Sandra Chadota, 19, is not your ordinary comrade. The Third Year student of performing arts and film technology at KCA University, is already down to work.
These days, she goes by the title “actress” not just “student” like a majority of her peers. By the time she was completing her second year, she had starred in two high profile theatre productions and a film.
Her love for acting started in high school.
“Drama made me happy and at peace when school was hectic. When I completed high school, I knew that's the career I wanted to pursue, which explains the course I am doing today,” says the passionate actress.
Chadota is swift to add that she knows hers is a privileged position because many parents are yet to appreciate that art can make a career.
“I have a supportive mum who understands my craft. Most of my friends who also wanted to study performing arts couldn't because of their parents,” she says.
Simba Bazenga was a musical by KCA University, the first production she was a part of after she joined university. The first show was staged in September and the last in November during the Kenya International Theatre Festival.
“Simba Bazenga was an adaptation of Lion King, rendered in sheng'. I was in my first year. My lecturer (Benson Ngobia) posted the notice on the class WhatsApp group. I auditioned for the role of Nala, but I got Timon,” she says.
During rehearsals, a slot for Young Simba emerged. The director asked Chadota to take it up.
But playing a male character for the first time, and in a production where so much was at stake, did not come without challenges.
“I had to gain more male friends, observe, and understand how they think. It was also my first project as a main character after high school, the project that showcased my craft to the world,” she says.
Her director came in handy during times when Chadota felt nothing was working, when she couldn’t bring the character to life.
“I think every artist has moments when they doubt their craft. But my director, Ogutu Muraya, constantly encouraged and reminded me that I am a great actor,” she says.
“For my role in the play, I was nominated for the Kenya Theatre Awards, for best female in a lead role in a musical alongside veterans in the industry such as Nice Githinji. That was my biggest achievement and the first major recognition of my acting skills,” she says.
After a good run with Simba Bazenga, she got a chance to intern on the set of I will marry when I want, a play by Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Ngugi wa Mirii.
The production was directed by Stuart Nash; whose popular works include the play Sarafina. I will marry when I want was staged during the first two weeks of May 2022, at the Kenya National Theatre.
She was part of the ensemble. A massive cast of singers. She learned teamwork. They exercised as a group and even if just one person got something wrong, they had to redo it as a group until everyone got it right. Being on that set changed her perspective about theatre.
“Stuart Nash is different. When working with him, you cannot compromise on the job. There are no half measures. There are days you don't feel your best, but even on those days, you have to push yourself. I also got to act alongside veterans such as Bilal Mwaura, Nice Githinji, and Martin Kigondo. Seeing them on stage and learning how they prime up and get into character was big growth for me,” she says.
Chadota is also part of Flash Squad a TV series that airs on Akili Kids Television (TV).
“I learned about the auditions from my high school trainer. I later got a call from Job Masika (a film director) who had seen me in Simba Bazenga. We shot the pilot episodes which are currently airing on Akili Kids TV every Friday at 7:30pm. Repeat episodes are on YouTube,” she says.
Besides major roles, Chadota has also performed a monologue at a high profile event.
“I performed a monologue at the Agnes Tirop Conference held by Sports Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed,” she says. “I follow Nice Githinji on Instagram. She posted that she was looking for actors, I sent her a message and she gave me instructions. A week after, I landed the role.”
This speaks to the power of networking and social media.
“I see many auditions through Instagram on pages such as Kenya Actors Connect. This also keeps me updated about what is going on in the industry,” she says.
Even with this seemingly stellar start to her artistic career, Chadota wasn’t prepared for the fact that she would not always emerge successful in all the auditions she went to.
“In 2020, I went for many auditions, I was hungry to act but I didn't get any roles. This made me doubt my craft, I wasn’t sure I was on the right path. Out of all the auditions she went for, she only landed the role of Simba Bazenga which made all the difference,” she says.
When MyNetwork asks Chadota what she prefers between being on stage and on screen, she says the answer is not straight as both mediums play an important role in helping her refine her career.
“On stage, you connect with your audience one on one. That is what I love about being on stage. You feed off your audience's energy,” she says.
The rising star is keen on both film and theatre because the latter helps her to grow as “the show must go on”. As an actor, she has learned to swiftly pick up lessons.
“In theatre, if you mess up, you have messed up. In film, there is a cut and another take. Theatre keeps you on your toes. What I love about theatre is also what goes into the preproduction. The rehearsal process takes longer and you connect with people. The process is shorter,” she says.
People still do not appreciate the performance art as much as Chadota thinks they should be and that to her is one of the major challenges.
“Paying for theatre is not a priority for many people, compared to say paying for cable transcription and tickets to go to the cinema. We consume more western content and that kills our stories.
Artists tell the story of a country in the most authentic way. A country that does not appreciate its culture is like a chicken running without a head,” she says.
While she works hard to build her talent, she says going to school to study plays an important role.
“It makes a huge difference for me to know the history of something. And that's one of the key things education lends to my craft. School helps me know how to negotiate my contracts. Most significantly, school gives me a chance to network. I wouldn’t have gotten any of the roles I have played were it not for school,” she says.