Supporting creative work by women
This is the third interview in the series spotlighting the finalists for The LPTW Gilder Coigney International Theatre Award in 2011.
Born in Kenya, Mũmbi Kaigwa has a rich theater and film background as well as a strong commitment to better the world. Her acting career began at the age of 10 and has continued in the Oscar-nominated film The Constant Gardener and the award-winning Australian TV show Neighbours.
Mũmbi founded The Arts Canvas (Turubai za Fani) Ltd. to address social themes, particularly those of historical injustice. She directed Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues for her company, marking the first time the piece had been performed in Kenya. The remarkable production and its companion V-Day campaign raised more than $30,000 for Kenyan organizations working to stop violence against women in the country.
She spoke to Works by Women about the thrill of theater and what it meant to be nominated for the LPTW’s Gilder Coigney International Theatre Award.
WORKS BY WOMEN: What inspired you to become a theater artist? What is your favorite piece you’ve ever seen and why?
MUMBI KAIGWA: I guess my inspiration comes from one of the first plays I watched when I was about 15 years old: Robert Serumaga’s Majangwa. Featuring two actors on an almost bare stage, the play’s ability to keep our attention and to transport the audience to this imaginary place stayed with me for a long time. I was hooked by the power of live performance.
My favorite play is probably Stephen Sondheim’s musical Into the Woods, especially the second half where the fairy tales of the first half begin to fall apart due to the fallibility of the characters.
WBW: You were nominated for the Gilder Coigney International Award in 2011. What did that mean to you?
MK: I was honored by the nomination, especially the international recognition of my work.
WBW: How do you create your work? What is your process?
MK: I use a combined process of devising and documentary theatre, interviewing, transcribing and performing from real-life experiences. I also tend to work with groups of predominantly non-actors. I particularly love the way that devised theatre builds trust and confidence and how that sense of self begins to show up in areas of the actors’ real lives.
WBW: What is one thing being a theater artist has taught you? What does working in the theater impart?
MK: As a theatre artist I’m constantly surprised by the power and truth that comes alive in a live performance. Working in the theatre really does build confidence in performers and audiences alike.
WBW: What is your dream: for yourself, for theater in general, for the next generation of theater artists?
MK: My dream is for a society that recognizes the importance of the artist and I hope that future generations of (Kenyan) performing artists will be able to live off the proceeds of their talent.
The LPTW Gilder Coigney International Theatre Award will be given again in 2014. To learn more now, visit the League of Professional Theatre Women website.