Celebrating the members of the League of Professional Theatre Women

Archive for the tag “Kenya”

Mũmbi Kaigwa

Mumbi Kaigwa, member of the League of Professional Theatre WomenActor, writer and theatre producer
Nairobi, KENYA

LPTW’s 30th anniversary coincides with my 50th (in April). The received wisdom is that women don’t reveal their age, but in my part of the world, I once read a statistic that said on average, woman here don’t live past 40, so for me, it is something to celebrate. In times gone by, it was also a source of pride to grow older, as you could pass on your wisdom to a younger generation. I try to do this through the work I choose.

Eleven years ago I began on this journey of full-time acting, followed some years later with writing, producing and more recently directing, mostly because I wanted my work to be more relevant to my environment. Even when I produce or perform the published works of others, it’s important to me that my audience can find themselves in the work and that the production asks meaningful questions.

I began to write in 2001, and though I didn’t know it then the question I was interested in showed up in all my plays, which have become a trilogy of musical performances (in the sense that they include live performances of traditional African music), with dance and narration. The three “plays” deal with dreams and what happens when a dream is deferred, and more importantly what happens when you allow your dream to take shape within this lifetime; the fear and the elation.

I’m celebrating my half centenary with a revival of some of my favourites. Beginning in November 2011 with Ariel Dorfman’s Death and the Maiden, the season includes some Alan Bennett, some short plays from the Humana Festival, some Margaret Edson, some Ntozake Shange. All this is subject to getting the rights, of course. The year will end with the third play in the trilogy mentioned above, They Call Me Wanjikũ, a semi-autobiographical journey.

I join my fellow family members in the LPTW in celebrating 30 years of increased visibility and opportunities for women in theatre. Mubarikiwe (Blessings).

Born in Kenya, Mũmbi Kaigwa began acting at age 10, appearing in school productions and on local television with her uncle. Theatre remained a close companion all through high school and college. In 1999, Mũmbi left her “proper” job with the United Nations to devote her life to performance.

Roberta Levitow

Roberta Levitow, member of the League of Professional Theatre WomenDirector, Dramaturg, Teacher, Writer
Santa Monica, California USA

In 2001, I was invited to lead an “East African Theatre Workshop” in Kenya and Tanzania, working with many of the region’s top-level artists. That workshop began a life-changing journey. I found myself suddenly drawn to work outside U.S. borders.

In 2003, I accepted a Fulbright teaching residency at Chinese University of Hong Kong, followed by an invitation as an Honoree at the 2003 Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theatre, featuring performance from throughout the Arab world. Surrounded by artists working in refugee camps, with trauma victims, in war zones, across disputed boundaries, and under severe censorship and repression, my definitions of what theatre or drama could be were expanding and forcing me to re-envision my role as an artist.

Back in New York in 2004, I felt an urgency to create a mechanism to support theatre artists committed to international artistic exchange. My colleagues and I co-founded a group called Theatre Without Borders. We hosted our first public gathering at New Dramatists in 2005 and set up a website. TWB is a grassroots volunteer virtual community using artist-to-artist engagement and the arts as our language of communication across borders. In the past seven years, TWB has played a significant role in discussions about U.S. theatre in a global context and the role of artists in conflict regions throughout the world. This year we mark our six-year collaboration with the Peacebuilding and the Arts Project at Brandeis University with the publication of the Acting Together Project anthology and documentary.

Working with the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, I have helped to create and implement Sundance Institute East Africa, working to promote exposure and exchange between U.S. and East African artists. I’ve also designed and produced international exchange with artists in Romania, an Iran-Israel-U.S. theatre collaboration and a recent Iraq-Pakistan Exchange Project, in collaboration with Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco.

Over the past decade I have turned my focus almost exclusively to international theatre exchange. At the same time, I can increasingly see how these journeys amplify and enrich my commitment to my own country and culture.

Roberta Levitow has directed in NYC, LA, and nationally. Currently Artistic Associate with Sundance Institute East Africa; co-founder and co-director of Theatre Without Borders; a co-founder of The Acting Together Project with Peacebuilding and the Arts at Brandeis University. Fulbright grants in Hong Kong, Romania and Uganda.

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