9.2 East African Poetry & Drama: What are the major stages of development of the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival?

Chapter 9

The Travelling Theatre in East Africa

9.2  Enumerate the major stages of development of the Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festival.

Kenya Schools and Colleges Drama Festivals

Therefore this was a period of experimentation and it was proved that the use of traditional Dramatic forms added freshness to the Western Dramatic forms.  The most memorable play presented at the festival was Makwekwe written and produced by Charles Wandiri in 1981 the play was in Osotsi’s words, an example of superb craftsmanship at all levels of play production.

Osotsi et al pg 214

Schools Drama Festival had been previously under the leadership of expatriate staff at the Ministry of Education but in 1979, the First Kenyan African Drama and Literature inspector,  Mr. Wasambo Were was appointed. Under his stewardship,  the festival took a drastic departure from the past.  Instead of being staged only at the Kenya National Theatre year in year out, Wasambo directed that it be taken to different parts of the country each year.  He also directed that the colleges’ festival which had been running as a separate festival take place together with the secondary schools one.

In 1981, he engineered the entry of the primary school category into the festival.  Hence the Drama Festival took the shape it has now under the stewardship of Were.  The other major change at the festival came in 2003 when Alembi Ezekiel engineered the overhaul of the primary school plays to fit the needs of child-centered approach.  His argument was that primary school plays were plays acted for children and by children and hence they should subscribe to principles of children’s literature (Osiako et al (2003).


The schools Drama festival started in 1949 as European Drama Festival but when other races were incorporated, it later changed its name to Schools Drama Festival.  This festival was organized on a competitive basis and this called for innovations.  This festival grew especially in the seventies moving away from Shakespeare and his approved colleagues through one Petit bourgeois’s living room versus the African hut to a more genuine attempt at representing the setting as was seen from the subject matter that now seemed to reach the majority of the people.

Of particular interest is that each time a playwright wanted to add freshness to a staler stage, the traditional songs, dances and practices rituals were invoked.  The climax came in 1971 when a play in Maasai language Olkirikiri was crowned the winner of the year’s festival.

Today, the Festival prides itself as one of the largest entertainment shop in the whole East African region. Every year, Kenyans are treated to nine days of plays, Dramatized dances, Dramatized verses and Dramatized Narratives from the eight provinces of the country. The Dramatic techniques and the content in the items presented are emphasized by a panel of the adjudicators selected by the Ministry of Education –Kenya to judge and rank the teams. Although Ministry officials would like us to believe that the Festival is a co-curricular activity that allows students to exercise their creativity, one realizes that the cut throat competition for prizes dangled during the Festival, invites participation of other theatre practitioners who are neither teachers nor students. This in turn stifles the participation of students in terms of scripting, choreographing, directing and even stage-managing. Students become machines to be fed with information, which they regurgitate on stage. Being, an educational co-curricular activity, one would expect that teachers would encourage the participating students to come up with scripts that they will Dramatize.


It is worth noting that many of the theatre and Drama practitioners today are both products and disciples of this Festival. This perhaps is one of the major reasons which you as a student of Drama and Poetry in East Africa, needs to appreciate this Festival. It has made a big impact on the practice of Drama and Poetry in Kenya that studying it becomes a necessity rather than a luxury to you.




  1. Describe the contribution made by Wasambo Were in the growth of the Drama Festival in Kenya
  2. In your opinion, what is the common feature in the three Travelling theatres we have discussed above?



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