By Catherine Kimotho
Published October 10, 2012-10-10
A man, a woman and a boy slither onto the stage. Arms outstretched,moving up and down, their fingers wiggling, the sound of wind comes from their mouths; shhh, whoosh, sshhh, whoosh. Droplets of water fall from the sky. Excited that he will not be going to school today, the boy cries out, “There’s a blizzard out there!” But to his surprise, his parents hand him a broken umbrella and send him off to school.
This is a synopsis of “Walking Tall”, a dramatised performance presented at the Nairobi National Museum on October 3, 2012. This was an unusual combination of art and science presented by Paleontological Scientific Trust (PAST) of South Africa which launched its first ever educational theatre project in Kenya. Their aim of the show was to create a performance that not only cuts across language and cultural barriers but also to spark curiosity of young minds in the exploration of human origin and development in Africa.
Besides the idea that science, PAST also aims at causing awareness among young people that their shared ancestry is something to be proud and in the process shatter the various prejudices upheld by many in society in regard to race, culture and other superficial human differences.
How was this achieved?
The artists on stage presented an elaborate but simple play that used no special effects found in general plays but explained the evolution process; from the big bang that brought about the creation of the earth and to the natural selection theories of Charles Darwin through which only the best species survive and pass on information (genetic coding) to the next generation.
Members of the audience were handpicked by any of the actors and asked to come on stage and ride the “bus” traveling through time before humanity existed. These audience members were asked to mimic the actions of particular animals. From the bush baby with its huge eyes, to the cry of the orang-utan and to the thumping of the chest by gorillas, the audience laughed as members of the invited audience did the various tasks asked of them.
Not only was the audience enthralled but they appeared to truly understand the process of human evolution.
Creative Director Craig Morris invited the audience to pay attention to the performance or to be more specific to ‘use your imagination’ as one watched the play. Overall, one may conclude that the applause at the end of the performance was an indication of how much people had enjoyed the performance.
A question and answer session was held at the end of the performance for the audience to seek clarification on any issue about the play. On the issues of colour and race, the performers explained that migration from Africa to other parts of the world caused humans to adapt to new cold and harsh environment which led to change in their genetic composition.
As an educational theatrical project, Morris and Dr Robert Blumenschine, the Chief Scientist of PAST, hope to train a number of actors and teachers within Kenya in relation to explaining science through performing arts.