The fourth edition of Sanaa Theatre awards was held on Wednesday 14th December 2016 at the Kenya National Theatre main auditorium. The low key event was attended by thespians from several corners of Kenya namely Mombasa,Kisumu, and Nairobi.It was graced by the Cabinet secretary for sports, culture and the arts, Doctor Hassan Wario.
Sanaa Theatre Awards is greatly appreciated by thespians, both professional and amateurs practicing at all levels. It is the only award catering for theatre practitioners in Kenya. It is therefore out there competing with numerous awards organized yearly for film makers, television, bloggers, and music.
The 2016 edition started two hours later than it was supposed to start (9pm instead of 7pm). Electrifying performances by the Kenya boys and girls choirs kicked off the night . After playing the Kenya and East African community anthems the choirs played a good number and the evening was off to a smooth start. The MC of the night, Josephine Wambui, tried her best to run the event but it was clear that she was overwhelmed by the task ahead. This we were later to learn was because she was only informed late into the night that there was no MC and so she had to step in.
It was total chaos as one thing after another seemed not to work. The voice over and graphics running on the screens seemed to have been hurriedly done. The main problem could however have been lack of proper rehearsals especially for the technical crew.
With over forty categories being recognized the awards were nothing but crowded. There were categories for TV shows, Film, and even for schools and colleges. That diluted the importance of the event since those categories already have festivals and awards of their own where they are usually recognized and celebrated. In those events, professional theatre practitioners are never recognized and it was disheartening for professionals to see themselves muddled up with all the other categories for the fourth year running.
There is no excuse for the clumsy organization of the event since this edition was the fourth. The venue had been offered for free and with many sponsors on board the artistes expected nothing but a glamorous event to be proud of. Most practitioners who had arrived with high expectations could not wait for the event to end and left one by one. This explained why many people were absent when called to the podium to present awards to winners. No one had been previously briefed on the role they would be playing and many people were just caught by surprise. All in all the night ended fairly well with many winners reveling in the glory that came with the trophies.
For many people however, the fourth edition of the Sanaa awards could have been better. Veterans like Mudamba Mudamba who were the pioneers of the defunct Mbalamwezi Theatre awards could not hide their disappointment with the disorganization. Thespians could not help but notice the desperate attempt to award them not on merit but on the basis of regional balancing. There were even ties in some categories in an attempt to please everyone.
To many, the event was also a shopping opportunity for the organizers with nominees nothing but sponsors or potential sponsors to the event. Vernacular shows that have completely changed the face of theatre in Kenya only had recognition in one category of the forty two available. On asking the CEO George Orido, we were informed that vernacular theatre was left out in all the other categories as the works were usually “not original”. He was however at pains to explain how most of the English shows got themselves nominated in all categories while they were simply works by foreign writers. This was a clear demonstration of how out of touch the organizers are with vernacular theatre. This form of theatre has metamorphosed so subtly that someone who is not keen will not realize that the companies are no longer into American and British farce and comedies. Vernacular theatre is now full of home-made and locally brewed scripts either by local writers or through workshops by the casts. It was also impossible for the CEO to explain how only two professional theatre companies practicing in English in Nairobi were nominated in the awards. 2016 saw many great shows even at Phoenix where different directors and producers have been producing shows throughout the year in a bid to save the dying repertory theatre. Only shows done between November and December were nominated. Even the shows nominated were not the best that the theatre companies had done in the year. A prominent vernacular shows company that has been consistent throughout the year did not get even one nomination yet they have a new show every month. The CEO was quick to point out that people were supposed to nominate themselves bringing to query the fact that members of the jury were very busy throughout the year watching shows so they could decide who to nominate.
Like many other awards in Kenya, Sanaa does not adequately recognize the people it is meant for. Other than the trophies bought at Nairobi Sports House and bragging rights to having won an award there is no other value attached to it. There is no monetary value attached to it even to at least compensate for travel expenses incurred by the winners. In this regard Machakos Film Festival seems to be the only award in Kenya worth its salt.
The CEO insists that schools and colleges will continue being part of the awards. Professional companies disagree with this but that is as far as they can go. The awards are a one man show by George Orido and what he says goes. This is a great initiative and honestly everybody would feel good holding that trophy no matter how cheap it could be. However, to grow it to the standards even already set by awards like Kalasha and Riverwood, George needs to work with people. He needs people who will really watch shows throughout the year and nominate them on merit. He needs event organizers who will help set up the event professionally. Theatre is bigger than film in this country and George needs to know who he is competing with when preparing for next year’s awards.
The Sanaa theatre awards are a step in the right direction and will go miles in growing the theatre industry but only if George Orido is willing to listen. Otherwise it will remain to be what it is now: A one man show.