Why a group of Kenyan thespians are thriving in Denmark
George Mungai is armed with a not so new script, An Enemy of The People by Henrik Ibsen, and he is her to direct a multi-cultural, multinational cast with such diversity as from Kenya, Sweden, Denmark and Colombia.
Ordinarily onewould expect this seasoned thespian to be trading in Nairobi, but yes, he is here in the heart of Copenhagen in a project under the ACT project produced by yet another Kenyan Mike Omoke.
It boasts of 22 different nationalities represented in the 30 founding members who cross-fertilise ideas to bring the very best in the created performances.
The calm and collected bespectacled Mungai is indeed on his second assignment after a successful project last year.
“I am very honoured to be invited here to again work with such talents drawn from across different people in the World,” says Mungai at a local watering hole opposite the theatre provided for by the Municipality for such initiatives.
This evening he is in the company of one of Kenya’s most celebrated actresses, Vicky Wanjiku –Seest who has lived in Denmark for the last decade plying her artistic trade between music and theatre.
“This is an exciting project for us because it’s empowering to have in the heart of Europe , an project driven by the people of colour involving all and giving as a platform to express in the mainstream,” remarks Vicky who is acting in the play.
But how does a 19th Century play to the high modernised audience sin Copenhagen and its environs?
Of course Ibsen being a Norwegian, the Nordic proximity is a good attraction but according to Vicky, the team is being malleable and using artistic license to modernise the story.
“We are live to the fact that we must appeal especially to the youthful and middle-aged population her, so we will make social media communication central and such other dynamics that will create relevance to our performance,” she shares.
According to Omoke who came here over ten years ago, the team is confident that the performance scheduled for early next month will be a huge success.
“If our last years’ project is anything to go by, we are confident that when everything goes as planned we will register yet another success”, he say referring to the play Merchant From Copenhagen , a rework of Shakespeare’s merchant of Venice.
Ibsen’s Characters in the play are as relevant today as they were at the time he crafted them.
More so when looked at through the prism of the current consumer-driven world, in which the advancement of science and automation continues to accelerate faster than ever, he notes.
And ACT has attracted a great deal of sponsors, a product of understanding the donor regime and sheer persistence by Omoke and his friends.
They include Nordisk Kultur Fond, Swedish Embassy Copenhagen, A.P Moller, Norwegian Embassy Copenhagen and the Tuborg Fond.
And the project involves several artists and key players with their institutions in three Nordic
Countries including Cliff Moustache the director of Nordic Black Theatre Norway, Jonas Jarl the director of Sodra community theatre Sweden and Ib Jensen the director of Baltoppen Live, Denmark.
Yet while adjusting to the contemporary tastes and preferences of the modern Copenhagen audience is necessary, it I hardly sufficient to see Kenyan artistes booming in creativity in far lands country of the Vikings.
There has been a lot of talk in Scandinavia about diversity and minority visibility in in the arts sectors and particularly theatre world.
So, the Danish Government and other benefactors have come to chip in both financially as well as creating an enabling environment for performers both Dane as well as foreign directors and actors.
“For instance the municipality theatre space we are using rehearsals has been facilitate by the municipal authorities here in Copenhagen,” says Vicky on a crucial point that has seen the closure of East Africa’s only repertory theatre, The Phoenix Players, due to rent arrears for lack of support especially from Nairobi City Government.
Of course it is a sad reflection for Mungai who was instrumental in the nurturing of young talent and training in performance art over the years and has worked with notable artistes such as Lupita Nyong’o, under whose tutorage she got her first professional stage experience at Phoenix in 1998.
In recent times the Kenya National Theatre has become unaffordable leaving many thespians desperate seeking spaces in foreign Embassies in Nairobi that either is free or heavily subsidised by foreign missions.
Interestingly a Church that has seen an irreversible dearth of faithful was recently turned to a theatre space by the Copenhagen authority, a contrast to on-going in Kenya where theatre spaces are turned into religious grounds.
One such example is the Kisumu Social Centre that was hitherto a vibrant cultural space but today has suffered neglect and has become a Sanctuary for many churches who hires it for a fee.
Well, Denmark is the land of the King of fairy tales Hans Christian Andresen who is also a prolific playwright and writer of poetry as well as travelogues and who forever fell in love but never married and died a virgin!
A man whose fame is second only to the Vikings who ruled this land of 5.6 million people for ages
Born in the third largest city of Denmark, Odense in April 1805, the man is revered and is Dane’s own William Shakespeare.
Today, a visit to Copenhagen is never complete without a selfie with the Little Mermaid statute on the Copenhagen Harbour, a fairy tale created by Andersen in his book by the same name.
Indeed art is seated deep in the hearts of Danes and they support it fully including the fact that Copenhagen hardly has any skyscraper but century old buildings embedding the Danish history.
“We have over the years embraced the Arts as part and parcel of our lives and we relish the heritage that comes with it,” Says Poul Erik Pedersen who is a native of Andersen’s hometown in Fyn Island.
He was in a group of the Horne Mandskor choral group that had hosted Ken Wakia conducted Nairobi Chamber Chorus in a two-week tour.
Boasting a 21-strong tour members the team performed to full houses wowing over 10,000 people in churches, town squares, town halls, schools and colleges.
The tour was supported by among others the Danish Embassy in Nairobi, Mr Jens Bang and his wife Anni and the Emirates Airlines.
“From the day I saw Nairobi Chamber Chorus perform at a concert I Nairobi, I looked forward to hosting them here in Denmark,” said Jens a fine gentlemen with a soft spot for Kenya.