Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Plays in Nairobi

It's that time of year, and many churches are presenting powerful Christmas plays.  Here's just a sample...

Shepherds discuss the angel message
Mamlaka Hill Chapel presented "The Dawning: Reflections on Christmas" on December 11.  This was a collection of scenes, monologues, poetry, speech choir and songs very ably performed by the drama team of the church--so much talent!  

An audience favorite were the shepherds, who confused the angels with the moon (or sun), and were obviously not the sharpest shepherds on the block!

Mary remembers

Nyambura Muriuki did a wonderful job as Mary, giving beautiful poetic renditions as well as a monologue about her experience as the mother of the Messiah.  Frank Koine and Jaki Oyoo also stood out as the innkeeper and his wife.  The speech choir energetically and artistically presented WH Auden poems and Scripture.

The innkeeper and his wife argue
Also back on stage is Mavuno Chapel's "Village Christmas: A Love Story," playing until Dec. 24.  This dramatic musical extravaganza is always well done and a crowd pleaser!

Nairobi Baptist presents "The Song of Mary" this week (Wednesday through Friday).  They have an able cast and have expanded the script with a lot of wonderful original music, bringing added depth to the performances and the script.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Arts in Missions

Just back from a week-long conference in the UK for Arts in Missions!  It was sponsored by Graduate Institute of Linguistics (GIAL), Int'l Council of Ethnodoxologists (ICE) and All Nations College.  So fantastic to be among 70 or so like-minded, artsy missions types!  The conference was a "test drive" of the Arts in Missions manual that Brian Schrag of GIAL is compiling, to be released by Urbana 2012.  I was honored to be one of the trainers for the event, and am also helping with some of the drama portions of the manual.

Just a sample of what it's like with arts-types:
visual processors

Visual learners/processors mixed with traditional note-takers in working through the material presented, processing it visually, with this result...

The end result

We were working through an oral verbal art form among the Sakha people of Siberia.  The form, called Ohokhai, involves a participatory round dance, a call and response 7-syllable (preferably with lots of alliteration) rhyme scheme, and is identified as a core part of Sakha culture.  

The Arts in Missions manual walked us through the research, interview, creation and critique aspect of discovering indigenous arts... and then the entire conference created their own mini ohokhais!   

Below is a picture of the final night, when everyone danced the ohokhai on the lawn of All Nations!
AiM participants do an Ohokhai

Other sessions looked at particular artistic domains and how to analyze and create appropriate local pieces.  I co-led the drama artistic domain session, and once again enjoyed working with an international group of thespian-minded people!  We looked at the Kenyan drama that was performed in the movie "The Constant Gardener," analyzed it and then attempted to create something of a similar genre.  
All in 2 hours!

Here's a picture of drama worldwide:  in just this small group are represented Kenya, Burkina Faso, India, Jamaica, Mozambique, France, United Kingdom and United States!

Dramatists from around the world

Monday, August 29, 2011

"8 Cow Saint" play in Kenya

I got to direct another play for Mamlaka Hill Chapel yesterday.  They had requested "8 Cow Saint" - a short musical drama written by Karen Lund and Samuel Vance of Taproot Theatre in Seattle, WA.  I directed it 10 years ago in Nairobi at a different church, and the pastors at Mamlaka remembered and asked for it.  
The father taxes his daughter with her undesirability

We had such a wonderful time with the cast and audience!  The play is well-suited to Africa as it is based on the concept of bride price, where cows are given in exchange for a bride.

In this case, Mary, the girl, is so plain and awkward that no man wants her and her father can't even pay to marry her off.

It isn't until a wealthy and discerning merchant arrives in the village to view the father's cattle, that Mary's true worth is seen by him, and he proceeds to offer the father 8 cows for her hand in marriage.

The merchant arrives in the village

Everyone is amazed, and regret not seeing the value in Mary themselves.  For Mary, the discovery of her worth changed her into a beautiful, confident woman, and she and the merchant lived happily ever after.

The merchant inspects the cattle
The merchant and father discuss business

"And now...the moral!"

And the point?  That in God's eyes, we are all "8 cow saints," having been purchased at a great price, with the life of God's son;  so we can view ourselves victoriously through God's eyes.  Great message, and one that was taken to heart by the audience.  It also illustrated well the series in Romans that the church is going through.
The fabulous cast!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Maasai Christian Music Video

During a retreat in Mombasa last week, I met Sig and Joy Feser, who are working in Tanzania with the Maasai.  They have a heart for discipling people through the media and, as a result, began Pamoja Ministries and Kahawa Productions to forward that goal.  They began with some children's puppet videos in Swahili, a photo book of the Maasai (called En-kata) and a movie musical called "Nipe Jibu" ("Answer Me") - also in Swahili, about the hold ancestors have on the lives of many Tanzanians, and how they can be free through Christ.  Click here to read more about their video and TV projects.

I loved a statement they made about their work— people always hear about the ugliness, poverty and corruption of Africa; they want to promote the goodness, strength and beauty of Africa instead.  Way to go!  One way they have begun to do that is through a Maasai music video.  Although it is sung in Swahili, instead of Maa, it was choreographed by the Maasai using many of their dance moves appropriate to the words of the song "Bwana Mungu"  (Lord God).  It's beautifully done, so click here to see it!  The Maasai who have seen it say it makes them "proud to be Maasai Christians."

The newest God-vision the Fesers have had is to do a "Maasai opera" - basically a fusion of Maa song and dance, Swahili and English, with a storyline from the Maasai perspective of how they are dealing with holding on to their culture in the midst of social and cultural change.  Their story can speak to people in many cultures dealing with similar issues, as well as sharing how their God is seeing them through the transitions.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Combining drama, fashion and ministry in Liberia

Dancing for transformation
Just back from Liberia, where I took a creative team from Kenya to work with an American team of designers and fashionistas to put on a dramatic fashion show featuring the work of Liberian designer Korto Momolu, runner-up in Season 5 of Project Runway.

All this was to help launch Amani Liberia, a ministry to marginalized women that teaches them sewing, production and design as a means of livelihood, recovery and reconciliation.  For more on Amani, click here.  Amani began in Kenya.  The founder, Becky Chinchen, has since moved back to Liberia and was encouraged to start a branch of Amani there to help the women who have suffered from the war and continuing disempowerment.

They wanted to launch Amani with a fashion show, with designs donated by Korto Momolu.  She told the story of separation, transformation and celebration through fashion, and Becky asked me to help develop the same thing through narrative, dance and music, supporting the fashion show with an African narrative dance.  I went with the incomparable Hellen Mtawali, Kenyan songstress, and artiste extraordinaire, Alan Oyugi, to work on the choreography.

Hellen teaches a song and dance

Alan working on choreography
We worked with students at ABC University, in Yekepa, Liberia.  Most of them had never done anything like this before - either modelling (taught by the American team) or choreographed dance - either African or modern.  In 7 days (count 'em-- 7! A total of 30 hours!!) we managed to develop, teach and rehearse 3 segments of dance/music narrative to go around the fashion show story.

working on a dance
final move of a separation dance
The show began with Separation - from God, community and self-esteem; we expressed it through a narrative beautifully written by Martha Partor, a Liberian woman who has a ministry to women in the country, punctuated by dances, both modern and African, and music from Ghana and South Africa. 

The first performance was done in the ruined theatre in what was once downtown Yekepa.  The background of a building torn apart, but transformed by lights and stage formed a lovely background to the message of transformation and hope through God.

The Open Door Theatre, Yekepa, Liberia (2011)

Open Door Theatre before the show
Open Door Theatre preparing for the show
Following the drama section, Momolu's designs telling the story of separation were modelled on the catwalk.  My favorite had to be the final design, shown below.  The raised skirt indicated violence against women, and the bound hands and mouth showed their helplessness in their situation.
Separation (by Korto Momulu)
The second section dealt with the arrival of hope and transformation, as God works with us, brings about healing and we are restored to community and hope.

"All is not lost!  I can dream a little light of hope.  I have found someone who loves me as I am.  I know some day soon, I will wake up with freedom.
Freedom to school and be a figure of my society; freedom to make my own money.  Freedom to build my mind.
My body is now my jewels.  My education is my husband. The work of my hands is my pride.  My image is my Creator.  Oh!  Women of Liberia, there is hope!"

The runway designs reflected that continuation of the journey.  The final section was Celebration, as we can celebrate freedom and full transformation.

"I feel the glow of my beauty; I thank my Maker for helping me live again.
I am now a woman of worth; see, as I motion to other women of Liberia.
Women of Africa, come and drink from the fountain of beauty."

The show brought together the community of the Yekepa for the first time since before the war (20 years ago).  And in Monrovia, it showed to a sold-out, enthusiastic crowd.  It was a truly unique way to show, through many art forms, how God transforms and gives reason for celebration!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Drama, Sigana and Fashion in Liberia

Stay tuned for a report on what I'm doing in Liberia for the next 2-3 weeks!  Amani ya Juu (a ministry to refugee women and those who are hurting and in need) is launching in Liberia, and I was asked to help fashion an African drama narrative around their big fashion show launch.  The Liberian Project Runway designer is doing the designs, Helen Mtawali of Afrizo will be doing the music, and Alan Oyugi is doing choreography.  I'm putting the music, narrative and dance together in a sigana-type drama.  We just arrived and are looking forward to getting to work!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

HIStory Easter drama in Kenya

Easter Sunday - a prime day for dramas, pageants, and other creative events in churches around the world.  It was no exception today in Nairobi, as Mamlaka Hill Chapel put on a narrative, storytelling, musical, dramatic worship service.  "HIStory," available through DramaShare, took the place of the regular Easter morning services.  
The Samaritan woman tells about Jesus

The Last Supper
A team of near 40 (actors, musicians and technicians) sang and acted their way through a beautiful ministry event which included contemporary retellings of the disciples, the Samaritan woman, and African versions of da Vinci's famous painting of "The Last Supper"  and the crucifixion and resurrection.

The challenge for the production was mainly working with the technical aspects - turning the parking lot sanctuary into a theatre space.  It took days of draping with fabric and plastic, hanging backdrops and curtains, and working with an LED lighting system that had no manuals (except those in Chinese) and no one who fully knows how to operate a very complex controller.  But we managed!   People appreciated the doctrine of the story and how it told Jesus' story in a relate-able way.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A "Work in Progress"

There's an old script, by Paul McCusker, called "Work in Progress."  Since I've been in Kenya, two church drama groups have performed it to appreciative audiences.  This semester, Daystar's chapel theme was "becoming mature in Christ."  I was asked to do a drama chapel, so I pulled out the script, recruited by usual actors, and added new ones, and we put it on.  The script is rather like an AA meeting for Christians -each session they share about themselves, their struggles (or lack of them) and try to see how they can share Christ with others.  In between, we see them in their daily lives, with their own brand of Christianity interacting with the circumstances of their lives.  It's quite hilarious and a good chance for Christians to laugh at themselves (is that a painful laugh?).

Performed at a local church this past Sunday and saw a great example of audience interaction, rather like African American preaching, where the audience constantly comments on, or affirms the pastor in what he's saying.  Monologues on whether other Christians struggled with living in two different worlds were interrupted:   Actor:  "Am I the only one who feels this way?"   Audience:   "Oh no.  You're not alone."  When a Christian cliche-spouting woman's husband enters carrying a suitcase:   Audience:  "Where are you going?"  Actress:  (small moment to collect herself) "Challo, what's this?  You're leaving me?"  Actor: "I don't love you anymore"  Audience:  "(Gasp) Oh no you didn't!"

At the end, they all stand up and say, "I'm [name], and I'm a Christian."  The pastor loved taking that and offering an altar call to those who wanted to be Christians or return to the Lord - and there were several.  Wonderful to see drama being used in ministry that way!

A work in progress: A full-length play about Christian identity, evangelism, and refrigerator magnets (A Lillenas drama resource)

New Drama Commissioned for Tangaza College, Kenya

Over the past few months, I have had the privilege of being a consultant on a drama commissioned by Tangaza College for their 25th anniversary celebrations.  Tangaza is a Catholic university in Nairobi, Kenya.  Father Pietro is a priest who has a strong interest in theatre and incorporates and encourages it as much as possible.  In fact, in 2009, he helped coordinate the first Festival of Christian Arts in Kenya, showcasing artists from all the disciplines.

A scene from "The Last Convict"
Anyway, the play was called "The Last Convict" and was a metaphor for spreading the Good News of Christ.  It used the metaphor of a convict facing a death sentence, with an electrician called Lightman representing Jesus - a popular image was the bucket of waste under the cot that Lightman offered to empty.  The whole thing had the feel and structure of a medieval morality play, albeit set in modern Kenya.  It was written by Joseph Murungu, a respected theatre teacher and playwright in Kenya, and performed by Phoenix Players, the only repertory company in the country.

The play was well done, but what was even more interesting was the question and answer session afterward with the Tangaza students.  To many of them, stage plays were a new experience, and certainly this type of metaphorical play was a lot to wrap their minds around.  I enjoyed listening to their questions – how did the actors respond to the message of the play, critiquing the flow of the script or interpretation of it, wanting to know about the process of creation involved.

It was a good example of how theatre can spark dialogue about faith matters, theology and art.
Dancers celebrate the convict's redemption

Friday, March 4, 2011

Peacebuilding through drama in Kenya

The Images Drama Project did a 2-day workshop in the Rift Valley (Kenya) with leaders from two opposing tribes.  The bulk of the work was done through playback theatre and participatory theatre techniques, with teaching in between based on research done on conflict issues in their communities, Biblical teaching on reconciliation, group sharing and discussion.
While two days was not enough time, it was a very successful process, particularly when it came to people sharing their stories to those of other tribes and persuasions.  We did a morning session of Image theatre and it was wonderful to see them forget about tribal barriers as they discussed problems in their villages and worked on creating successive images to show.   

Feedback – they saw the strength of dialogue among the tribes, the need to do similar workshops with the youth, seeing solutions they came up with being tried out in forum theatre, which then opened up even more discussion of issues and solutions.  With pastors in the group, they also discussed the power of prayer in bringing about reconciliation.