High School Drama: The Good Ole Days

High School Drama: The Good Ole Days

By Warris Kimathi

Secondary school was memorable for many different reasons.

For some, it was good, bad, cold, and busy,- some were even lucky to have fun.

Myself? I was going through a difficult divorce with a lot of unsuitable partners for the entire four years;  teenage, an accent, STEM Subjects, an evasive identity and acne that never left.

The fun was in Music and Drama, performing arts became a reprieve for an otherwise unmotivated high school experience.

That was so mainly because I questioned what I was taught and how it was taught, but I also completely failed to understand the nuances of Chemistry.

Like many who have suffered the 8-4-4 system, my extracurricular life was full of action whereas my life in class remained completely undramatic. No regrets.

Madam Kasiran taught, walked and lived her Music.

I took her class for four years and I still cannot sing an arpeggio to save the Queen; yet, she and I went to the Coast in 2014 to represent my annoying Unc  “Jakababa“.

We were the runners-up with the likes of Brayo Matandi who had crammed a solo verse of his own. See it?

Besides sharpening valuable skills while reciting poems, I also joined drama club.

I could call the drama guys the cool kids in the school but that would be an understatement; they were the de facto Illuminati.

Even though the ruffians were the Kremlin, the drama guys were also famous chic magnets, giving the muscles a run for their money whenever skirts came around.

I auditioned in form one but I was too young and couldn’t master my part because I was having problems pronouncing “Question“— being fresh from the farm and all.

That following year they announced drama auditions and I showed. The first night I showed up for rehearsals I was scared.

Everyone present looked very sure of themselves. City-bred kids who knew how to express themselves came here, I wasn’t city-bred but I wanted to act.

I had waited a full year for the season to return, and nothing was stopping me now.

I managed to get myself into the play as furniture. A straight-backed teenage table in the Protagonist’s sitting room. Perfect.

That season didn’t go well for the School club. And even as a non-sentient piece of furniture, I managed to mess up my role onstage and get my *ss roasted by the rest of the team at the famous Menengai High School.

I was a table making mistakes.

The Director then was a mythical legend called Christine “Makena” Njeri— now a famous gay rights activist. She was an alumnus and she went hard on us.

In retrospect, there was a serious talent deficit within our rank of the cast — something that drove our eccentric director absolutely bananas.

Well, maybe we were just too good for the system.

The pressure I went through as a sophomore prop in kina Sidneys’s play made me and the mighty bigfoot Willis Ayuka go to Mr. Wagura that next year and let him know that we were taking the reins of the club with a spanking new play, written directed by Willises brother Wayne —another self-assured alumnus.

It was a great play, I daresay, and I had a proper role.

We put a lot of energy into the play, worked around the clock, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Willis was the chairman and he lead with a steady hand.

Maybe too Steady.

That play didn’t go far either, but we had had our share of funkie freedom and skipped enough classes to be labelled permanent truants by the ever-bitter STEM teachers.

I loved going to the drama festivals, to go see boys and girls recite lines onstage – rather mechanically – and be lauded for acting.

That used to grind my gears a lot.

That mechanical acting style in Kenyan Schools drama frustrated many talented directors like Christine, who in turn went into training real actors in the schools for the rich.

Apologies to all the remarkable alumni of the Kenya National Drama Festivals.

By another bold, red, unwritten rule, a form four Shall not go to Drama festivals or any other non-academic shenanigans.

In an extreme moment of defiance, I decided to go to drama with a narrative in my final year of high school.

That’s the year you’re expected to be busy in class, burning the midnight oil and spending more time with the fire-breathing Patricia in the Library than you did anywhere else on campus.

But all I wanted was to go to the festivals, pre-mocks or not.

Mr. Wagura, the Drama club patron, was not hearing any of it.

There was no other form four going to the festivals, not just in that season’s group but also in the entire history of the school.

Tradition notwithstanding, I was determined to go perform my narrative, come what may.

All odds were against me, but I just had an instinct. I put together a cast of great guys I thought to be capable of the task ( and could skip preps without dying of guilt).

This was the year after Otonglo Times had cracked up the President with a hilarious narrative and the bar was towering rather high.

I knew I couldn’t make an eight-year-old laugh but we went all in with our story ‘WEPAKHULU‘ — also written by Wayne Ayuka. Directed and performed by yours truly.

I pushed my boys hard and myself even harder. And it almost paid off.

The County of Nakuru is the home of many of the country’s cremé de la cremé secondary schools.

The kids there can speak the Queen’s English and shout and learn complex stage movements under the great pressure machines that are high school drama coaches.

The only problem was that Drama wasn’t big in our school and it got little attention from the administration.

This level was tough, and our dear club hadn’t gotten past that level in recent years.

The days of the zonal Festivals fell squarely in the middle of a busy academic stretch. We had been putting in extra hours in the ‘East’ D-Hall every day at nine ( Or earlier) for rehearsals.

I felt ready.

However, I knew that I had a snowball’s chance in hell of going to that competition. Wagura had made it known that no form fours were going out that weekend. He had sternly encouraged me to give up.

I listened but I wasn’t hearing.

On the morning of the Friday of the festival, I dressed to kill. The sweater was borrowed but the shoes were mine.

The bus was just leaving, but it stopped short of edging out of the gate, Wagura climbed in—”Form four inafanya nini kwa bus?!” — and almost on cue, hustled me out of the Scania with a hailstorm of slaps carpet-bombing my clean-shaven head.

The rest of the cast watched on in horror, our little performance was dead before it was born.

You’d expect me to have been devastated but I had anticipated such aggression.

When the rest of the team came back from the festival that night they were all gloomy despite having spent the day with all manners of Ngels.

I felt sad for them all and their dedication. However, by some law of attraction miracle, we went to the zonal the next day, with Wagura’s approval, and staged our little charade.

I think it was Wayne the Director, Wagura listened to him.

In the week that followed, we even missed more classes and put in more hours into our narrative rehearsals. The County competition day came and we were ready.

I stretched my face and annunciated the words and clowned in every way I could on the stage, as my able team harmonized themselves with every leap and laugh I made.

It was an affair of passion, our story was not as funny as the rigged festival required, but the players were, and the mean-faced adjudicators had no choice but to sit and listen.

As I told about Wepakhulu’s insatiable appetite they strained hard to suppress their amusement (because judges shouldn’t react, I heard) at my poorly-written, yet well-executed jokes.

As Wepakhulu became captain the whole hall celebrated with us. And when my boys and I broke into a jig onstage they all moved along in incredible unison.

Vuuuumiliaa, shule yetu,

Maharagwe mahindi, ni kama moto

Yanayochomaaa… Matumbo yeetu,

Wh Princi twaooombaa,


I was shouting and bellowing in a voice that had not completely transformed into the despicable speakerbox that is my voice today.

The responses were coming, the judges were scribbling furiously, Wepakhulu was singing, and I was living my dream right there on that stage, as my classmates toiled back in school preparing for the most dreaded exams of them all; the UNAMFAN Premocks.

We left the stage amidst screams and mighty cheering from the ladies.

That being the first day, the results were not due until the last day of the festival

The future came back to haunt me again when Wagura announced that we would not be attending the rest of the festivals because our performance had been on the first day of the fete.

Form four ‘mkora’ needs to be in class.

Regardless, we devised a defiant plan on the final day. We obtained an exit slip and left the school quietly on some dubious excuse I cannot even remember.

We knew that this was the day they announced the winners.

So we set out. I reunited with one of my ladies on that day and we had a much-needed chit-chat, we ate ice cream and then I found my brethren and we headed into the hall for judgement.

There was only three of us to represent our school but the scream that resonated through that hall once they announced that we had won in the Narrative category came from a hundred mouths inside the building.

We had fans, you see – beautiful ladies.

I rushed out to get the trophy with my two loyal lieutenants hot on my heels.

I grabbed the faux golden medal and turned around to allow the others to touch our victory- and there was Wagura in my face. Smiling at some private joke I wasn’t in on.

It was only after he had taken the trophy from me that he slipped back his serious face on and demanded to know how the hell we had gotten to that venue.

I skillfully deflected back to the ‘bright side’. Thankfully, he didn’t prod further.

That evening we celebrated our beautiful win in elevated moods. Our win meant that we’d be going to the regional competition in Eldoret.

Our preparations for the home of champions began in a haste.

I was determined to go to the finals, and in that determination, I might have pushed my team a bit too hard.

Also, the support from the school was not as strong as we needed it to be.

I was still a form four candidate doing Drama club, I don’t think our form master will ever forget that.

When the time came for us to travel to Chebisas High School, we were put on the same bus with Menengai High School, who had a killer play for the regionals.

It was a fun ride because they had Ngels, but I wished more than once that I was surrounded by familiar faces. Plus once we boarded the bus I  quickly learnt that all them Ngels were taken.

Eldoret was cold when we arrived and things were gloomy in a way that gave me a bad intuition.

Our Narrative was to be performed on the last day of the festival and we waited albeit nervously.

I watched all the narratives presented and felt confident that we would be proceeding to the Nationals.

However, on the afternoon we were supposed to perform, as my team and I carried the oh-so-heavy props to the stage, I heard two students from a different school talking excitedly as they left the hall.

They said that the hosts had already won the Narrative category. I was dumbfounded, but then I dismissed it all for misled grapevine.

We went in and did our thing. But the judges all looked resigned and ready to go home.

I tried the punchlines and all, but no one was scribbling anything – the crowd wanted to cheer, but they seemed to assess us as an artistic threat.

We were in a foreign land here.

I left the stage with a bad taste of corruption in my mouth.

When the results were announced, we had lost miserably. I was disappointed for a few hours but I realised that we had come close.

It was a win as good as any. 


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