NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 9 – Kenya’s first drama house Phoenix Players faces closure in a matter of months unless it is able to raise badly needed funds to finance its shows.
Director Ian Mbugua told Capital News on Friday that Kenyans simply don’t watch plays anymore and unless the trend is reversed, there will be a final curtain call.
“Phoenix is in a very bad state,” Mr Mbugua said. “Our membership has dropped drastically mainly due to the economy. We still have a bit of money but we can’t keep going.”
The 25-year-old theatre house does not need millions of shillings to survive and only requires up to Sh120,000 per month, he said.
Phoenix mainly relies on membership and box office sales for revenue collection. Both are suffering.
“Support the arts. We open tonight (Friday) with a comedy called ‘The Cemetery Club.’ If people haven’t considered the theatre as an alternative to going to the movies or just going to the bar to drink, think of coming to the theatre. It will change your life,” he offered.
The renowned thespian also appealed to the government to bail out the Arts Industry, which is under threat from an ailing economy and Kenyans’ nonchalance.
“Music and Arts are no longer taught in primary schools. They are on their way out in secondary schools,” Mr Mbugua mused.
“Put aside a fund for the arts, give tax rebates. That is how it is done in the West. You put a million shillings in the arts, you can have that as a tax rebate,” he explained, while seated in the empty auditorium.
Phoenix Players is perhaps Kenya’s most celebrated acting house staging a new production every three weeks throughout the year. It has a varied repertoire spanning comedy, classical, and musicals, many of which are locally written productions.
“Don’t start asking for freebies. You can’t go to a restaurant and ask somebody just because you know them to give you a free meal. So why should you come and ask for a free ticket to watch a play? And it doesn’t cost that much. Actors have bills to play as well.”
In 1983, after the fall of the Donathan Moore Theatre, a group of actors got together to form Phoenix Players. No other group in Kenya churns out as many plays, and Phoenix is especially renown for its high standards and disciplined actors.