I walked in to the sound of Jazz saxophonist Mark Langa as he played “Aint it funny” by Jennifer Lopez with acoustic guitar accompaniment, it was the refreshment I needed for the hot Sunday afternoon. The “appetizer” as Mark later referred to his curtain raiser presentation went on till past 4:20pm yet no one seemed to notice because it created a soft and smooth ambiance. This was the last day of the week long NuVo art Festival.
Right from the start you could tell that the show was going to be a mash up of two cultures, Ugandan and America. People stood up as the two national anthems were sung and on stage we saw the two amazing actresses who would keep us properly entertained and informed with “In the Continuum”; a play that was written and first performed by Danai Gurira and Nikkole Salter. It highlights the effects of HIV/AIDS on black women in both Africa and the Uniited States. The play consists of only two characters that never interact with each other. Whereas they often seem to talk to each other on stage, they represent two different lives in separate locations. It has toured in numerous countries, appeared Off-Broadway and it now it has also been to Uganda.
The two characters who were depicted by Stefanée Martin the “Black chic from the hood” and Kemiyondo Coutinho the “Everyday Ugandan wife” moved seamlessly as their different representations of life in the US and Uganda respectively took them from role to role. It was great to see this kind of talent on a Ugandan stage. A drama that might as well have had more than 20 different people was covered by two young ladies. Both Stefanee and Kemiyondo are attending the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, California.
Stefanee as the US representative took on roles such as ‘The gun shot wounded friend Rene’, ‘Basket Ball star mum’ and my personal favorite, ‘Black, hood rat mother and slut’. This of course not only displayed her range but was very entertaining to the audience watching someone morph into all these different women just by changing the way she wore her scarf. The scarves the ladies wore were the only differentiators for the parts: on the head indicated old, around the neck represented sophistication and around the waist was the indicator of youth.
Kemiyondo’s role whereas not as exciting, did not fall behind. Her characters were filled with humor and being Ugandan, the jokes hit right at home. She embodied ‘The indifferent nurse’, ‘The witch doctor’ and ‘The loving faithful mother and wife’. She wasn’t afraid to become “ugly” as she portrayed the sad truths that plague our nation. Limping to the tune commonly known as “Wankyekekya nge ebinoobwa”, she made her way to the stage, her face disfigured to display a Ugandan witchdoctor. The audience laughed together in amazement as she emphasized that “even witch doctors can’t cure HIV/AIDs…for this one the ancestors are helpless!” It was indeed an exploration of HIV/AIDS No statistics allowed through Arts.
At the end of the drama, we had a thirty minute session where members of the audience were given an opportunity to ask questions. The talk back was with Dr. Alex Coutinho (Kemiyondo’’s dad) who has been educating people for the past 20 years on the HIV/AIDS epidemic. His goal has been to make individuals understand that they are still vulnerable to this incurable scourge. “I knew that I was going to receive questions I was asked 20 years ago,” said Dr. Coutinho. This not only affirmed the need to rethink sex education but it clearly showed just how much work still needs to be done.
“After performing in such a deep, energy consuming, and weighty play, hearing the questions and concerns of the youth of this generation was extremely emotional,” said Stefanée. This was because the questions were drawn from real life situations here in Uganda.
A great replacement to the traditional sex education we received in schools, the play highlighs that HIV / AIDS affects all of us the same whether in a third world nation or a world supper power.
“Conversations are needed. Community is needed. Concern for your fellow neighbor is needed. We are all human and therefore we all connected-no matter the color, continent, age, or social status. This humankind is our own to lift and love.” Stefanée Martin said.