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Two Worlds Intro

KITFEST 2018 (Kenya International Theatre Festival)


Paper by Keith Pearson, Creative Director, TTC


About a month ago, Professor  Mugubi and Kevin Kimani shared with me the topics which would be dwelt on during this section of the festival. As I read them, I realized that, in common with most theatre practitioners, there is not much that I am not interested in.

However, given that we are approaching the 20th anniversary of The Theatre Company of Kenya), and that most of my experience during that period of time has been connected in one way or another with the work of TTC, I thought it might be interesting for me, and instructive for you, if I talked about starting, running and maintaining a performance company in the Kenyan context.

The idea of starting a company came out of conversations had between my ex-wife and creative partner, Mumbi Kaigwa, myself, and many others members of our creative community. We had been connected to many of these members from the formation of the Nairobi Theatre Academy at the Alliance Francaise in 1990.

We could say that many productions at that time in Kenya,  were created by groups of people who came together for the sake of that production, without necessarily creating an identity or working style outside of the particular production they were working on. But what if a company could be formed that was very clear in its working style, and determined to work on productions which were relevant and challenging to Kenyan audiences? What if that company was determined to connect to practitioners from around the country and was determined to give women an equal voice, and to be sensitive to issues of ethnicity and restrictions brought about by handicap?

We envisioned a company that could work collaboratively with others, be attractive to visitors from other countries so that our own practice might be enriched, and be interesting to festivals who would like to know about performances from Kenya.

Above all, we wanted to produce astonishing, creative work performed by brilliant, Kenyan performers who could come to the company for training to develop their performance skills and support for projects which they wanted to bring to the public.

We also wanted to be part of a dynamic social and cultural scene which saw all sectors of the community taking part in performance activities, both as audience members and participants and a scene which would be steadily growing the number of it’s participants as the years passed.

And we wanted to develop the spaces in which those activities could take place making them accepting to audiences and practical for practitioners to work in.

So we set about creating an organization which was able to pursue these goals without too many obstacles.

Some crucial decisions

· What do we call ourselves? What is the identity? What themes do we identify with the company?

· The legal nature of the organization: Trust or company?

· How specific would our work be? How narrowly would the “theatre” work define itself?

· How would the work be supported, through finance and recognition

· What would be our target groups?

· Whether to have a permanent company or not

· Whether to have a fixed base - build a theatre like Sarakasi, or not

· Where would the money come from?

Other areas of interest which have come into consideration over the course of TTC’s history

· Talent representation (for a short while)

· Casting for movies

· Managing construction of performance spaces (and go onto manage the space, as we did with the Oshwal Centre under Richie Mwendwa)

· Assessment of sector and proposal creation to help help develop cultural bodies(UNICEF etc) 

· Creating educational materials (South Sudan and Storymoja)

Factors which have changed the nature of our work

1. People gather differently – they seldom want to, or able to, commit to being at a specific venue at the same time – preferring a sherehe (festival) approach

2. Practitioners tend to go about their lives quite differently; they receive and process information much quicker (though not as effectively sometimes)

3. There are few guaranteed constituencies (outside of religious communities who support activities from loyalty.) It is entirely up to the company to create the audience numbers.

4. Venues are seldom subsidized any more and the cost of hiring often exceeds any possibility of income which the performance might generate.

5. The shifting definition of government and their changing connection to the arts (particularly since the change in the constitution and the evolution of the county system which has seen a reduction in the involvement of central government in cultural activity and the eventual disappearance of the Ministry of Culture.)

These are the changing factors which have affected our work during the past 19 years.

Where the money comes from:

1. Government (unpredictable, culturally corrupt and decreasing at the moment)

2. Business/ private sector (very short term and focused on payback for companies, more or less)

3. Paying customers (capacity is building)

4. Donor Community (often disconnected from home agenda and very fashion driven; agencies tend to be over-extended)

5. Other sources (virtual currency, private donation, spousal support) Where TTC would like to be as it builds on # 3


Successes, failures and puzzles

· Over 400 practitioners have gone through our training programmes, many of whom have major careers, have started their own companies or providing services to the cultural industry. Some are dead, or in government….

· TTC have travelled to and performed in Tanzania, Holland, Belgium, Italy, India (twice), United Kingdom (GLOBE TO GLOBE) , Mali, Uganda, Zimbabwe, USA, South Africa 

· TTC are extending their work into Papua New Guinea, Pakistan, Somaliland and Malawi.

· TTC has established and operated a successful network throughout Kenya

· TTC has financed an average of 20 practitioners a year 

· TTC has established a world-class, inspiring facility at Karichota, Mt. Kenya

· We have successfully developed the unique Sanaa Ponyevu project which has created a structure for working with our crucial partners Special Education Professionals to work with Special Needs students on performance

So is it a good idea?

· People know what they are going to get (or think they do….)

· We get to work with great artists! (see images)

· Whether we like it or not, and as much as we want to collaborate and act us a linking organization which supports and encourages all other performance groups, we are seen by many as competition.

The fact that we are still in operation after nearly 20 years, and are still growing in organizational strength; we have an eclectic and talented group of Board members, Muthoni Garland of Storymoja, Joanna Ball-Burgess, the choreographer and yoga teacher, Mechtild Van Den Homburgh who has been our strategic consultant (along with many other arts organisations in Kenya) for the past ten years and the artist and social activist, Deqa Abshir. Our impact on audiences and the cultural world steadily increases, which would suggest that we still think it is a good idea (to have a company). However, you may want to comment on this yourselves during the question and answer session at the end of this series of presentations.

We look forward to hearing from you and encourage you to keep in touch.

We especially invite you to help us celebrate our 20th Anniversary during 2019.

Thank you!

KP 11/18