AcayeKerunen Speaking/Showing: My parting Remarks on Theater in Canada and Uganda 2012

AcayeKerunen Speaking/Showing: My parting Remarks on Theater in Canada and Uganda 2012

My parting Remarks on Theater in Canada and Uganda 2012

 This post has been sitting in my drafts since 2012.  I think it is still rellevant to today. 
I  went to Canada in search of answers on how to make theater work and how to professionalize theater in Uganda . The clues to these answers; when they presented themselves proved more challenging for  my simple mind.
While discussing film with Jono Nemethy over lunch, he enlightened me on how long it takes for one documentary to make it to the big screen. Alot of the time he added is tied up in looking for the funding to complete production and promote the documentary.
So, a documentary whose production was done in 2009 may only see the public television screen in 2011. He shared with me on how a documentary he had done in 2008 had only just paid off in 2011.But, that's the long route, Jono added for those who are keen on creating a track record of excellence.
But a tack record of excellence maybe exactly what Uganda needs right now and three months after I returned, I received  great news from my writer friend Adong Judith Lucy. The funding she had asked for from  STICHTING DOEN three years earlier and forgotten about had finally come through.  I later auditioned for a part in the play SILENT VOICES and acted in it.
According to Adong, she wrote and wrote countless proposals to all organisations she could find that seemed open and willing to fund theater. Then she forgot about it for after  loosing money a number of times after using her personal funds to produce theater, she was  willing to ask and wait.
What she told me she did was to go through rigorous workshops of her script with friends, colleagues and all who could offer quality critique of her writing. Five years later, she had a script in hand and the money finally came through.
Coming from Uganda where I have seen movie concepts created on Monday,shared on Tuesday , casting done on Wednesday , shot on Thursday, editing done on friday and it is premiered on Saturday, you can imagine my anxiety when this information hit my ears.
Do I have to wait a lifetime before my dreams reach their final destination? My artistic experience has been one of building near impossible doors where none existed. In 2006, when no publisher in Uganda wanted to publish my collection of poetry whose manuscript had been edited by two professors through  British Council Crossing Borders i wrote the Musical Theatre Piece Dawn Of The Pearl, based on the poetry in the collection and ended up publishing a theatre piece and a book.

FREE(AK) SHOW that freaked us: Text by Acaye Pamela, Pictures By Olive Nakiyemba

Do you know a spontaneous person? One, whom you can count on to just show up to go, and have fun! Experience #Art or,  just walk the night streets with?
 Star gazing, Dream catching,
 Memory exploring of the silly things we have done for love and;
 Laughing so hard with at simple jokes that,
 the cars racing by on the, almost deserted streets slow down to try and partake of your joy!

Well, I discovered one of those and we even got lost in rich peoples neighborhoods after midnight as we walked but,  just asked the Askaris for directions and continued the laughter /joy train!! We together attended the FREE(AK) SHOW curated by Robinah Nansubuga.

A piece of scultpure by  Issa Ouattara :
She is one of those humbly eclectic kinds;  this Robinah , who curated a Sculptor, Performance Artist, Street Artist, Poetess and Eco Warrior  to collaborate on one Unique Show: A Free[AK] Show.

Robinah  also has the #Kyoto activity (pronounced cooooto, a Luganda word that means hearth) that is now consistent with #Bayimba International Festival of Arts every September in Kampala.
Kyoto is a three day fire place  zone  which,  comes complete with mats, three legged stools, Ekibiisi(fermented plantain beer), Omunanasi (pineapple ginger tea), Malwa ( sorghum beer), molokony(cowhoof soup), Mujaja tea(benzel leaf tea) and kabalagala(Cassava flour and banana fried pancakes).

These indegenous cuisine favorites are then served against the backdrop of  a traditional drum circle, oratory and conversations for three days of the festival.

 So, when such
Spiritual,  poetry card reading
A poetry reading corner by Roshan Karmali,
a curator sends you an invitation personally,  even while she is away; through,  an assistant who does not know you but finds you , to attend another curated event by herself; YOU ATTEND.

we stood atop the expansive residential balcony and dreamed that our personal houses too would be like this. overlooking the Lake Nalubale in the distance. Looking down we marveled at the rich stately cars which obviously defied the present -money is lost lingua of kampala.
German cuisine served up as finger food like Pig in a hole, besides many other delectable things like chicken and beef skewers with Odi and mustard dips.... Aloooo!
We ate like boarding school children, clearing their remainder grab at terms end, well assured that the next day will find them home in a place of  abundance and not scarcity. So, the wine, beer, soda, water flowed until we said enough! we were culinary freaked real nice.
Robinah Nansubuga,  invited me to the Freak show on November 29 2016 at the German Ambassadors residence

EcoAction compound miniature, created by Reagan Kandole.

A lady showcases one of the fashion pieces by Sylvia that featured on the fashion design rack next to a sculpture by Isaa

One of the major freaks came when we approached the poetry stall. I was going to just pick a card of poetry to be read back to me when she said
"No, No, No. Shuffle them first . then pick. this process is spiritual." Roshan
 So, I complied; only to discover that my friend too had picked the very same poem which , erupted emotions in our throats when it got read to us. We decided in precocious Healing Defiance Mode to explain it away as coincidence. Sheer coincidence. Please!
It was just another night in Kampala that needed our auras to populate its space. Seeing some of the sculptures for what they are: blunt and uninspiring.
Suddenly,  we explored the notion of age difference in relationships when one of the attendees showed up with a partner that looked more like a fossil hanging onto their arm for dear life as my friend commented.

Have I have loved before, Yes!
Will I die if I let this encounter go , No!
But, you were in love; 
No , I had had encounter that I have left behind-
Walk with me for a while then; 
I do not know where we are going but, I  am sure glad you are here now, 
Taking one step after the other with me;
Unafraid to see the nakedness for what it is.
The freak was everywhere.

Assistant Director: A few learning observations:

The Artist community  in Canada I was told works a 10:00am-6:00pm day, six days a week with a mandatory one hour thirty minutes break spread out during that day. For instance    Goodness had a 15 minute break in the mid-morning and another 15 minute break in the mid afternoon plus, an hour for lunch. In Uganda, directors employ the same kind of standard when rehearsing more or less; only without the set structure.Some of them only allow a lunch break which can be anything between 30 minutes and one hour.

 The actors and actresses make no excuses about a traffic jam, or the rain or even the very windy ,snowy weather which could have provided the perfect excuse.
 I anticipated a slipup during the rest of the rehearsals and when it did occur, 
"I am sorry about this", Paul Braunstein said,
 "They only confirmed our appoitment this morning with my wife."
 He arrived twenty minutes late the next day for rehearsal. His wife was almost due to deliver.

The first wednesday in the week that I arrived, I watched Divisadero, a Performance by  Necessary Angel Productions in which Amy Ruthersford, one of the cast members in Goodness, was performing. Similar to Paul Braunstein earlier, Amy requested for one hour thirty minutes off to do the dressed rehearsal for the evening's show on that wednesday. She was back at three thirty on the dot to continue with the  Goodness rehearsals. Alot of artists in Uganda use this simultaneous engagements in concurrent productions to be inconsistent because they believe their popularity allows it. Most times, it is also used as a bargaining chip to blackmail a director into paying them more for a production that in most cases has no budget. I experienced this with my first production Dawn Of The Pearl in 2006 when some members of the cast believed i should pay them more because they were already celebrities. Never mind that their celebrity status on the show did not lead to a soldout show. I still owe them money because i was broke for a ong while after that first blind attempt at theater production.

 Watching Amy perform  later that evening alongside the various skillful actresses and actors ranging in age from late twenties to late fifties, maybe; I begun to understand what makes great artists!
 It is not the money, or talent most of the time: but, the sheer hard work and comittment to excellence. I think that these qualities and personal commitment supercede any enabling structure or lack of it .  I am  painfully aware though of the disparate socio-economic and cultural realities that face Canadian and Ugandan artists but, making time work for both the director and actress/actor does not need money but will.   Making time work for them and not the other way round.

 Lily Franks struggled with a cough even if she could have taken a day or two off sick. Even three days off if she were Ugandan in spirit. Volcano brought in a voice couch to mentor her back to performance excellence. This I found very touching and yet it was just a basic of professional conduct.That level of attention to the experience quality of actors and actresses during the production process is something I still hope to achieve or discover an experience of  in Uganda.

The flipside of this professional conduct gone awry dawned on me rather comically.  I sat at a dinner table and defended a rather severe character that had been described to me as doing his job! It was tuesday the 21st of February . Ross Manson hosted myself and a couple of other artists to dinner at his house. I sat at that dinner table, impassioned by good wine, great food and delightful company defending what I was beginning to get quite fond of too soon. The strict code of ethic theater spaces employed for their production both process and final show.

 Anyhow, Ravi Jain, was stressing the need for flexibility in theatre programming. For instance , his play A Brim Full of Asha which showed at the Tarragon Theatre is based on Indian culture(loud, interractive and expressive) . Because of this, he had to serve samosa's as part of the play and generally chat informaly with the audience. His frustration had been sparked by a serious conversation with the stage manager about wether or not to allow in samosas during the show.

The management person's reasoning was that the seats might get smeared with grease from the samosas by careless consumers or, that crumbs falling off would result in increased cleaning and vacuming expenses. Ravi apparently called his attention to the fact that the theater goers especially for his show are an educated and learned audience.

So, there I was defending this person I did not know on how he was simply doing his job and that society needs such people. That was untill I was one minute late for the same show,A Brim Full of Asha at the Tarragon Theatre that weekend. My defence was set against the backdrop of Uganda where booking and paying for space at the theater does not guarantee you the same hollistic space as stipulated in the contractual agreement you will have signed.That contract shall not secure for you a space that will be respected from sound infiltration and performance activities that have been equally booked for the same time with no thought for quality experience. I had a drill go off in the middle of my workshop production of Celebrating our Differences before a paid audience in the control room because the technician apparently had no other time to fix the air conditioning.  The house management thought it okay. I will never forget that experience in 2007.

Did I say I was ONE MINUTE late? Yes! This guy denied me entry to the show saying the show had already begun and that he was beyond the five minute allowance time for "late comers." I told him I could still go in without distracting the audience to which he lied about how the doors open directly onto the stage. On arrival, I had got a tour of the same theatre and its performance spaces. The doors do not open directly onto the stage!

I was gathering a battalion of colorfull words to update him on how uptight he was but thought of a better way to employ that energy. Another audience member with a paid ticket arrived fifteen minutes later off a plane specially to watch this play by his relative and was denied entry as well. I do no know who told him later about who I was or who was hosting me but, he returned, a tripple coyly to profusely apologise and offer to get me entry to the next show.
 I told him, "shit happens!"
The general consesus at the end of the show that I never got to watch was; 'See what I meant!'
The hightlight of performance experiences after this ordeal was a performance  by the Soweto choir at the Sony Center and a visit to the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Poetically Speaking

Just Love Me
Do not say you love me!
Yet when you speak to me,
 It is with words like runoff water:

Love me with your smile
Hold me with the warmth of your breathe
Teach me with a gentle caress
Say You will wait for me in your soul,
Love me.
Washing your distaste of me with your evening bath
Resentment rolling away with the soapy drops of water rejecting your skin
Falling to the ground and being claimed by gravity
Your blood can flow with my name
As your arteries carry my beauty to your heart
Your nostrils will exhale my odour
You will see me anew
Don’t say you love me
Just love me


So, Jason Russel deliberately told our story wrong with the Kony2012 campaign !
Whose war is it anyway? 
But before the applause dies, and this campaign is throttled to death,
Like the 26 year old war whose trauma has been forgotten by most except the victims,
And whose aftermath is not felt anymore except by those who lost a relative to Kony;
This campaign is for those who still care;
Those who think three times before uttering that the war ended in 2006!
 And that bad guy is now disturbing our neigbhours, not us?
Who is us? How many blood relations have you lost to the war?
How many of your friends, aunties or relatives have been gangraped/
 Hacked to death?
How many of your friends have been miraculousy spared to live to tell the tale of Kony's might?
How much of your once productive land has been turned into a desolate camp for 26 years?
Kony2012  therefore, is  for those who nolonger count the days and hours which,
 Have passed since the rebels took their loved ones away,
This campaign is for those who still crane their necks to search the rising dust from the Sudan road,
 For the frame of a relative they still hope to see someday; 
Kony2012 is for those who still run to hide when silence suddenly steals the moment,
And dogs forget to bark in the middle of a sunny day somewhere in the outskirts of Gulu town.
It is for those girls who pulled  feotuses of this monster and his buddies,
Out of their wombs with their bare hands and no tear of remorse when, they escaped from captivity by him.
This campaign is for those who can dare to tell the actual story alongside contenders for the podium of care.
And just before you finger your camera or keyboard in retort, perchance allow me ask;
Does a starving people throw away a gift of half rotten fruit?
Do they not slice off the rotted half and eat the other;
Saving the seed of it to plant with the slightest drizzle of rain!
Better still, let the human rights activist bring out their silver ware:
To serve us the better meal which they claim Kony2012 is witholding.
Because while they are pointing fingers , there is a people whose hearts are yet to rest in peace
From fear of Kony's subsequent return.

GOODNESS IN CANADA : 19th- Feb-2012

The first time I watched Goodness a play written by Michael Redhill and directed by Ross Manson, I laughed and cried within the same moments. I was seated on the main stage at the Butare University  theatre hall where the play had been set to performance as part of the Festival Arts Azimut  in 2009. Seated all around me were other students and art lovers who equally found a language for the experiences of genocide that they had struggled to express.

 Goodness transported me to Northern Uganda and the countless newspaper reports of people talking offhand most of the time, about a 26 year old insurgency that they do not know about, mirrored by the first hand accounts I had heard and experienced while working there. Who are we really to attempt to tell their story? The absence of guilt or remorse by most of the perpetators is what disturbs me the most.

 Goodness reflects the mindset of an active participant in the murder of Jews in the embodiement of Mathias Todd, an intellectual who led people to kill thousands through his philosophy of "preserving our own". Years later, he is set to stand trial but his lawyer pleads for his release based on his illness of  Alzeimers which renders him unfit to stand trial.

Similarily in September 2011, a court in Uganda ordered the release of Thomas Kwoyelo one of the commanders of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), ending the country's first war crimes trial. Thomas Kwoyelo had been charged with 53 counts of murder and other crimes.The constitutional court said he should be given an amnesty in line with other LRA rebels even if at least 30,000 people died as the rebel movement spread terror in northern Uganda for more than 20 years, displacing some two million people. This rebel group is notorious to this day  for kidnapping children and forcing the boys to become fighterswhile using girls as sex slaves.

Mathias Todd pleads for his daughter's life
Anyway, I met the team of Goodness and somewhere along the way of my soapy rantings about war, justice and how I employ my writing to advocate contemporary gender issues and justice for war victims, we struck a friendship and promised to collaborate on a project or two somehow with Ross Manson, the director of Volcano Theatre. Two years and five months later, I arrived in Toronto Canada to assistant direct the remounting of the show Goodness as it goes on tour in Canada.

Many things about the level of arts and theatre management here struck me. I shall attempt to explore them in consequent posts about my experiences, beginning with the Tarragon Theatre. I was invited to watch The Golden Dragon by Roland Schimmelpfennig translated by David Tushingham and directed by Ross Manson  at the Tarragon theatre. The Golden dragon is set in a restauarnt at which diners sit savouring their meals, while the kitchen staff rally to hide a young illegal immigrant who is desperately searching for his lost sister. Little does he know the key to her disappearance might be only a few tables away.

The play was set , so that they had the audience on either side of them to reinforce the experience of  the bustle in the resaturant. By the way, props here are the real thing: Not tables that shoud be tables but, will pass for a table because it is being used on a theatre stage..... So, ignore the jagged edges and roughly assembled pieces..

Three actors and one actress alternately played the different characters that make up the play with a precision that I envied.I was struck by the quality of actors and actresses before me and wondered how they get to this level. Is it the director archiles heel or the individual artists, or is it a collective effort  that delivers great theatre experience. Would my preceeding days at work help me to answer these questions?

At the end of the performance, Ross invited me for celebratory drinks with the cast including; David Fox, Lili Francks, Tony Nappo, Anusree Roy, David Yee to mark the end of a successful run of the play. Snippets of their lives beyond the stage escaped into the air as they shared their reactions to media reviews of them .

 Is it a good idea for an actress or actor,or even the director to read show reviews while the show is still running? To this , allow me add a link to what my opinion might reflect through Ross Manson.

 The subsequent question left to answer being wether or not we, as arts directors, should allow media to pass the final verdict on our work. I shall speak more about how actors and actresses earn their daily bread with acting as a career profession. And, also about the technical side of theatre the way I experienced it. For now though, I have some sleep to catch and a new day and experience to prepare for.