Ssebaggala Andrew

Ugandan thespian Ssebaggala Andrew. 

| Pool

Ssebaggala: Restore theatre going culture in East Africa

What you need to know:

  • Ssebaggala Andrew is also the founder of House of Talent East Africa Ltd, and co-producer at Silent Voices Uganda.
  • Ssebaggala has supported and managed arts-related organisations, programs and projects across the world.

Ssebaggala Andrew was only five when his parents took him to the Uganda National Theatre to watch a play for the first time. Years later, Ssebaggala is still at the theatre as a production manager of the Uganda National Cultural Centre.

He is also the founder of House of Talent East Africa Ltd, and co-producer at Silent Voices Uganda.

In his years as an arts and culture management professional, Ssebaggala has supported and managed arts-related organisations, programs and projects across the world.

Ssebaggala, who was in Nairobi for the staging of the musical Subira two weeks ago, spoke to us about theatre as storytelling and returning to production after a year away.

What excites you about storytelling through theatre?

The make-believe aspect of theatre. Unlike other art forms, theatre brings that feel of reality in form of emotions and physicality of production. Seeing life breathed into a script through the interpretation and visual concept of the director and creative team also excites me.

How did Subira the Musical come together?

Gilbert Lukalia shared the story of the 1982 Kenyan Coup with Silent Voices Uganda’s artistic director Adong Judith in 2017. It came as a surprise to us Ugandans that Kenya ever had a coup, so we challenged ourselves to deliver this story in a musical theatre form.

The playwright, Adong Judith then embarked on researching and writing. She also wrote the 43 songs with artistic and technical support from Kaz Kasozi, a professional musician, producer and composer who ended up becoming the co-creator and music director of Subira. The two worked in the studio for almost seven months to arrange and create demos for the music.

Once the script and music were ready, we started auditioning, interviewing and recruiting the creative crew and designers. We also conceived the production and director’s vision for the play, engaging the designers, lights, set, movement, props, and sound team. The directing was done by both Adong Judith and Gilbert Lukalia and the entire process took us about 4 years.

How did you manage to audition and work with actors from different countries?

It was clear right from the start that we would have a mixed cast from Kenya and Uganda, so we auditioned at the national theatres of both countries in 2020. However, the pandemic forced us to postpone the production and we lost a number of the cast we had lined up and had to audition again in Nairobi in May 2021. That is how we ended up with a mostly Kenyan cast that included experienced actors like Gilbert Lukalia, Charles Ouda and Nice Githinji. The lead role was given to the Zimbabwean actor Shaun Mundawarara two weeks to the show.

How did Silent Voices Uganda fund the production?

For the last ten years, our productions have been funded by Doen Foundation, a Netherlands arts funding organization. Additional funding came from Africalia and the Belgian Arts Funding Organization. We also got support mostly in kind or discounts from the Kenya National Theatre, Uganda National Theatre, the media and service providers.

How does it feel to have resumed performances after such a lengthy break?

It was fulfilling to finally put up the production after a long wait. It was such a joy to see all the 16 planned shows of Subira staged with a reasonable audience in Nairobi. Unfortunately, we couldn’t stage the musical in Uganda as the theatre was still closed as a means to contain the pandemic.

Tell us about House of Talent East Africa?

House of Talent East Africa is a registered creative enterprise, entertainment and performance arts company focused on contemporary presentations of indigenous African expressive art forms, based in Uganda.

We are dedicated to discovering, nurturing and showcasing artistic talent among the youth in Uganda and providing entertainment services at various events. It was set up in 2010 with the aim of contributing to the professionalizing and transformation of the cultural and creative arts industry.

What is the state of theatre in Uganda?

Theatre in Uganda got stuck and therefore needs a renaissance. Comedy took over structured and serious theatre that mirrors society and brings out issues of concern. The quality of the few theatre productions we have is low and wanting due to lack of instruction and training facilities in the country.

There is also very little support from the government. This state of affairs is what motivated Silent Voices Uganda, House of Talent East Africa and art and culture institutions to working towards causing a re-birth.

What first got you into the world of theatre and who inspires you?

My family had a regular theatre-going culture and that got me immersed in theatre. Some of the artists who’ve inspired me include Mr Philip Luswata, Ms Kaya Kagimu Mukasa, Dr Patrick Mangeni and Mr Agan Odero Aghan.

What do you hope the audience will gain from watching Subira?

I hope that the audience will appreciate high quality theatre and that in the end, we will restore the theatre going culture in East Africa. All our annual theatre productions usually aim at balancing the educative, informative and entertainment value of theatre.

I believe the audience that came to watch the show was informed about the historical events of the 1982 coup and contemporary issues of corruption, tribalism, bride price, fight for power, effects of war and political conflict in a very entertaining manner.


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