play), Maranda (play), Eldoret School (dramatised dance) and St George’s Primary (cultural dances).
Moi Boys Kasigau from Taita Taveta County in the Coast region presented a choral verse titled “Tandabelua”.
The verse demonstrated how people living with disabilities are being stigmatised in the community. The free-flowing verse captivated the audience's breath for the five minutes it lasted, telling the sad story of a child who is locked inside a toilet by his stepmother ostensibly to avoid shaming the family in public.
It had a sweet happy ending, demonstrating that education is the equaliser of society.
Moi Girls High School from Nairobi thrilled the audience at Shanzu Teachers College with their choral verse titled “Mama Shiku Drama” and produced by Ms Margaret Njaagah.
It told the story of a talented student who is not very strong in academics. It presented the conflict between talent and academic achievement. At first, Mama Shiku tried to prevent her daughter, Shiku, from participating in the drama festivals because she thought it was a waste of time.
Shiku later proved to her mother that the performing arts were her God-given talent. In the end, Shiku’s mother capitulated and decided to support her.
Other verse productions presented on the first day of the festival were by Mutige Boys High School from the Central region, Sheihk Abdall Al-Farsy Boys and Khamis Boys from the Coast region as well as Baricho High School.
In the technical institutes' category, Maseno Vocational Training College presented a solo verse titled “Never Give Up For Life is Bright” directed by Ms Beatrice Safari.
Nairobi County teams were fully sponsored by the Nairobi County Government, which catered for transport, accommodation and allowances for teachers and item directors.
Ms Rosalia Mweni who is in charge of co-curricular activities in the ECDE department at the Nairobi County Government said the team has 36 teachers and 90 children and was led by Talent and Skills Development Executive Brian Mulama and Education Director Ruth Awour.
Nairobi County dominated the day with 18 entries in the programme. The western region had six, the Eastern three while Central, Coast, Rift and Nyanza all had one each.
Unity Day Nursery School from Nairobi County was first to present in the film category followed by Kimarini ECDE from the Coast region, State House Girls ECDE School and Gukumi ECDE from the Eastern region.
Meanwhile, festival icons who are crowd-pullers started to arrive at the coastal city yesterday amid much excitement within the drama fraternity. They included Mr Oliver Minishi of Nanyuki High School, Mr Joe Murungu, Ms Joan Muchina from Mwaani Girls in Makueni County, Mr Justin Ogwae of Nairobi’s Riara School, Mr Davis Nato from Machakos Boys, School, Mr Wycliffe Bukhere from Kenya School of Mass Communication.
Another crowd-puller event that was expected to take place yesterday was Malindi High School’s play “Dharura”.
The festivals have made a return to the calendar of school activities after a three-year break occasioned by the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic in March 2020. Hosted jointly by Shimo la Tewa High School, Shanzu Teachers College and Sheikh Khalifa High School, the national event was suspended in 2020 alongside other school activities, as the country scrambled to contain the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak.