ONE ON ONE: Stuart Nash

Stuart Nash of Nairobi Arts Performing Studio poses for a picture on the streets of Nairobi after the interview on February 27, 2018. PHOTO | FRANCIS NDERITU

What you need to know:

  • Stuart Nash quit acting and became a full-time director.
  • I was actually asked to direct something, which I did, and I preferred that to acting.

Four year ago, Stuart Nash quit acting and became a full-time director. He has never looked back. Today, he has directed some of the biggest theatre productions in Kenya, including Jesus Christ Superstar, which had all-sold out shows. He talks to KAREN MURIUKI.

Have you been interested in film since childhood?

Yes, I have. I started out as an actor, though, then moved into directing mainly theatre and commercials. I attended Sylvia Young Theatre School in London, and the experience was great.

When did you decide to stop acting?

To be honest, it was not a conscious decision. I was actually asked to direct something, which I did, and I preferred that to acting. I think I’m good at it. (Laughs). I have been doing so for four years now. I acted for about ten years before this.

Where were you born and raised?

In London.

At what point did you come to Kenya?

About three years ago. I was asked to come and direct a production. It was never in my plan. Now, I am settled here as the director of the Kenya National Theatre.

Tell us more about the Nairobi Performing Arts Studio (NPAS).

It’s a performing arts academy which we set up in partnership with the Kenya National Theatre and Kenya Cultural Centre. We train actors, singers and dancers. It’s probably the only school in Kenya that does all three arts in one school. We also have a production course, which is when we do productions like Jesus Christ Superstar, Grease and now Sarafina at the Kenya National Theatre. It gives the students an exposure to doing professional-level productions as actors and they learn in the process.

When did you start NPAS?

The end of 2016. Our first production, Jesus Christ Superstar, followed in April and September. Grease was in November and December.

Where are you now, as a school, looking back at your goal direction?

We are definitely on track. We have a great partnership with the Kenya National Theatre, where I am in charge of all in-house productions. They work well together. We’re trying to raise the profile of production in national theatre by producing high quality productions, where we also give our students an opportunity to experience being in productions like that.

What projects are you undertaking currently?

We have four productions scheduled for this year. We’re first doing two Form Four set books for the high schoolers, which are Caucasian Chalk Circle and Kigogo at the Kenya National Theatre on May 15 to 24. It will then go on tour to Meru, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kisumu, Machakos and Mombasa, which will be till mid-June.

We’ll then do Sarafina in July. Brenda Wairimu is playing Sarafina and Mkamzee Mwatela as the teacher. Later on, we’re doing a musical called Chicago which will be in November and December.

What film have you watched that really stood out for you?

It certainly has to be as an adult, because that’s when I have been more involved in theatre and film. I tend to watch things that are kind of escapist like Sci-Fis. If I am looking for theatre, I go for something more serious; films I would sit back and watch, like Star Wars. (Laughs).

One that stood out for me was a production which I saw over Christmas in London.

How would you describe your first directing job? How did it change your life?

It really changed my life because I never thought of myself as a director before. I said yes to it because I thought it would be an interesting thing to do. Turned out I was quite good at it, so I stuck there. (Laughs). I ended up going down a path which I never expected before. In the same way, I never expected to ever come to Kenya. I was asked to be a director when I visited first because of my history in London.

What would you like to do in filmmaking that you haven’t done before?

I would love to direct a film in Kenya. People think of me more as a theatre director because of what I do at the Kenya National Theatre, but I would be very interested in directing films. I’ve worked with some known film actors like Mugambi Nthiga, who has been in my shows. I loved Kati Kati, and I would love to do a film with people like that because it would be different than doing a theatre production with them.

Do you have a certain theme that you follow in your work as a director?

Not really. It mostly depends on the show. Jesus Christ Superstar was completely sang with no dialogue at all. Grease was both dialogue and song, but much more light-hearted because it was a Christmas production. Caucasian Chalk Circle is a modern classic, and is just a play with no songs in it at all. The approach is what matters.

Is working with other collaborators a difficult thing in your work, or is it essential? Or both?

For me, working with the Kenya National Theatre is great. I am very grateful for the relationship we have with them, even though I work there as well.

In terms of working with other departments like sets, costumes and props, it can be frustrating at times. In other times, there are departments where it can all just happen without me having to be involved, while there are times I have to watch every single thing. It’s different, really.

 

What does your job involve on a basic day?

My schedule is varied, really. I’m not just a director, but I also produce at the Kenya National Theatre. I have about five meetings in a day, with different people. I could have interviews, meetings with the Ministry of Education or auditions for a cast. It’s never a typical day.

 

What’s the best piece of advice you have received in life?

If you are going to do something, do it wholeheartedly and with a lot of enthusiasm.

1. What was the last movie you watched?

Enter the Dragon - Bruce Lee

2. Marvel or DC?

Marvel

3. Favourite travel destination?

Zanzibar

4. Granted, which city would you move to if asked?

New York

5. Which languages do you speak?

English, some French and some Kiswahili

6. What’s the one thing you do to let loose?

Not sure I should say...

7. Tea or coffee?

Tea all day long

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