The thou arts, the thines, the thys and thees of this world connected to the type of English in William Shakespeare’s works, have always been my worst nightmare. At university as a sophomore, I remember evading a class group that was asked to read and discuss Shakespeare’s Othello. I was ready to give up the marks for that class assignment had my lecturer not accepted my excuse to not be in that group.
“Dr I request for a change in the group because where you’ve placed me, there is a friend of mine around whom I never seem to concentrate or do anything,” I submitted my excuse in the most vulnerable manner. “My reason for asking for a change in the group is really to look out for the other members in that group whose precious time we might waste, me and my friend,” I hit the last nail in.
My carefully crafted excuse worked and my request was granted. We all know now that there was no such a thing as a close friend with whom I would get silly in that group but I was trying to avoid getting into contact with Shakespeare!
Today I am a changed man. I am a born-again artist. An artist who loathes Shakespeare’s works no longer, thanks to a recently staged Shakespearean production, ‘The Merchant of Venice in Kampala – Uganda. At the grand opening of this gallant production that was done at The Kampala Serena International Hotel in a red carpet event, we the cast, crew and producing team, were all merry, alive and flying above in our spirits. The journey to get here was not as necessarily merry.
Grab a seat.
Ndere Centre, where we usually rehearsed has always had a soft spot in my heart. I love that place, I love being there. I hold fond memories of Ndere Centre due to my past theatrical experiences that have happened there. But for some reason, during the first few weeks of The Merchant of Venice rehearsals, I had begun to dread this place. It had never happened in my life to be asked to take on another role in any production because the director felt I would not do justice to former the role. It happened in this production! It broke me, I felt like a failure, I felt crushed, I felt worthless, I felt betrayed by myself. Initially, I was playing ‘Salanio’ in the play but was switched to ‘Prince of Arragon.’ Coming to rehearsal thereafter was dreadful for me, I did not know what to expect. I felt less confident, I almost quit until the director told me to ‘live’ and not to ‘leave’. That was deep, that was the revival.
Let me tell you about Amelia the director. I think she is a giver, a motivator, a believer and a talker. Talkative, yes, that is Amelia Mbotto Kyaka for you. And when I say talkative, I do not mean the bigmouth talkative, I mean the friendly-talkative. In her talks to us the cast, that is where we gained the much-needed confidence to go to Venice and talk to other Venetians, that when we left Ndere Centre and went to Shakespeare’s world of the play in Belmont and Venice. Aganza Kisaka, her assistant director came in and really moulded us into the lords, princes, princesses, merchants, maidens and servants that Shakespeare wrote about in The Merchant of Venice. Amelia and Aganza are a dynamic duo I tell you.
Fast forward, my journey to becoming the Prince of Arragon started with just those words, ‘live do not leave.´ For starters, here she was telling me to be alive, give the role my all and give my audience the best of the role on stage but not to give up. I did not give up, we all did not give up. Before I knew it, I began to pick motivation from everyone around me. It only took a mindset change. Since the production was done to raise mental health awareness, inspired by a mental health victim – Mr Joseph Atukunda who has been battling mental health issues, I learnt from experience in this very production. Mental health is real. It only takes a few words of affirmation, a few deeds of kindness, and a few people (my fellow cast members, crew and production team). That’s all it takes really.
And now the bigger picture, it took just one Shakespearean production to revert my loathing for Shakespearean works.