From a retrospective perspective, the history of the Nakuru Players Theatre can be divided into two parts. The first part consists of the colonial history of the theatre while the second part consists of its post-independence development.
The pre-independence era saw the birth of the Nakuru Players Theatre Club in the 1940s and the construction of the theatre building on Garland Avenue (what later came Kipchoge Avenue). In general, it was marked by a great deal of energy on the part of the members of the Club, the production of numerous plays for members and the public, and the steady growth of the Club and of the arts in the Nakuru region. On the other hand, the post-independence history of the Theatre was mixed.
The transition of indigenous management of the Theatre was accompanied by the gradual disintegration of interest in the Theatre in Nakuru and the concomitant lack of activities at the Theatre’s building and grounds. Later on, however, with the mushrooming of the Theatre and other artistic groups around Nakuru and the dedication to the Theatre and the arts by a number of people in the town and the region, interest in theatre was gradually rejuvenated and the Theatre’s building began to perform its required responsibility as an ideal venue for Theatre lovers.
This resurgence of interest in theatre and the arts reached its peak on March 11, 2006, with the election of the current Management Committee, consisting mostly of Egerton University staff members, who (re)constructed the foundation from which the Theatre has been taking gigantic steps forward as a locus for individual and organizations dedicated to arts.
THE COLONIAL HISTORY OF THE THEATRE
The history of the Nakuru Players Theatre Club in the years leading up to the opening of the Theatre reveals a great deal of dedication on the part of the members and the Nakuru Community of the time. The Theatre building situated on Nakuru town’s present-day Kipchoge Avenue (formerly The Nakuru Players Theatre Club was formerly established on 11th August, 1949, at a meeting held in the Nakuru Town Hall attended by 45 members.
The name “Nakuru Players” was adopted from one of a number of drama groups that were already operating in the area, implying that the community had been pursuing its interest in theatre for some time.
The first Chairman of the Theatre was Mr. Ken Louis, the then town Clerk of Nakuru. Among those who attended the meeting was the following: Sir Michael Blundell and his wife lady Blundell; Mr. and Mrs. Alec Taylor; Mr. and Mrs. Harold Schofield; Mr. Ted Lewis, the then General Manager of the Kenya Farmers Association and his wife; Mr. Bill Balry, the then Manager of Nakuru’s branch of the Standard Bank Ltd; and Mr. Norman Handy, who had at one time been Mayor of Nakuru.
Following the information of the Club, its first President was Mr. Morgan, then Provincial Commissioner of Rift Valley. Sir Michael Blundell succeeded him in 1951.
The 1949 Constitution of the Club outlines the objectives of the organization as “the study of dramatic art, the promotion and the encouragement and organization of events of a cultural or educational nature, the organization of social events and the like for the benefit and enjoyment of members and to do all other things as are incidental or conductive to the attainment of the objects of the Society”.
The Constitution divides the Club’s membership into four categories: full members; junior members (under 18 years of age); honorary members; and temporary members (i.e. those who hold membership for the duration of performances for which they have purchased tickets).
The Constitution further provides for the following: the rules and regulations governing membership; the composition of the Management and the rules and regulations governing its activities; the rules and regulations governing the members’ meetings, including General Meetings and Extraordinary Meetings; and the responsibilities of Trustees and the rules and regulations governing their appointment.
In establishing the Club, the community was carrying forward a tradition that was as old as European society itself. The history of theatre is traditionally traced back to classical Greece, between the 5th and 3rd century BC, when the great Greek tragedians and comedians, Aeschylus, Euripedes, Sophocoles, and Aristophanes laid the basic foundations for drama.
But the Nakuru European community was also motivated by the desire to fill prevailing gaps in entertainment and art in the region. In the 1940s, Nakuru town was just one street of shops. The only recreation facilities were the Rift Valley Sports Club, Sir Michael Blundell’s Princeton’s Electrical Cinema (later Eros Cinema) and the “Top Pub” (now Midland Hotel)
Furthermore, the electronic media the region was inadequate. The Kenya Armed Forces broadcasted programmes on its radio, but this did not fulfill the artistic requirements of the members of the Club. Equally problematic, there was no television in the area. And most importantly, the group required a mechanism through which to evolve its own identity as a professional theatre organization.
In order to achieve these objectives, the Nakuru Players needed their own facilities, most importantly a theatre, for rehearsals, productions, Green Room Rags, etc. they began to work on those plans in 1952, and in 1954, they purchased the Masonic Lodge on Garland Avenue, together with its grounds. Using donations from the community, they rebuild the Lodge into a modern theatre.
When it was completed, the Theatre contained an extended stage, full trappings, dressing rooms, storage facilities, etc. In addition, it had two members’ bars in the foyer. The contractors were John Patrickson and Coxon. The total cost of the work was 7,500 pounds, of which members donated 4,500 pounds. Much of the money was in the form of a loan guaranteed by wealthy members from the community. It was repaid from the fundraising and from money derived from subsequent activities at the Theatre.
The Players began using the Theatre for rehearsals in June1955, but it was not until July 1958 that the theatre was officially opened. Sir Blundell, then the Players’ President, conducted the formal opening. In attendance was a large number of members as well as a good number of invited guests, including the following; Sir Richard Woodley, the then Chairman of the Kenya Cultural Centre; Mr. A.J.R. Mater, the Provincial Commissioner; Mrs. Wainwright; Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Bernhardi, the Mayor and Mayoress of Kampala; Mr. and Mrs. C.E Davelin; and Mr. Hugh Ashmore, the President of East African Theatre Guild.
In his speech, Mr. Louis, the Chairman, made the following remarks: “Tonight is an exciting occasion for the Nakuru Players. For nearly 10 years, kind host have offered us hospitality for our shows. Then we took our courage in our hands and brought our own Theatre. Here, tonight, you see the result- enlarged-enlarged, adopted, decorated and technically equipped, partly through gifts from friends, partly from the profits our efforts, and not least by the labour of our own players in their spare time.”
The final payment on the loan was made in September 1961. Between 1941 and 1963, the Players produced at least fifty plays drawn from various genres, many of which were original productions written by the members (see separate list).
The theatre was opened to the public on Friday 25 July, 1958, following four years of strenuous efforts on the part of the members of Nakuru Players Club to establish a reputable cultural centre in Nakuru for the purpose of advancing their artistic and entertainment needs.
HISTORY OF THE THEATRE
Despite the acquisition of independence, the Nakuru Players Theatre took some time to revert to indigenous management. It was not until the mid-1990s that indigenous Africans began to acquire membership in the Theatre on a large scale.
The first local group that became affiliated to the Theatre was the Drum Singers, who remain connected to the Theatre to date.
The Late Mr. Arthur F. Brown, a former Chairman of the Management Committee of the Theatre and a prominent businessman in the Nakuru area, played the most significant role in negotiating the transition to local membership.
Other Theatre groups such as Playmakers, Arts Ablaze, Tears Group Kenya, among others, closely followed the Drum singers. Subsequently, the Management of the Theatre became increasingly localized. Between 2002 and 2004, Mr. Barnabas Kasigwa, was the Chairman of the Management Committee. From then until 2006, the chairman was Mr. Tom Oduol, an official in the Ministry of Culture and Social Services. Dr. Joseph Walunywa, a lecturer in the Department of Literature, Languages and Linguistics at Egerton University, succeeded Mr. Oduol and Mr. Collins Dennis Oduor, a writer, producer and director, succeeded Dr. Walunyuwa.
In the course of this time, the Theatre has experienced moments of growth and also various drawbacks. The drawbacks have largely been caused by lack of finances.
In order for the Theatre to achieve its full potential, i.e. to be fully involved in artistic production, and ready to reach out to the community, it requires substantial financial support, which it cannot achieve from subscription alone.
THE THEATRE’S VISION AND MISSION FOR THE COMMUNITY
The vision of the Nakuru Players Theatre is to be an ideal people’s Community Theatre. The mission is to take art to the people through regular production of plays both in the Theatre building and in the community, and to function as an educational centre for artists in the region.
PRIVILEGES OFFERED TO THE MEMBERS AND THE PUBLIC
The Nakuru Players Theatre belongs to the Nakuru Players Theatre Club, a members’ organization whose objective is to originate, store, and exchange ideas about theatre and other forms of art in the region. An Executive Committee elected through an Annual General Meeting (AGM) runs the Theatre on behalf of the members of the Club on the basis of rules and regulations outlined in the Club’s constitution.
In exchange for entry fees, the Theatre stages plays for members and the public at large as well as hosts wide-ranging events, such as workshops, cultural events, art exhibitions, and family get-togethers, either on its own or in collaboration with other institutions.
To keep its members constantly informed about ongoing events and future plans, the Theatre publishes a newsletter, The Plotline, which is distributed to members on a monthly basis.
The Theatre has plans to establish a library to be stocked with books and other reading materials of interest both to members and the general public. The Theatre would like to invite members of the public from Nakuru town and the region to sign up as members.
Privileges for Members
The Theatre has an attractive package of privileges for members as outlined below:
1. Individual members will be entitled to a discount of 20% from entry fees to events produced by the theatre;
2. They will receive a free subscription to the theatre’s newsletter, The Plotline;
3. By virtue of their membership in the Club, they will have the opportunity, in exchange for a reasonable fee, to use the facilities of the theatre for events such as birthday parties, weddings, family get-togethers, etc.;
4. They will have the opportunity to sign up as members of the Theatre’s dramatic troupe;
5. They will enjoy the opportunity of interacting with other people from the region who are equally interested in theatre and art.
The Theatre uses the term ‘Corporate Member’ to refer to institutions like schools, colleges, universities, churches and businesses that buy membership in the Theatre as a group. Such corporate members will enjoy the following privileges:
1. They will have the right to send a maximum of twelve representatives to events produced by the theatre at 20% discount from the entry fees;
2. They will have the opportunity to advertise their products in the Theatre’s newsletter at reasonable fees;
3. They will have the opportunity to use the Theatre’s facilities for events like conferences, workshops, exhibitions, etc. at a reasonable fee;
4. They will receive the Theatre’s newsletter, The Plotline, on a monthly basis.
Affiliated Group Members
The theatre uses the term ‘Affiliated Group Member’ to refer to groups of not less than five paid up members who are engaged in theatrical activities at the theatre as a group. Such groups will enjoy the following privileges:
1. They will have the opportunity to use the theatre for rehearsals at a reasonable fee;
2. They will have the opportunity to use the Theatre’s facilities for events like conferences, workshops, exhibitions, etc. at a reasonable fee;
3. They will receive free subscription to the Theatre’s newsletter The Plotline;
4. They will have the opportunity to advertise their products in the Theatre’s newsletter at a reasonable fee;
5. They will have the opportunity to meet and interact with other people interested in theatre and other forms of art through the theatre.