Experimental digital theater is coming to Kenya
Friday, July 2nd, 2021
BY MARGARETTA WA GACHERU
- When Aroji asks what the actors are hoping for in the future, almost everyone says that they are back with family and friends and just have the freedom to hang out.
- Other hopes are also expressed, such as that of the Congolese refugee.
- He hopes the Kenyan government will not close his camp. And several women want violence against women to end.
The new normals after the pandemic, as conceived by Aroji Otieno and his theater group Bold Theater KE, sound no different than the old days before the lockdown in their digital drama Toshanisha: The New Normals, which was staged on Zoom last weekend.
When Aroji asks what the actors are hoping for in the future, almost everyone says that they are back with family and friends and just have the freedom to hang out.
Other hopes are also expressed, such as that of the Congolese refugee. He hopes the Kenyan government will not close his camp. And several women want violence against women to end.
But otherwise the script for New Normals was already an award-winning digital theater production based on the book of the same name. The loosely written show was originally developed in Portuguese by the founders of the Brazilian company, Os Satyros, Rodolfo Garcia Vazquez and Ivam Cabral.
However, since Vazquez and Cabral are committed to creating an online community theater that, by definition, crosses national borders, they were excited to partner with Arojis Bold Theater KE and see how the Kenyans would adapt their digital play.
Bold Theater clearly understood the core of Os Satyros’ approach to digital theater. It is very experimental, full of improvisation and loosely written. And while it is meant to reflect the Kenyans’ perspective on their visions and hopes for the future, there are also two Brazilian actors in the cast who easily take up the revised theme.
Leticia Gomide and Mariana France fit quickly into the Zoom production, suggesting that while the theater always reflects local hopes and feelings, it also has the ability to convey feelings that transcend national borders.
Aroji begins with a question restricted for everyone during lockdown: What do you miss the most? Then, one by one, its cast claims they miss everything from ice cream and parties with family and friends to those who died during the pandemic.
Somehow a panel discussion about vaccines comes into play. But that turns to chaos after a panelist rejects vaccines and endorses Trump’s panacea, chloroquine.
The show has several hiccups like this one that seems to be in the spirit of the ‘experimental’. It happens again when violence against women is thrown into the mix as well, showing that linearity doesn’t have to be part of digital theater.
The dull notion of the Congolese refugee apparently dates back to when Aroji worked with Film Aid and disadvantaged people across Kenya learning the basics of filmmaking as a means of empowerment.
Bold Theater KE isn’t the only company Os Satyros has worked with outside of Brazil. You have worked with theater groups across Europe and Latin America. Additionally, their productions are technically free to watch, although donations are specifically encouraged as this is the only way for the company to survive.
One might wonder how the Brazil-based company got together with Kenyans. It was Aroji who had already started developing community theater projects at Film Aid.
When his contract with the NGO ended, he founded Bold Theater, where online projects caused the troupe to make a splash on social media.
“We got to know La Mama in New York and eventually went to a directorial workshop and a residency in Umbria, Italy,” recalls Aroji. “That’s when we started looking at a number of [international] Theater groups and a number of joint workshops, ”he adds.
One of these workshops was about digital theater, which resulted in Aroji meeting Os Satyros as it is particularly involved in intercultural productions.
“Os Satyros helped us get the production going,” says Aroji, adding that there will be another opportunity for Kenyans to see the show.
“You go online and find Kenya Buzz. Then you will find the slide on Toshanisha that tells you what to do. “
The only challenge for some theater buffs is that The New Normals will be running between this Saturday and Sunday, March 26-27. June, opens at midnight.
Aroji says their production was entirely self-funded. Still, it was Os Satyros co-founder Garcia Vazques who directed the Kenyan show. “We also worked on zooming on the Brazilian account. Os Satyros crew members also worked on lighting and costuming aspects of our production, ”he adds.
Cast members included Calvin Kinyua, Martina Ayoro, Cindy Nyambura, Awuor Onyango, Idris Leem, Nunguri Kiore and Frances Rey Bulama, as well as Leticia Gomide, Mariana France and Aroji Otieno.