A group of youthful, enterprising and multi-faceted artists are redefining the role of the performance arts by using community theatre as an avenue for communication.
Communal theatre may not be a commonplace forum in comparison to other creative expressions such as music, dance, poetry or visual arts.
Nonetheless, the performance arts platform which remains marginalized particularly across rural communities – has proven to be effective in provision of entertainment and educational awareness.
Arguably, community theatre is in some parts of the country, regarded as one of the most valuable and engaging mediums of mobilization and communication more so at the grassroots.
Indeed in the past, this indigenous art form may have been restricted to its primary and traditional function, which largely hinged on provision alternative recreational entertainment.
The YADEN Initiative
But a group of performance artists working under the Youth, Arts, Development & Entrepreneurship Network [YADEN] initiative, have adopted theatre and drama as a tool to speak out against communal ills.
“Our community faces numerous challenges related to limited access to financial, material resources, non-existent health, infrastructural services besides an adversely degraded environment,” says David Kirios, co-ordinator of Olma Literacy Outreach Initiative Program (OLOIP).
This is one of the groups which regularly co-ordinates dramatized performances in perennially sun-baked villages across Ngong division in Kajiado County.
The YADEN initiative is tailored to assist youths advance their potential into practical skills.
In the long term, this offers them opportunities to earn a decent livelihood and also empower them actively participate in their communities’ socio-cultural and economic development.
“We are driven by vision to tap into the performing arts, which ideally can serve a pivotal, integral part of everyday life,” says Samuel Gathii, a thespian and also YADEN founder.
Initially established in 2004 as Y-TAP (Youth Talent Advancement Program), the initiative has grown into a community driven, innovative, inclusive and participatory art based theatre movement.
So far, the group’s focus targets marginalized and disfranchised young people as an entry point into the wider community.
Youthful artists – actors, dancers, actresses and musicians, are brought together to learn from one another by exchanging ideas and experiences.
“By sharing their collective skills, knowledge and information, this approach helps unlock individual artists’ entrepreneurial potentials,” explains Gathii.
Skilled youths help stimulate and inspire new ideas, which are bound to inspire ‘hope’ for their communities for years, socially disempowered mostly owing to widespread and crippling poverty.
By bringing on board young people, the Olma Literacy Outreach Initiative Program now serves as a bridge between especially the marginalized women who have no voice in the community and outdated cultural practices.
“We realized our mothers for years have borne the brunt of myriad social grievances related to their vastly disfranchised rights, we thus use skits and drama as a platform to speak out against these vices,” explains Kirios.
However, these performances can only be staged mostly in schools owing to lack of designated spaces – a setback which persists as a major hurdle in the growth and sustenance of community theatre forums.
So far, there are no clear cut indications that proposed devolution of resources to County Governments can tilt the stakes in favour of the creative sector’s growth at the grassroots level.