Today I had a first rehearsal for an original show I will be writing, creating, and directing with students from the Department of Theatre Arts and Film Production at Kenyatta University in Nairobi, Kenya. I am calling the show KUMI NA MBILI for the moment, which translates as 12. There are 12 students involved and I started calling them THE TWELVE. KUMI NA MBILI is sexier.
We rehearsed at a central space on campus called Bishop’s Square. It is a large, outdoor, fence-enclosed, paved square where graduation is held, where Career Fair was held, where people play basketball, and where steel chairs roam. It is enormous. I sat in a small circle in the far corner with the 10 students who were able to attend as it slowly became dark. By the end of rehearsal we were sitting in a circle in the dark in our steel chairs as the police helicopters flew overhead. It was a beautiful night, and the cool air was refreshing. I typed in the glow of my laptop as I had the students write and I recorded their responses.
The matatus in Nairobi went on strike today protesting a 100% increase of fees. Matatus are the privately owned unofficial transportation system for Nairobi. These millions of small vans, which do not run on a time-table but appear and disappear when they are full and/or ready, are the backbone of public transportation in Kenya. What does a matatu strike look like? At an appointed time this morning, around 9 am, matatus put on their brakes and stopped and parked, crippling Nairobi and essentially shutting down the city and the major roads. They put stones and debris across the highway and stopped their vehicles and everything came to a stand still. Students found it impossible to get to school today, and that is why I only had 10 instead of 12 in attendance.
I have 6 more rehearsals with these students. I hope to stage an opening and the first two sections that we wrote this evening on Friday night. The show is about identity, and the 12 are the authors, subjects, and performers. The first section we will stage will be in response to the prompt I AM . . . and will focus on the students’ ownership of self. I AM. The second section will be in response to the prompt I KNOW . . . and will focus on the students’ ownership of knowledge.
Here are two favorite entries for each from our work last night:
I am easily weakened by beautiful ladies.
I am afraid of being broke and lonely. The thought of it constantly gives me depression and I cry.
I know where I’ve come from and it hasn’t been easy.
I know that at the end of the day we will all go to sleep.
How can I ever complain about anything? I am in the presence of possibility.
KUMI NA MBILI!