The queens of stage acting Riara Girls and the giants of storytelling, Friends School Kamusinga, yesterday shook the stage with performances that set a new benchmark for items that will win this year’s Kenya National Drama and Film Festival in Mombasa.
Riara’s play, The Eyes Have It, directed by award-winning scriptwriter Justin Ongwen, gave the audience a first row seat into the despicable world of body shaming, in one of the acts staged at the festival that truly presented a child-centred play.
Nuru, the main character, has the unenviable task of acting as the ‘sick child’ in a prestigious school at a time the society has placed significant social capital on physical appearance and looks. Despite being a top student in school, she quickly becomes the subject of vile personal attacks from her fellow students who measure beauty by the ‘flawless standards’ on social media.
Nuru, who suffers from a skin condition known as Vitiligo, is hardly five weeks into Ocean Pearls Academy as a form one, before she is ridiculed, insulted, ostracised, condemned and embarrassed into running out of her school.
Vitiligo, a long-term condition where pale white patches develop on the skin, is caused by the lack of melanin, which is the pigment in skin. It can affect any area of skin, but it commonly attacks the face, neck and hands. In the play, the Vitiligo symbolises the numerous conditions that exist in the society that have been exploited by some individuals to hurt the self esteem of others and puncture the ego of students who may never recover unless counselled.
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The play takes a dramatic twist when Nuru decides to prick her eyes to become blind so that she can join a school of the visually impaired, where she hopes her new school mates will be blind to her skin condition, as she seeks to stop her pain.
If there is a school that clearly interpreted the theme of this year’s festival, did its homework, put the issues of the child at the centre of their conflict, and properly executed it on stage to the standing ovation of the audience, then that team is Riara Girls. The 40-minute act showed how nearly everyone from parents, teachers and students has suffered one form of body shaming or another.
The play came a day after Kaylee Nekesa Toywa of Kakamega County’s Fesbeth Academy gripped the audience with her solo verse titled The Letter, produced by award-winning director Oliver Minishi. The verse, powerfully executed by Miss Toywa, tells the story of a gifted pupil who is passionate about singing.
The audience hang on every word as she took them through her painful struggle to nurture her talent, against a wall raised by her parents who insist she must spend her time in school improving her grades to prepare for a career as a doctor. But the new Competency Based Curriculum gives her the wings to fly as it encourages talent development in schools.
Friends School Kamusinga fought to reclaim the lost glory in narratives when they presented their story, Maxwell Kusimba, that was produced by Paul Weloba and directed by Mr Benjamin Nzioka. The narrative explored the importance of data privacy at a time when several institutions, the latest being Naivas Supermarket, became the target of hackers.
In the story, a high school teacher, Maxwell Kusimba, falls prey to a mobile hacking syndicate when he is duped to send his private information to a number in the hope of winning some lottery. He learns painful lessons on why he must protect his private information. Another narrative that stood out in the day was Zuwena presented by Mwaani Girls, from the Eastern region.
On his part, prolific scriptwriter and director Najoli Daniel staged a play — Tender the Grain — performed by Eastern region’s Chogoria Girls Boarding, in a story that highlights how the society continues to neglect the boy-child.
In the play produced by Ms Florence Kimathi, the girls use their numerical strength to suppress boys. When boys realise that the script they are rehearsing has been twisted to favour girls, they boycott the rehearsals. In turn, this affects Shantal, who had come up with the story. In an ironical twist of fate, the ringleader of the boys turns out to be her brother, Dexter.
Everything comes to a standstill on the competition day after Dexter vanishes. That is when the pupils come together and put their differences aside in order to win the trophy. They would work together to find and bring back Dexter in one of the best acts staged by primary schools at the drama festival.
In the cultural dance category, decorated choreographer Elisha Otieno staged Verakothe, directed by Barnabas Onyango and produced by Barnabas Onyango. The dance, presented by Ng’iya Girls, gracefully revisited the issue of lack of role models in a society driven by fake celebrity lives of socialites. The audience is shown how fake lives projected on social media are ruining lives of young girls who believe everything they see. The choreographer resolves the dance when the girl’s eyes are opened and picks her dad, a medical doctor, to become her new role model.
But one of the most concerning trends in the festival is an increase in presentations with scenes of suicide. One in three productions had an element of suicide in scenes that may mislead learners that suicide is a credible means to resolving conflicts in the play. More worrisome is the fact that some schools went beyond attempting suicide to actually killing characters on stage.
Also the theme on the impact of social media on students was overdone, as many directors opted to go with the festival’s theme, leaving other important issues to be poorly explored.