I’m going to perform, and I’ll earn my money out of it.
Theater Factory stand-up comedy
I work with a theatre company called Theatre Factory. Seven years ago I met a colleague of mine called Phillip Luswata. We used to meet many times on the bus going to Nairobi, or on the plane while going to attend a workshop or a seminar. We had worked together in some art forums. One time we met and we said ‘why don’t we create something weird in this country?’. Then he told me ‘I have this idea, I’m thinking of doing a comedy show with some stand-up guys, what do you think?’ I said ‘I don’t know what I think, but if you have this idea, who is going to do it and where are you going to do it, and for which people?’ The space at the National Theatre was difficult to get, the charges are just too much, the bureaucracy, the papers to fill. So we opted to go into a small bar called TLC. The manager said ‘I can’t have you guys, I don’t understand what you are saying, can it work here?’, because he had never seen it. So we went to another bar, they gave us a date and we went to do the show. That day there were six guys in the bar and there was an open hour; beer was half-price, but we still had six people in the audience: the owner of the bar, the wife, the waiters, and the girl who was looking after the pool table. We started the 45-minute show, it ended, and the manager said ‘guys, go away, I can’t afford you, go somewhere else, just go!’. He gave us a meal, we had chips and chicken, we had a chat, and he said ‘guys, I don’t ever want to see you again, go’. So we left.
We said ‘what next?’, ‘we must keep working, keep working’. At that time Philip was lecturing at the university in music, dance and drama. He identified a few kids who he thought would buy the idea and then we started the journey. As we speak today, the Theater Factory is one thing that you cannot miss to watch, every Thursday here at the National Theatre and also on television.
We wanted to encourage students from music, dance and drama, [make them realize] that they can be featured, that just like other students who look out for loan funds, who look out to other big institutions, they also could have a future. In the beginning many people from MDD (Music, Dance, Drama) at Makerere used to work for TASO. TASO is an NGO looking after people with HIV. Nobody wanted to work there because there was this phobia that if you worked there you would get sick. But students from MDD used to go and work there because they didn’t care, they were going through a lot of challenges anyway.
As I speak today, we work with 11 students from Makerere University who have graduated and specialized in Music, Dance and Drama, which is really a good thing. And we have generated a certain standard of payment for them, we are creating a certain style, they can wake up from their beds now and say ‘I’m going to act today, and then I’ll earn my money at the end of the month’, so we are in that kind of journey, which I believe is good to share with other people to see, to hear and to comment.
If you look at the so-called stars or celebrities of the past, our first people used to stand out in the arts. They were very poor people, they were not celebrated like today. That’s one thing that kept pushing us to work hard, because we didn’t want to be like those people. We wanted to create a change for other people to come and enjoy, though it wasn’t easy to create that change. Though we are still in the middle of that change, as it is not yet fully complete, at least there’s a good sign of a different life.We have created a certain standard; we have a team of 16 actors. Every Monday each individual is supposed to bring two stories. There is no ‘boring’ or ‘good’ story. We don’t care, just as long as you can bring two stories every Monday. And then every week we have what we call the director of the week, he’s responsible for whatever happens that week. That person is going to write those two stories in a book, so Monday is the day for collecting stories. Then Tuesday is the day when we choose which stories will pass, every week we do 13 stories. On Tuesday and Wednesday we rehearse the stories. Wednesday we decide which stories will work on Thursday. [We have a strict] discipline: one, if you don’t come on Monday, then don’t come; everybody knows that. Two, when you bring two stories you get paid for those two stories at the end of the month. Three, we meet at 3 pm every time; if you come 30 minutes late we penalize you, there is a fee for that. So we are just creating discipline and teamwork.Each person has a chance, because the director of the week is in charge of the week, he will note the time you arrive, he will note the stories you’ve brought, and he will direct the stories and decide who does what. So you are in charge, there is that bit of being responsible.
You need to be there to see how this magic works, because we looked back and our ancient groups used to be run by particular individuals: the founder of the group is the cashier, the timekeeper, the writer, everything. But we wanted all individuals to feel the hot seat. We’ve developed that kind of scenario, so everybody enjoys it but also feels the value of his/her time and his/her story.
We believe there is a lot of talent; there are people who are born to perform, and there are those who are trained to perform. But the challenge we have in this country is that when they introduced this form of art [stand-up comedy] in this country, I think that’s where it went wrong. Because today, if you got a boy from Senior 6 and threw him to Makerere [University], and told him to choose which faculty he would like to study in, I am sure, if he went through those buildings, how nice they look, nobody would point him to MDD. Our parents in this country believe in four courses: their children must become a lawyer, a doctor, a surveyor, or an engineer. We lose a lot of talent because of this believe. Some of us, we were resisted to do what we are doing today, our parents had kind of given up on us.
We have a history of not paying people in the arts, because you find that most people are never paid but they still come to work. I used to work in this theater production. If you look at the value I’d put in for half a year and the money I got, it’s hard to explain that’s how much I was paid. We used to rehearse from 8pm up to 3 o clock in the night for 3 months, and then perform in the theater on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for 3 months. I was paid 94,000 shillings [34 euros] for all those 6 months. We have a record of not paying people. We make the money and we come up with so many long stories not to pay. Which is not good, and that’s why people don’t believe in the arts. That perception is part of the things we wanted to change.