In early 2021, a new awards scheme simply dubbed the ‘Kenya Theatre Awards’ (KTA) was launched. This is the second national awards scheme for live theatre in the country, after the Sanaa Theatre Awards. However, the founders of the new initiative claim that they are a breed apart.
According to KTA’s concept paper:
“Though there has been numerous theatre awards in Kenya…there has been no theatre awards that track and watch all performance staged in Kenya at a given year which means that the criteria used to nominate award recipients is not all inclusive. The theatre industry in Kenya also lacks proper data on the number of theatre venues, number of performances staged in a given year, number of people who attend theatre performances as well as an average figure of revenue generated through theatrical activities.
The Kenya Theatre Awards seeks to fill these two gaps by tracking and watching all performances in the country and providing data and statistics on the number of venues, performances staged, people watching performances in the country. This will be achieved by the Jury and technical team of the Awards who will work in partnership with theatre venues, producers and theatre companies.”
According to the organizers, the KTAs:
“…Are meant to honor outstanding productions, artistes and the legacy of practitioners who have become icons while encouraging and celebrating a blend of innovation and excellence in theatrical productions. By its structure and way of operations, the awards will also document and provide data and statistics of live stage theatrical performances held in Kenya in a given year with details of the venues, number of performances, Kenyan’s attending performances and where possible, the revenue generated from theatrical activities. A Jury of five people representing the theatre academia, practitioners, theatre associations and media will be tasked with watching performances between January and December of every year and there after hold a jury’s conference to evaluate and announce nominees of the awards. The nominees will then exposed to a public vote and the annual awards ceremony held on the 14th February of the subsequent year.”
This year’s jury and insiders include Sitawa Namwalie (Chair), Sikinan Konchellah (Director), Ken Waudo, Margaretta wa Gacheru, Michael Pundo, Peter Ndoria and Josephta Mukobe. Due to the continuing COVID-19 pandemic, the announcement of the new awards was done virtually, via Zoom.
During the session, Sitawa Namwalie said:
“This industry is the source of our creativity…It is also the source of other industries, for example film. Actors and other professionals often begin in theatre…In Nigeria, the creative industry has a big role and contributes millions to the economy…My dream is, in addition to being the best sportspeople in the world, we (Kenyans) can be the best theatre–makers…The jury is dealing with the expansion of theatre…COVID-19 stopped physical theatre but there has been online theatre, even Zoom plays. Expansion of the audience. We struggle with getting to the audience but because of the COVID lockdowns, we have gone from audiences of hundreds to audiences of thousands, some out of the country…”
Sitawa Namwalie is a well-known creative writer and performer. Margaretta wa Gacheru, the country’s longest-running and most prolific theatre reviewer, had this to say concerning ‘the creative economy’:
“The UK, France, China, South Korea have developed theatre…There’s so much untapped potential in this country. We have been training our children to perform in drama and music festivals…As I see it, these awards are evidence of development and growth of Kenyan theatre…Let us acknowledge that we’re here because there is so much dynamism among Kenyan theatre stakeholders.”
Michael Pundo, who is the Director of Culture at the Kenya Cultural Centre, expounded on the aims of the new initiative:
“The objective of the KTA are a bit different from the others awards in the country. The composition of the jury include seasoned thespians, practitioners, blended with academics…In the selection process, there is a bit of creativity and professionalism…We expect that the process will be professionally handled and the people who win will have deserved the awards…The award comes with the aspect of data…We will be able generate data through this award scheme which will help in developing theatre in the country…The methodology involved is that the jury must watch (the plays)…Producers will be interested in getting into the award because it is selected objectively…There has been an up surge of musical theatre back in the country…There is a need to recognize and reward excellence..There’s a lot of people who have given their time and expertise to the development of theatre but they have not been recognized…So this is a good platform…We have had so many directors who have left the theatre scene to go into film…The award should find these people and bring them back.”
Peter Ndoria conferred, calling it:
“A wholistic approach to judging the works that are being presented. Appreciating the potential that this industry has.”
Also in agreement was Ken Waudo, a veteran playwright/director and the chairman of Theatre Arts Practitioners Society:
“This is something that the industry really needed: peer review as well as recognizing talents.”
Josephta Mukobe, Principal Secretary in the State Department for Culture and Heritage, remarked:
“Theatre must also be relevant to the various audiences that we have in Kenya. Appreciating the theatre fraternity is important, motivating people…The awards also sensitize the audience…because the audience will be eager to see who is getting the awards and what they have produced…Giving material that is relevant to the Kenyan taste is important or we will lose ground here…I hope the judges will be professional and also fair…As a Ministry (of Sports and Heritage), I encourage you to do the best so that you can raise the standards. The Ministry is wishing you the best. I’d like to see you grow beyond Kenya.”
The soft-spoken organizer of the KTAs, Kevin Kahuro, is also the director of the annual Kenya International Theatre Festival (KITF). He had this to say during the Zoom launch:
“From the academic side, we are serious about theatre. I hope this will help us collect data on theatre, what is happening in the counties, and then the stakeholders will be able to sit back and take stock… Kenya Theatre Awards will be different. KTA committed to watching productions.”
Kevin holds a master’s degree in Film and Theatre Arts from Kenyatta University. He is the Secretary General of the African Theatre Union and a member of the Arts Society of Kenya as well as the Theatre Acts Practitioners Society of Kenya.
Few events are more controversial than sports and entertainment awards. In order to gain credibility, an award scheme must have open criteria, a transparent nomination process and a clear methodology for picking the eventual winners. KTA jurists will assess performances/productions using a Theatrical and Organizational Performance Index (TOPI). This index was developed by the awards executive and the jury in order to issue out awards to those artistes and companies that exhibit excellence in their theatre performances. In organizer’s own words, here’s how the TOPI will be utilized:
The Theatrical and Organizational Performance Index (TOPI) scale will be used to issue out awards to individuals and companies who will excel in the theatre industry. Artists and companies will gain points based on the number of votes they will receive from the Jury and Kenyans (The public). A mobile operator and web application will come in hand in ensuring that the opinion votes of all Kenyans count and the jury will ensure the opinion vote from the citizenry is considered while making out their final decision. The factors to be considered while rating this index include;
- Quality of the performance
- Creativity and innovation of the performance
- The message of the performance in development of society values
- Talent management
- Finance management
- Organization of company
- Professionalism of the group/company
- Consistency of the group/company
KTA criteria and eligibility rules are as follows:
- The production should be staged during the year under review.
- Re-staging of a particular production will not be considered. Re-staging of a particular production may be considered if there has been a significant change in language.
- Productions need to be staged in a theatre/performance venue/site specific space in Kenya.
- The Awards will accept recorded and virtual theatre productions stage using either of the following; Facebook, Instagram, YouTube e.t.c.
- 70% of the crew and cast need to be Kenyan.
- In order to be eligible, a performer must perform the role on the production’s opening night.
- A performer who is nominated in the category “Best Performance in a Solo Production: Male / Female” will not be eligible for consideration in the categories of “Best Performance by an Actor in a Lead Role” or “Best Performance by an Actress in a Lead Role” in the same production. This shall be applicable to performers in both the musical theatre and play genres.
And finally, here are the categories that will be considered by the jury:
- Best production
- Best Musical theatre production
- Best Kikwetu Production (Vernacular shows)
- Best Virtual show
- Best Children’s play
- Best Breakthrough Male Performer
- Best Breakthrough Female Performer
- Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role (Play)
- Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (Play)
- Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role (Musical)
- Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role (Musical)
- Best Musical score/arrangements/adaptation
- Best Original Choreography in a Musical/Play
- Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Lead Role (Play)
- Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Lead Role (Play)
- Best Performance in a Solo Production: Male/Female
- Best Performance by a Female Actor in a Lead Role (Musical)
- Best Performance by a Male Actor in a Lead Role (Musical)
- Best Dance theatre
- Best Kenyan Playwright
- Best Set design
- Best Lighting design
- Best Sound Design
- Best Costumes design
- Best Producer
- Best Director
- Best University/college theatre group
- Best Theatre company of the year
In addition to the above accolades, there will be some ‘special awards’, decided on and approved by the Jury and the Kenya Theatre Awards executive. These are:
- World Impact Award (for an individual or production that raises the bar of Kenya Theatre Internationally)
- Life Time Achievement Awards. (For individuals in the Industry for more than 30 years.)
- Innovation in Theatre Award (for outstanding contribution to Kenyan Theatre)
- Rafiki Awards (Individuals and advertising/corporate/government/venue who support theatre)
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.