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ARTISTIC MONOPOLY UNDER SIEGE

A budding theatre producer goes to Machakos county. He wishes to do what has not been done there before, stage a theatre performance in the local language. He approaches several hotels looking for a venue. He gets one answer, he must get permission from a bigwig who hosts a popular comedy show in Nairobi. He clarifies it is not a joint venture, they insist they have instructions to have anyone wishing to bring entertainment here be vetted by the chap. The disappointed producer goes back to Nairobi.

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In Nairobi a top comedian quits a popular comedy show and starts a show of her own in a rival station. Despite a lot of pressure to cancel the deal from the other quarters the show goes on air. The other team unleashes an online army paid with one aim, degrade and complain about the “bad” show. The loud shouts by hired social media mercenaries is picked up by the general public. It is now a lynch mob and the lady has no chance. The other station’s bosses panic because of the negative publicity and cancel the deal. She lives to fight another day.

Later, the lady comedian prepares several new shows and approaches several stations but the other guy is still following her around. The top comedian wields his influence to frustrate the lady. All the TV stations cite her dented image and refuse to have her show on air. She retreats to lick her wounds and plan a comeback.

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From the same fold of popular comedians in the popular show rises another youngster. He complains of poor pay and other inhumane working conditions. He becomes the hunted now. He is denied airtime on TV despite his great show. Frustrated, he quits and rants on social media. Later he is called to the live recording by his former bosses apparently to iron out the issue. The show is already on and he takes a seat to wait for the right time to talk. Bouncers approach him and say they have instructions to eject him forcefully from the venue to embarrass him and later accuse him of public disturbance. He convinces them to just let him out walk by himself. They agree. He walks away and another renegade is born.

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Another group of comedians from the same stable are invited by a highly acclaimed theatre director to take part in a show. After rehearsing for a while they are summoned. The message is clear, if you do that show, forget working here again. They are all upcoming artistes and the fear of God is instilled into them. They surrender and the director postpones his show indefinitely to work with another cast.

Meanwhile a local standup comedy show in vernacular is gaining popularity. The comedians are shuttling between the two shows in a bid to earn some extra cash to sustain themselves. Again they are warned against performing in the two shows and they are blackmailed to quit the show in vernacular. The struggle continues.

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At the same time another theatre director decides to no longer give his shows away to groups for staging. He starts staging shows in the country starting with a tour of previously unexplored counties and finally lands in Nairobi. The status quo is threatened. They try bringing down advertising material of the Renegades and finally scheme to have one key member of the cast arrested. All plans are foiled and they make one other desperate attempt. They rush to venues where the new company performs and also put up shows there hoping to scare the new entrants away. They are in for a shock. Brawn encounters brain and the status quo is encountering sleepless nights.

The vernacular standup comedy show is having a share of its drama. One of the pioneers who had shelved his own show to join the heavyweights in their show in Nairobi decides to rekindle his dreams and perform at the slopes of Mount Kenya, hundreds of Kilometers away. The heavyweights panic, they pull all stops but the lone guy presses on. Suddenly he finds himself in police cells courtesy of the heavyweights. All sorts of charges are pressed against him. He spends a weekend in the cells and later pays bail to await other developments.

All these scenarios are not fictional. It is real and happening right here in Nairobi with repercussions being felt in other parts of the country. There is a true artistic revolution seeking to end monopoly in the industry and raise the living standards of all performers. This has been brewing for a long time and it is now time for change. Harold Wilson who once served as the prime minister of the United Kingdom once said, “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.” The status quo and bigwigs must learn how to live with the new generation. They have to shape up or ship out.

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