“Keep Calm, Ugandan theatre is very safe,” said one of the expatriates that turned up for the Kampala International Theatre Festival that has been going on at the Ndere Centre for five days since 23 November.
This was after watching a rather spirited performance of Pamela Keryako in Black, a production directed by Charles Mulekwa and written by Aganza Kisaka.
According to the gentleman, he was happy that almost many of the productions from Uganda he was being exposed to, where rather unique, well written and yet, they were executed or written by fairly youthful Ugandans.
“Trust me, if the youth got this industry, the government can as well put up a shopping mall in the physical theatre, the mental one is safe.”
The talk had started rather hours after Peter Kagayi’s opening production, The Audience Must Say Amen, in one of the poems, the performer seems to suggest that in 2031, the City Square and Nationall Theatre will have been replaced by a barrack and a shopping mall.
The sad realities that the known home of theatre and art, Uganda National Cultural Center (UNCC) could be no more was felt in many ways during the third edition of the theatre festival.
For instance, even when Ndere Centre owns an auditorium, some people found themselves missing the theatre where the festival has previously been held for obvious reasons – lack of adequate lighting, sound proof and a fact that UNCC is rather more accessible.
Yet on the lighter side of things, the festival was a strengthening factor that with or without a building known as a National Theatre, the art is here to survive since it is still attracting young minds.
This year, the festival, according to its director Deborah Asiimwe attracted many entries from Uganda, most of them coming from relatively young people, and at the end of it all the catalogue was the proof.
For example, Kisaka, Kagayi, Courtinho Kemiyondo or Achiro Patricia are relatively young people whose productions had the audience cry, laugh and chant at the same time.
This year, Asiimwe notes that they even received scripts from two schools but many were not ready for production; “These were secondary school students putting together a body of theatre about topics dear to them, I was shocked,” she says.
But she promises that she will keep in touch with the students to make sure that the production is ready for next year’s festival.
The lucky one though was Sammy Gideon Wetala, a student of drama at Makerere University, his production Two Faces was presented at the festival as a reading.
The story is a about a conversation that happens between a member of parliament and a desperate job seeker cross paths in a bar.
William Chewe Musonda, a playwright behind The Most Wretched of the Earth, noted that only mistake was that the festival was happening in a place that very few people in Kampala can access but was sure this was something literature students would have wanted to see.
Besides other complaints from patrons that much of the setting including the festival posters was too abstract, many of those around left the festival contented that the future of brilliant writing, acting and production for theatre is safe.
First Published in The Observer