Monday, December 20, 2010

Kenyan Christmas Drama

A fair amount of theatre takes place in Nairobi, at least, around Christmas. At least one church I know of has a drama and music talent show every year on Dec. 19, where each group puts a presentation together around the theme for the year (this year it was "Christ the King"), then present for the church and a panel of judges.  The judges then decide who's piece was the best on the basis of theme, presentation, and overall quality.  I was a judge one year but had conflicting engagements this year.  It's a great community builder and talent developer for the congregation.

Another popular event in the city is the Mavuno Church's "Village Christmas" play.  This began about 5 years ago as a variety show - sketches, musical numbers, etc., and has gradually developed into a full-fledged musical play that is televised and shown on local TV stations.  I've had the privilege of working with, and training, a number of the young adults involved (both as actors and the writers/directors/producers).  They are a talented group of people and have put together a great show.  This year's piece went through numerous rewrites and workshopping. The music is also locally written and produced.

The captain discusses "business"
Overall, the piece is a good reflection of contemporary urban youth in Kenya—it is much more akin to a Broadway musical than a "traditional African village," because the art forms of urbanites is much more Western.  The storyline is rooted in Biblical tradition, yet contemporized for an upper-class African family (albeit living in Bethlehem).  Many of the complaints of "The Carpenter" family (Joseph's family) resonated with the audience because of the similarity of issues faced—the need to pay "protection tax" to soldiers who are already paid to protect, overall taxation issues, business expansion, succession issues (a subtle reflection perhaps of presidential succession issues), and also the more universal issues of internal family conflict, sibling rivalry and personal ambition.

The trio reacts
The delightful "traveling trio" of household servants operated within the play in much the same way as the group of servants and others in "Twelfth Night" (Maria, Sir Toby Belch, etc.).  They have their own lives and dreams, they are the comic relief, but they also serve as commentators and narrators of the drama of the family they work for.  The two levels of society that existed in Shakespeare's plays finds continuing relevance in contemporary Kenyan society.

Brothers Judah and David
Much of the hilarity in the play came from the "in" jokes—plays on contemporary events, such as WikiLeaks (how classified news from Herod's palace managed to reach the common people, or servants), a hilarious sequence parodying the Nigerian "marriage" pastor who held a conference in town that was swarmed by single women wanting husbands, and numerous other local references.   The challenge becomes how not to let the comic relief overwhelm the main message the play is trying to bring.  In this case, the dramatic story managed to hold its own—not an easy feat.