Ngugi wa Thiong’o play leads in theater nominees list

Ngugi Wa Thiong’o [Files, Standard]

The nominees for the second edition of the Kenya Theater Awards (KTAs) were announced on Monday at the Kenya National Theatre, in an event graced by Mr Michael Pundo, CEO of the Kenya Cultural Center incorporating The Kenya National Theatre.

The nominees, in 32 categories, were the result of a selection process by the event’s five-member jury and reflects some of the 2022 standout productions.

Coming from a downturn in fortunes necessitated by Covid restrictions on movement and public gathering, the theater scene experienced a welcome resurgence in 2022. This, for example, saw the number of performances that the jury considered increase fivefold and also saw the return of some big -name performances such as Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Ngahika Ndeenda/I Will Marry When I Want, which earned a total of 13 nominations including those of its individual performers. Other plays with multiple nominations include Woodcreek School’s Mekatilili wa Menza and Prevail’s Supernova.

Some individual nominees also enjoyed multiple nominations, such as Stuart Nash, whose work in Ngahika Ndeenda might see him compete against his other work in The Miser. Martin Kigondu also had a stellar year on stage, enjoying individual nods in Supernova, Blessed be the Fruit and Ngahika Ndeenda.

According to Ursula Gisemba of the Kenya International Theater Festival (KITFest) Secretariat, the organization behind KTA, the awards have been able to attract greater participation from the industry. While just in its second edition, this, she said, represents a growth curve for both theater practitioners and the secretariat as this is a new system that is challenging the theater scene and stimulating healthy competition.

“We have seen growth in numbers and variety of productions as more teams invited the jury to assess their work. In addition, there was a return of many faces that had not been in the theater for the past years. The theater scene is vibrant and looking towards a greater year in 2023,” she observed.

Perhaps another consequence of the opening up of the theater is the absence this year of the ‘Best Virtual Show’ category as enthusiasts trooped back to fill theaters. Notably, the list has new categories such as ‘Best Spoken Word Production’, ‘Best Stage Manager’, ‘Best Stand-up Production’, ‘Best Story-telling production’ as well as best performers in Monologues.

The KTAs made a hugely successful debut in 2022 and this year’s event is expected to further raise the standards in the country’s promising stage scene.

According to the Head of Jury, Benson Ngobia, when picking the nominees, the jurors retreated to a two-day conference in Naivasha where they considered over 503 performances plays in 2022, marking an almost five-fold increase in the number of performances from the previous year.

“This meant that the jury process was more elaborate and we even had to rely on video recordings at times, to analyze and shortlist the nominees,” Ngobia explained while noting that the quality of productions this year had gone up, which is good for the industry.

We also saw the rise of two-handers, monologues and spoken word shows, which were not as many last year. Generally, the theater industry is doing really well and we need to consider exporting our shows outside Kenya for the industry to go global,” he added.

With the release of the list, the public is now invited to participate in voting for the various nominees. Public participation in voting is exclusively online via the Kenya Theater Awards website.

Voting opened at midnight January 24 and will close at 23:59 on February 13, a process that is overseen by the Kenya Theater Awards Secretariat. At the close of voting, the Secretariat will sit together with the Jury and tally the votes. The winners will be announced during the award ceremony, which will be held on 23rd February 2023 at The Kenya National Theatre.

With the return to normalcy after two years of restrictions, Kenya’s post-pandemic theater scene has experienced welcome growth characterized by regular full-houses, emergence of new theater spaces, mushrooming of nascent groups and packed schedules for any theater lover. According to various sources, for example, the main hall at the Kenya National Theater had already been reserved by various theater houses for the entire year.

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