In the annals of Kenyan university theatre, some names should be inscripted in gold. The late Opiyo Mumma, Obby Obyero Odhyambo.

The late Lenin Ogolla, CJ Odhiambo, Otumba Ouko, Okumu Bigambo, Ochieng’ Anyona, Wasambo Were, Joy Masheti, Amollo Amollo, David Mulwa. The late Erastus Owuor.

Theatre was alive! From afar, you heard icebreaking sessions led by zealous team leaders clearly singing Nyaruguru, nyaruguru, nyaruguru eee!

Indeed, it was a club for the cool guys (lecturers and students alike) in campus. They had all the fun, traveled almost all the time, locally and internationally. That was theatre.

However, the University of Nairobi’s Free Travelling Theatre (FTT) and Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre (KUTT) suddenly disappeared from village halls and theatres.

At the second floor of UoN’s Education building, an ageing director of FTT Prof. Waina Wachira sat hopelessly as he explained the glorious past.

Just recently, FTT has staged the plays Paper in a Hurricane wrote and directed by him and The Proposal wrote by Anthony Chekhov.

But a paltry two plays and, worse, staged in a hall in Nairobi reveals how life has become still for the travelling performers. “If it was during those glorious days we would be travelling around the province performing,” Wachira says as he starts to narrate.

In 1976, Ngugi wa Thiong’o formed the University of Nairobi Free Travelling Theatre.The objective of the theatre group was to travel around the country and the world performing to the masses.

That went on until the government and university administration, then led by the Vice Chancellor Prof. Karanja, saw a “monster” in the group.

Some of its members, including Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, were detained or jailed for “political reasons.” On one occasion, the VC turned down a bus gift to the theatre group from Finland.

“Mnataka shilingi nusu million ya kurukaruka tu (you want a half million to spend it on jumping around),” he remembers being told once when they requested for funding to stage plays around the country.

Then a highly gifted lecturer , the late Dr Opiyo Mumma, took the group to great heights performing in various countries.

Unfortunately, with Opiyo Mumma’s success, there was more trouble for FTT.

“He became involved in a group within FTT that soon took control and if you weren’t a close friend with them then it was not possible to join FTT. They were like a cult and he was the cult-leader,” Prof Wachira says.

“You had to pledge your loyalty to the group.”

With rivalry affecting FTT, its star started waning from the limelight.

Then three tremendously gifted students from Kenyatta University hit the country with Kenyatta University Travelling Theatre (KUTT) in the 1990’s.

The three, Walter Mong’are, Tony Njuguna and Joe Kiarie, became the first actors in the country to step on the toes of former President Moi while at the same time bursting his ribs with laughter. They reinvented comedy and commercialised it too.

While still at Kenyatta University under the watchful eyes of Wasambo Were, they formed the very successful Redykulass group. They were to rule the comedy scene for years before going separate ways


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