I was very excited to go to the Kendu Hearth conference, if only because it meant hanging out in a beautiful venue and taking a week off work to do it. I was, however, quickly submerged into the great activities and incredible conversations on hybridity, authenticity, identity and even gender that peppered the whole week. Here, in a few pictures, I will attempt to walk you through it.
When I got to Buzz Bar and Restaurant in Bugolobi, I didn’t know what to expect. My first impression was that these people were super cool and this could have been mostly influenced by the hairstyles of the three organisers. Mumbi Tindyebwa who was the first one I saw, was rocking long dreadlocks with one side of her head completely shaved off. Aida Mbowa, the second organiser straight up had no hair on her head and Pamela Acaye, the third organiser has short tinted twists. So, you can see, not your typical trio of ladies.
The first morning started with a master class on directing led by Ross Manson, an award-winning Director from Canada. Ross led us through a class called The First Two Days that dealt with getting a cast and crew on the same page without even looking at the script yet. It was a great class for getting all the participants in the conference on the same page, too.
We then had the afternoon off and reconvened in the evening for the official opening of the conference with a Keynote Speech from literati author, Binyavanga Wainaina
Binyavanga’s keynote was full of revolution stirring rhetoric and Proggie had a writer there to cover it. Read her story, here.
Tuesday morning started with a master class led by Keith Pearson, the managing director of The Theatre Company in Kenya. Keith’s class was on performance and he started by asking where everyone in the circle was on their creative timeline. This is when I realised I was surrounded by really talented and really committed artists be they directors, writers or actors. This is also when I started wondering if I was qualified to be here, I was basically fluking. Heh 🙂
The afternoon was taken up by a panel on funding theatre and also on international collaborations. Stephen Rwangyezi, best known for Ndere Troupe, was on the panel and he told so many funny stories on his time as the Director of the National Theatre including one particularly hilarious anecdote that involved the President sitting on a chair that gave way! Aside from all the fun were some very serious discussions on the abysmal state of funding for arts in Uganda leaving artists to turn to NGOs, or other foreign entities to fund their work. Beverly Nambozo shared her experience getting the BN Poetry Award funded using private benefactors and personal contacts.
On Tuesday evening, there was a screening of the documentary, Goodness In Rwanda, which followed the production of a play called Goodness, about a genocide in an unnamed part of the world, being performed in Rwanda. The documentary was made by Gord Rand who starred in the play that was written by Michael Redhill and went with it to Rwanda along with Director Ross Manson. They were invited to put the play on by Kiki Gakire, a Rwandan ‘professional dreamer.’ The documentary was very moving and I was completely gutted by it. I was crying through most of it and could barely contain myself long enough to participate in the Q&A afterwards. That’s why there are no pictures of this event on here.
The third day started off with a great master class led by Stephen Sillett and Jennifer Jimenez on going from reflective inquiry to staged expression. This class was image heavy with us having to pick images that spoke to us or making drawings that expressed moods without being too on the nose with them. I love playing, of any kind, so I had a great time with all of the master classes. All of them involved movement and basically fun times. What a great way to start a day.
The afternoon was a session looking at using many art forms to tell one story. Kalundi Serumaga started off the afternoon talking a little of his father, acclaimed playwright Robert Serumaga and also about theatre in the ‘70s. What jumped out at me in his talk was a Ugandan play that was got all the actors to say their lines in their own language. The play was originally written in English so the cast and the crew knew all the lines but not the audience unless they spoke all the languages being spoken on stage. This fascinates me and I would have loved to see it.
We also heard from Dr. Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare a professor at the Department of Performing Arts and Film at Makerere University. Her talk mostly depressed me mainly because of the statistic that of the two thousand scholarships the Ugandan Government awards, only thirty five go the Arts. 35! 1.75% I literally have no way to even begin to process that information.
Lastly, we heard from Binyavanga Wainaina who read to us from Kojo Laing’s Such Sweet Country in between talking about storytelling and having us keel over with laughter at his many anecdotes.
Wednesday evening had two very special performances. Sadly, my phone cameras are both not great in low light and at night so I didn’t get any pictures I could use. You’ll have to contend with me just conversing for you.
The first performance was a musical set by Bella Donna. If you were at the Bayimba Festival last year, you may remember her as the opening act. I’m finding it hard to describe her set, it was written like poetry, performed like rap but with a rock-ish feel to the band backing her. Explanation or not, it was great. It was so much fun that we had her perform an encore after her set.
We were then treated to an excerpt from Pamela Acaye’s play, Dawn Of The Pearl. The play is still being workshopped by the excerpt we were treated to spoke of great things ahead for this play. Weaving music effortlessly in between the actor’s lines and also injecting some humour in the majory humourless subject of women’s land rights, Acaye has the right idea for what has the potential to be a great play.
Thursday started off with a master class given by Jennifer Brewin, an award-winning theatre director and playwright from Canada. Jennifer’s class was on collective creation which is this concept that a bunch of people get together and hash out the details of a play together. They start with nothing and leave with a script. This sounds in equal parts fun and just horrible. I think you need to have a great team or at least a group of people who work well together and respect each other’s opinions for this to work. That said, I would totally watch a production that has come out of collective creation.
Finally, we got to the panel that I was most looking forward to all week. The topic was Ugandanness, Africanness and Blackness and whether or not this a concern artists should be thinking about and how it shows up in their work. I was expecting fighting and name calling and general craziness. Alas, this wasn’t to be. Everyone was so civilized even in their disagreement that the fight I was itching for did not materialise. Nevertheless, it was very interesting to hear everyone’s take on the subject and to engage.
Nova Bhattacharya danced for us and all I could say was, “Wow!” She is classically trained in Bharatantyam and in her performance she fuses the classical training with more contemporary modern dance and the result is gorgeous to behold.
We got Friday morning off and started the afternoon off with a panel on gender in theatre. Entitled She Is The Story, we heard from Kiki Gakire from the Women Drummers of Rwanda, Sarah Cameron Sunde from the New Georges Theatre Company based in New York and Acaye Pamela from the Kendu Forum. The ladies talked to us about being women in theatre and their varied yet somewhat similar experiences.We also heard from Jennifer Brewin who works mainly with site-specific theatre who shared some stories from her Caravan Farm Theatre and their summer and winter productions that take place outside on the farm. Hopefully, some of the theatre producers in the audience are going to put on a site-specific Ugandan play since we are not exactly aching for landscape.
Friday evening was the staging of play that is nothing like I have ever seen before. Red Rabbit White Rabbit by Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour is a play that touches on issues of obedience, subservience, revolution, pack think, right and wrong, complicity, triumph and freedom.
The actor, in our case, Donna Michelle St Bernard, gets on stage having never seen the play or read the script. They are handed an envelope with the script and proceed to read the script cold to the audience who also have no idea what’s going on. Turns out, the playwright, Nassim has some messages for the actor and the audience in turn and with everyone’s participation, the play starts. Trying to tell you the plot of the play will give you major spoilers, let me just say, it is possibly the best thing I’ve ever been a part of and I am eagerly awaiting the day we put it on in Uganda.
On Saturday afternoon, there were dramatic readings on two plays. The first was an excerpt from Philip Luswata’s Crazy Storms. Even just going off the excerpt, this play is funny. It is set in a refugee camp and is basically about all the characters forced to live together in such close proximity. I will definitely be seeing this the next time it’s on.
The second play was John Rugunda’s The Burdens. You might remember it from Literature class as I do. It had been a while since I’d encountered the play so I’d forgotten how depressing it could be, it was really something getting to see it acted out as opposed to just reading it.
And that was the last activity of the weeklong conference.