Creatives Academy: Writing Plays

Creatives Academy: Writing Plays

I love John Sibi-Okumu’s eloquence. Where did he learn how to speak like that, like an England born? Turns out his father went to school in the United Kingdom when he was a toddler, then Sibi and his mum joined him when he was seven years old. He grew up and even crafted his career there as a teacher. No wonder his syllables are effortless.

Unfortunately, I had never been made aware that he writes plays too. I would not have minded catching one or two at the theatre. Never had I thought him as a thespian as such, more as an orator, maybe a teacher and an excellent MC. I have always been transfixed on the television whenever it is his turn to narrate a Tinga Tinga tale on Citizen TV. And I would catch him moderating academic debates and focus on his verbatim rather than the competition itself. I do not know many Kenyans who can speak quite like him.

What is amazing is that he is not at loss of his ethnic languages. His Kiswahili is seamless, and so is his Luhya (not that I am an authority to judge on the latter). What is even better is his down to earth mannerism, his man-of-the-people demeanor, concocted with streaks of professionalism. Everyone who spoke in his presence pointed out that there was a ‘Living Legend’ among us. You would expect that they were referring to a man walking around in an impermeable bubble of self-importance, not one in an ankara shirt and rubber soled shoes, rolling on the classroom tiles in theatrical demo. Not one so keen to master everyone’s name, all fifty or so of us. Not someone so passionate about theatre that he would leave fame and ego on some door post on his way to the academy. Frankly, if he had been in possession of any of the undesirable traits common with celebrities, and had cared enough to leave them behind somewhere before coming to class, they had barely left a whiff on him.

Sibi got the whole class involved in a spontaneously written play about a troubled extended family with intricacies of betrayal, terrorism, romance and forced marriage arrangements. The matriarch – a grandmother – gives a heart rending speech that speaks of love and unity as instruments against tribal and ideological divisions, tying the climax of the play in a neat bow. I learnt that theatre is very different from film. It is a lot more flexible. Imagination is allowed to stretch in vast bounds. Films are restricted with scenes that are required to come as close to reality as possible. Tact is also key in theatre, because of the minimal electronic influence on the stage. For instance, a scene where a gun is fired may require the victim to fall to the ground and die in slow motion so as to evoke the emotion of  disbelief and tragedy amidst riveting action, or that of sweet victory over a long battled assailant – thus Sibi’s literal demo on the classroom floor.

I have never written for any film. I have only co-written one scene in a school play last year. I found merging creativity into a singular end product quite difficult. Thanks to Sibi’s illustrations, I am not too shy about trying it again, but would probably write one by myself first.



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