GO Campaign called us last January. The Founder was in Africa sitting with Dr. Auma Obama. He asked if we could to come to West Kenya in August to run a theater program while the local children were out of school.
When it comes to children and theater, historically, SYF says “YES!” first, and then figures out the “HOW?” … and we always do. Eight months later, eleven of us raised the funds to travel to the rural village of Alego/Kogelo and put on a show at the extraordinary center, created by Dr. Obama – The Sauti Kuu Foundation. If you haven’t heard of Sauti Kuu, take a moment to to treat yourself to what Dr. Obama has created in her village.
Founder & Artistic Director Blaire Baron said “yes,” then Executive Director Julia Wyson said “yes,” then a parent said double yes by offering to underwrite our flights. Then our staff of Teaching Artists – one by one – said yes, and agreed to raise funds to cover their flights. We added four of the teens who had grown up with SYF, and Celina, the godmother to one of the teens, offered to come along as Stage Manager/Logistics, and suddenly we were eleven. Eleven asked, eleven on board. We’d figure it out. And we did!
We came to Kenya with our professional backgrounds, our training, our lesson plans and eleven open minds – we left forever transformed and enlightened. Eighty-eight children camping together – the bonds that happened while gathering to tell stories, to sing, to dance, to share – to create theater. Our task here was to put on a piece of theater with all eighty-eight children at the end of 7 days.
We not only did that, but we are quite sure the Sauti Kuu children made history – they performed passages from Shakespeare’s Hamlet and other pieces (7 Ages of Man, Troilus and Cressida) in three languages: English, Kiswahili, and (the first language for many of the children) Luo.
Our deepest gratitude goes to these Angels whose generous donations made this extraordinary experience in Kenya possible:
$5,000 and above
$500 – $4,999
Joseph V. Melillo
Neil Norman La Bute
$100 – $499
Ambers Culpepper Barry
Bobby J. Burcham
Oren Efraim Eschenasy
Joanna C. Going
Anthony and Mary Gorman
Richard J. Gruica
Naomi Camille Hecht
Marion Campbell Kammer
Tara L. McPherson
Holly Jewell Mitchell
Sonia and Sergio Morin-Huidor
Brenda P. Nascimento
Joslyn Ululani Packett
Kristie R. Thomas
Carol Ann I. Whitmarsh
JoyAnn C. Wise
Up to $99
Paula Marie Allen
Ashley Samona Baker
Jon and Lori Bigler
Kenneth E Buck
Lynette Patricia Clarke
Elizabeth Hannah Dennehy
Pierre Fignole Dorcely
Diedre D Earl
Susan E Ensz
Marc Elie Fils
Michelle Ann Garcia
Nathaniel D Grams
Vicie Renee Graves
Kyle Roland Guy
Trudy Diana Bridget Healey-Potter
Liz and Braden King
Sharisse L Lanaux
Michael Scott Lawson
Vanessa Liguori Leon
Elizabeth Ann Lynch
Christopher N Maikish
Naomi R McDougall
Graham Racheal McKinley
Afoma M Mpi
Judith Mirielle Prophete
Barbara Equen Rodriguez
Auntie Michele Royster
Edda Kay Sharpe
DAWN T SMITH
Veronica M Smith
Jordan And Emily Catherine Stephens
Dominique L Turner
Norman Von Holtzendorff
“Having just returned from another African country, I turned back around and headed to Kogelo, Kenya – a new community, new country, new people. Having ten directors from our SYF community versus one meant that Hamlet could explode and that’s exactly what happened. Much is credited to the “guinea pigs”- 340 village kids in Motopi, Botswana – for teaching us that Shakespeare’s Hamlet resonates with African youth. In Botswana, we started to translate Hamlet’s famous lines – their Hamlet became bilingual and perhaps the first Shakespeare to be spoken in Setswana. This informed our decision to try it in Kenya – we set the bar even higher – three languages! And what happened? The children got rid of the bar. They pulverized it with their performances. Hamlet speaks to every young person who is frustrated, who feels powerless. Though the character Hamlet feels this way, PERFORMING Hamlet does the opposite. It empowers, it frees, it liberates. The Sauti Kuu kids removed the bar for themselves. There are no limits as to what they can do – and know they know that.” Blaire Baron, Artistic Director and Founder
I was overwhelmed and moved by the willingness of everyone at Sauti Kuu, from Dr. Auma, her amazing staff, led by the incomparable Dan Joshua Odour, and of course, the children, to trust us, and to take this journey with us, with courage and enthusiasm and love. I’ve always loved the way that theater telescopes time – in a rehearsal process, it takes no time at all to create real and deep bonds – and this was exponentially true of our time at Sauti Kuu. We were there for just over a week, but by the time we performed the final show, we had become a family. I loved walking across the grounds of the Sauti Kuu campus – the amount of human connection, expressed through smiles, High Fives, hugs, and simple, direct and intentional eye contact, was just glorious. The kids were fearless, and it made us feel fearless, too … Julia Walker Wyson, Executive Director
“Africa does not touch but penetrates through and beyond the boundaries of an object. Thus we are, all, completely, and forever, stained.” Esdras Toussaint, Teaching Artist
“Working closely with Dr. Auma Obama and the Sauti Kuu youth was both a rewarding and learning experience for me as I was inspired by the generosity, strength, and pride of their African community. I hope we continue this special relationship for many years to come.” Kila Packett, Teaching Artist
“Theatre is the single most valuable place where children can explore the full extent of their imaginations and often be surprised at their strengths. If theatre is not present in a child life, they miss out on the opportunity to develop their, communication, work ethic, morals and working as a part of a team.” Anniwaa Buachie, Teaching Artist
“Teaching with Los Angeles Drama Club was one experience that I will cherish forever. Working with both Sauti Kuu and LADC shaped my perspective of forever wanting to share the Arts and Theatre all over the world. The creativity of LADC and collaboration with Sauti Kuu made a beautiful art piece at our final show, which brought together many cultures through Shakespeare and Luo.” Lily Larsen, Mentor and Member #1 of LADC
The Opening Choreographer – Anniwaa Buachie All eighty-eight children entered in a procession from the four corners of the Sauti Kuu grounds, performing a traditional Renaissance line dance to traditional music from Shakespeare’s time. Then, the music switched to a favorite song from our nightly dance parties, and while the steps continued, the energy shifted into a raucous celebration.
The Fabulous Souls Director – Anniwaa Buachie Associate Artist – Julia Eschenasy
“We worked with children aged 10 – 12 on a monologue from Troilus and Cressida about Time. Utilizing the monologue, we created a piece fully devised by students, incorporating movement and performed mainly in Luo and Swahili. It was very lyrical and symbolic and emphasized the role Time plays in our lives – it’s not about how much time we have but what we do with the time we are given. It was a great success!” ~ Anniwaa Buachie
The Green Hope Director – Kila Packett Associate Artist – Marieke Van Asselt
“I wanted to stage the “Seven Ages of Man” speech by Jacques from Shakespeare’s As You Like It, because I felt it encapsulates the different experiences we feel as human beings from the time of infancy to our last breath. It is a universal speech that is easy to understand, because we are all taking an active part in the Seven Ages of Man at this very moment. I also though it would be important to translate some of the text into Luo, because it gives an even better understanding of Shakespeare’s universal theme to the young minds who are performing and the audience. Through improvisation, movement, and stagecraft, we created a timely and often humorous portrait of our own shared humanity while incorporating the unique cultural expressions of the children’s Kenyan homeland.” ~ Kila Packett
THE REMAINING GROUPS TOOK ON THE TASK OF TELLING THE STORY OF HAMLET
The Green Giants Director – Blaire Baron Associate Artist – Lily Larsen
“We worked on the Call to Action scene, dividing into the multiple “voice” of King Hamlet as the Ghost. This allowed for Sauti Kuu interns, Wasio and Edu, to take leadership roles as we divided into two groups to rehearse the Ghost’s Speech and Hamlet with Horatio and Bernardo. Then, we would come together to blend the two – we alternated so that the Interns could have the experience of directing both groups. The Green Giants had a massive breakthrough when Dr. Obama stepped in with some creative exercises of her own! One evening we had them run their lines in groups of two while we surrounded them, trying to distract them from their tasks. They had to hyper-focus on their work and this created a tone for them which they used forthwith! The performance went through the roof – if there was a roof – but like in Shakespeare’s day, they performed under the approving skies! ~ Blaire Baron
The Youngsters Director – Julia Wyson Associate Artist – Milan Levy
“On the first day of our time together, we explored the dialogue between Hamlet and Gertrude in the famous ‘Closet Scene.’ Initially, the actors were a little timid, as they worked to understand this conversation, not only in their third language, English, but in a form of English that they had never heard before. But as our poet-and-translator-in-residence, Leah, helped us explore in Luo, as well, our actors became brave, and the emotion of the characters exploded. We staged this portion of our performance as a relay, with teams of Hamlet/Gertrude duos, racing in to take over the action – first in Shakespeare’s English, then in Luo – until Polonius met his fateful end. In performance, this was preceded by the Play-within-a-Play, with music and movement, and much energy and humor, as the actors created archetypal portrayals of the Queen, the King, the buffoonish Polonius, the innocent Ophelia, and, of course, troubled Hamlet. Following the “Mother/Son Relay,” two Ophelias shared the poetry of her grief at her father’s death, and their embrace at the end increased the poignancy of the moment.” ~ Julia Walker Wyson
The Sauti Kuu Panthers Director – Esdras Toussaint Associate Artist – Milan Levy
“I believe it was Sam Mendes (stage director) who said if you have 20 other imaginations in the room with you as a director you’re an idiot if you don’t use those imaginations. That advice worked in my favor while working with my group at Sauti Kuu Foundation. These young adults had a life experience that was as universal as Shakespeare while at the same time uniquely Kenyan. I wanted to draw on both of those truths. We started by having a real conversation. That was when our story began to take shape. Yes, we used Shakespeare’s text, but this HAMLET was completely their own: bold, raw, and fresh.” ~ Esdras Toussaint
The Jayhawks Director – J. Bailey Burcham Associate Artist – Milan Levy
“I challenged the Jayhawks with the task of devising a theatre piece exploring the themes and text of Hamlet’s ‘To Be or Not To Be’ soliloquy. Not one of these kids had seen a ‘western’ idea of a play before, let alone Shakespeare. However, we used their favorite movies, (one being Avengers: Endgame) to help us create our own vocabulary. We used their traditional chants and dance as well as Shakespeare’s text translated into Swahili as well as Luo to present their story. We talked about everything from Love and friendship to suicide and depression. Sometimes three languages were being spoken at a time to get across someone’s own experiences as some kids barely spoke Swahili or English. The kids chose to make the piece light rather than dark and explore the idea of choosing life even in the face of the lowest forms of despair. At the end, they yell to the heavens their answer to Hamlet’s question: “I choose to live!” finally culminating in a chant of “TO BE OR NOT TO BE; I KNOW THE ANSWER.” ~ J. Bailey Burcham
Before the sun rises, we all rise and hit the track at 5:45 am. There, the eighty-eight kids, the Sauti Kuu staff, interns and our team break into groups for Basketball, Boxing, Soccer, Yoga. LADC teachers were honored to lead the opening warm up and closing Savasana.
Off to breakfast of Mandazi, hard-boiled eggs, watermelon, and lemon grass tea – everything grown on the Sauti Kuu land.
After breakfast, we break into rotating groups – about 15 children each – exposing them to Stage Combat/Sword Fighting, Storyteller’s Theater, Dance, Laban Effort-Shape (in English and Luo), Improv, Trust & Team Building Games … and the story of Hamlet. We introduced to them the idea that this writer called “Shake Speare” (we would have them hold up an imaginary spear and shake it to remember the name) was the son of a glove maker from a rural village very much like theirs. The village of Kogelo has many similarities to Stratford-on-Avon in Shakespeare’s time and the stories of Shakespeare also rang true here.
In the afternoons, we work with our groups, exploring the text of Hamlet, as well as selections from As You Like It and Troilus and Cressida, and working together with the children, we begin to devise theater pieces, weaving together music, movement and Shakespeare’s text. As our pieces come together, we give our translators sections of text, which they translate into Kiswahili and Luo – scribbling them on paper, as we don’t have a computer and printer handy …
For most of the children, English is their third language, but not only do these children take to the text, but they rise to the occasion with passion, flare and style.
Dinners are delicious – usually a stew of meat, chicken or fish, with rice or Ugali, and cabbage and greens, with watermelon for dessert – cooked over fires in the cooking hut. All the produce is grown in the Sauti Kuu gardens, and the meat has been raised on nearby farms.
Many evenings, after dinner, we gather in the Community Room for dance parties – all the children know the steps to exceptionally complicated line dances (we managed to master only the simplest of them), or they make a circle, and mirror the steps created by the child who takes the center stage.