The Collaborative Landscape of Women in Uganda’s Theatre

As women continue to make waves in the theatre community in Uganda, one cannot help but wonder about the transformative potential of collaboration amongst them and how this collaboration would impact Uganda’s Theatre.

From the dawn of storytelling around the fire to the contemporary stage productions captivating audiences, women have been the custodians of narratives that transcend time and space. The names of revolutionary women in Uganda’s theatre landscape echo through the annals of history: Rose Mbowa, Elvania Namukwaya, Judith Adong, Jessica Kaahwa, Mercy Mirembe Ntangaare, Amelia Mbotto Kyaka, Kaya Kagimu Mukasa, and countless others who have left an indelible mark on the stage and beyond. These visionaries have not only carved out spaces for themselves but paved the way for future generations of women and men to thrive in the arts. Their leadership and dedication to their craft have inspired countless others to pursue their passion for theatre, creating a legacy that continues to reverberate across the cultural landscape.

Imagine a landscape where these women deliberately choose to collaborate to create the best works of the performing arts that could be produced in years.

In 2023, we saw a rejuvenation in theatre through a unique musical theatre production collaboration – “My Fair Lady” which was produced through a collaboration between Yenze Theatre Conservatoire and Timeless Arts that brought diverse talent and audiences to the Uganda National Theatre under the drive for Mental Health. This production not only filled the theatre but also spread the message of mental health, especially for the girl child perfectly. Women are gifted with producing and nurturing and this makes it easy for them to bring one and two together, calculating supposed risks and finding fast solutions to challenges, especially in theatre production.

Over the years, there has been a wave in the growth of women-led theatre entities that have produced and woven beautiful and powerful theatre productions and Festivals that have given a platform to artists, employed artists, and nurtured artists.

Tebere Arts Foundation, through its Emerging Artists’ Lab and the Kampala International Theatre Festival, provides a platform for at least 10 aspiring artists to hone their skills and showcase their talent on a global stage. It has also fostered collaborations among artists that can grow their work and make it even better. Tebere Arts Foundation will be curating the 11th Edition of the Kampala International Theatre Festival this year in November.

Yenze Theatre Conservatoire, with its rigorous training programs and diverse workshops, cultivates the next generation of actors, directors, and instructors, shaping the future of Ugandan theatre. Yenze has also curated apprenticeship programs and produces short films that have given a new perspective to short film production in the film industry. This year, Yenze is producing the musical theatre Production “She Loves Me” by Joe Masteroff, Jerry Bock, and Sheldon Harnick that will be shown at the Uganda National Cultural Centre/ National Theatre this July 2024.

Meanwhile, Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre nurtures performing artists, fostering an environment where creativity flourishes and excellence is celebrated. A clear example is Koono Blair Matthias and Katongole Nathan who won awards for Best Supporting Role and Best Actor in the recently celebrated Ikon Awards. Mariam Ndagire is the curator of the Theatre and Performing Arts Festival and a podcast that focuses on film. Seeing her direct films at a younger age with a visible passion and love for it in Kikandwa was one of the reasons I took the path of the performing arts.

Timeless Arts, with its groundbreaking productions and innovative projects like the Timeless Talk podcast, pushes the boundaries of traditional theatre, sparking dialogue and inspiring change. Timeless Arts produced Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice” in 2021, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” and is currently rehearsing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “The Phantom of the Opera” which will be showing at the Uganda National Cultural Centre/ NationalTheatre this May 2024.

KITF 2016 African women playwrights discussion

Let us pause and think of an initiative where Tebere Arts Foundation joins forces with Yenze Theatre Conservatoire to co-create immersive theatre experiences, or where Mariam Ndagire Film and Performing Arts Centre collaborates with Timeless Arts to amplify voices through digital storytelling. These different organisations produce distinct work and have different strengths, they speak to different audiences but it is important to note that they are led by powerful directors who know what they want and are doing.

However, what would happen if all this diversity was brought together? What if for a moment these brilliant women forgot about competing with each other and saw the beauty of uniting to grow together? What if they learn to appreciate that they are not perfect in every aspect and choose to get on board the co – organisations that do it better? How easy would it be to source funding if these organisations co-applied? How would aspiring artists benefit from taking part in the different productions of different genres?

I believe that through collaboration, these organizations can tap into each other’s audiences because they have diverse audiences that they can merge, share resources that each organization can bring to the table, and coalesce around common goals and initiatives which will be a win for all. By pooling their collective talents and expertise, they can break down barriers, amplify marginalized voices, and advocate for a more inclusive and equitable theatre industry, for example, the Media Council question that affects every artist. Imagine these organizations coming together to find a way to suggest a solution that can work for every artist. Outsourcing funds becomes easier when these organisations come together and write proposals that funders cannot oppose because credibility is evidenced and brilliant brains have stated what they want and how they will be able to achieve the goals. This could also mean merging different resources from different angles and achieving one common goal. Scheduling yearly activities together so that they are not fighting for audiences due to clashing dates but rather serving audiences and supporting each other through the various activities.

Unfortunately, all this cannot be achieved with a landscape that is individualistic and thinks only about self-growth forgetting that there is a lot more that can be learnt through collaborative spaces. Despite all this, not all hope is lost. I believe that through acknowledging their strengths and weaknesses, swallowing the pride to ask for help, selflessly building healthy competition, and sharing knowledge, these women will carry on and leave behind legacies in Uganda’s theatre Industry that will stand the test of time and will see the Organisations they lead strive to greater heights.

Article by Ulokcwinyu Ubia

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Written by Yenze Theatre Conservatoire (1)

A performing arts enterprise enabling artists to thrive through Film/theatre productions, trainings and management.

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Living as a linguistic exile