Little Theatre Club and Creative Industries in Mombasa

The white plastic chairs are put in nice rows in the theatre hall, the stage is ready, and the lighting checked. All is ready for tonight’s performance of Independent Woman, written by Ibrahim Chitayi at the Little Theatre Club in centre of Mombasa, Kenya.

We are shown around the one-leveled building, built sometime around middle of 1800s in what were at that time the outer parts of Mombasa. Today the theatre lies in the middle of residential buildings of apartments and small houses. We ask if that means that the local inhabitants also come to the theatre shows, but it seems like the audience is not found around the corner, but rather appeal to people from other parts of town.

The building is a cultural heritage bungalow. The outside of the building cannot be changed or rebuilt due to this. Despite the cultural heritage mark, the authorities have not been interested in restoring it and it’s very run down, we are told. A lot of renovation has been started inside by the organization running the theatre, a slow process relying on short-term project money. The visions are high and the leading team are hoping for a well-equipped hall for dancers and theatre auditorium, dressing rooms, costume storage, and hopefully in the future guest rooms for visitors.

A staircase takes us up to the lighting room, close to the ceiling. We step into a room that takes us back in time. A small opening where you can peek into the auditorium to see that the lighting works is the only opening in the otherwise dark room.  The theatre’s right hand and person responsible for lights shows us how it works, how he handles the control sticks of the fifty-year-old lighting system manually each night for each performance.

We go down the stairs after the demonstration to the next pride of the theatre: The costumes. Money has been put into purchasing a wide range of costumes, characteristic for the time they represent. It is a pride for any theatre to be able to have such storage of costumes. Real treasures are found in the pile of coats, dresses, shirts, skirts, shoes, and three time-characteristic military coats are pulled out. A cloud of dust fills the air as they are dashed on the table on the outside.

We have the days before the visit been part of the conference The Economy of Creativity, gathering around a hundred well-known artists, civil servants, politicians, business people, and representatives of cultural organisations, discussing the potential of the cultural and creative industries in East Africa. The conference was the second arranged by GoDown Arts Centre in cooperation with Mimeta and Swedish Institute.

The interest, willingness to engage, and interesting discussions are all in place among participants and speakers. Many memorable inputs are there, not the least on the talk shows where established artists are asked about obstacles and ways forward in their careers. But when it comes to the question of money, how the field of culture is to be funded, it’s quiet. And the main suggestion put forward by authorities is: Engage the corporate world.

There is no lack of creativity at the Little Theatre Club. Nor is there a lack of drive and resolution. There is one major shortage and that is resources, economic resources. To only rely on the corporate world as the solution of how to sustain an interesting artistic and cultural life and to promote cultural industries is naive.

Read more from the conference Economy of Creativity 2009 here.

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3 Responses to “Little Theatre Club and Creative Industries in Mombasa”

  1. are there organisations worlwide or groups that can actually partner with the little theatre club? the place is worth more than it is now.

  2. Little Theatre Club is a wonderful place that should be more cared for in Mombasa and Kenya. I think there should be those who could partner world wide. Perhaps a start would be to partner more with local and East African partners organizations such as the GoDown Arts Center in Nairobi. Sometimes it is more realistic to start building that way and then as a longterm goal go abroad.

  3. Ive realy like your creativity accordin to how i saw and i would wish to join your group.

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Lotta Lekvall
Director of Nätverkstan, a Cultural Organisation in Sweden. Nätverkstan provides services …

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