The Butterfly Effect is a theory that offers an idea of the greatness of small things. That a butterfly can flap its wings, move two grains of sand and cause a typhoon at the end of the chain is fascinating. I never really thought that much about it until A Sound of Thunder. Ray Bradbury is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors especially in his time travel stories. In A Sound of Thunder, Ray suggests a cause and effect option. That stepping on a butterfly 300 million years in the past directly impacts a presidential election in 2055. The story is insane, and involves a Tyrannosaurus rex [my favorite of the rexes] and I am in awe.
So, in true novice fashion, I will try to channel my Ray in this story, [not that it will be difficult]
We begin in a classroom in Loresho Primary. The making of a prodigy.
The classroom is quiet. No one talks, only one thing is on everyone’s mind. Will they make it? Will they be chosen? Is this their time. One particular boy stands out. Eric. He bubbles inside. If you were to put the excitement of each girl and boy in the room on a chart, Eric’s would not be on it. No scale could carry his. There were ripples in his chest. He would have sold his left foot to be on the list.
The class prefect stood up from his desk. He walked as if the weight was not on his shoulders at all. An irresponsible man. A man who did not know the power he possessed. Heavy, was not the crown. Eric did not make the list. The prefect had a score to settle and our man was the ball.
Crying wouldn’t help so he did not bother. He could sulk or go out and look for another chance to be cast in a play for the talent show. Eric went out, and may have stepped on a butterfly that made the Class Eight people decide to also stage a play. He was cast, since he was small, a Class Five kid, as a child in the Class Eight play. He was phenomenal!
“I was tiny! So I was cast as a kid,” he tells me. “That is where my interest began. We did the skit and people kept laughing. Nilikuwa nashindwa mbona wanacheka. I didn’t have any lines, but my actions, my facials sold me.”
The Drama Club patron asked him to participate in the next year’s drama festivals, and his career literally began.
He starred in his first production when he was in Class Six.
Eric had two paths he knew he would take. “I wanted to either be a footballer or to be seen on TV. That was my dream. But I wasn’t getting picked to play football. Life has a funny way of unfolding events.” He received certificates for his performances. There are so many certificates mentioned on this voice note that I cannot keep this story interesting and tell you each time he got one. One thing has to go, and I choose his certificates. You should know, there are a LOT of them.
“One time, there were sponsors who came to our school. They were asking everyone what they wanted to be when they grew up. Answers ranged from doctoring to lawyering, [you know, Kenyan versions of success] but I said I wanted to be an actor.” The mzungu was impressed.
The mzungu told him he would look for Eric once he was done with high school. He was excited, as any Kenyan boy under sponsorship would.
In Class Eight, since he was a candidate, he could not participate in a school production. Kenyan schools prioritize passing national exams over talent. But, the butterfly was stepped on once more and the script needed his prowess. He was the exception. The only Class Eight pupil allowed to be in the show.
When they were selecting the high schools they wished to go to, his choice was based solely on the schools’ drama performance. He chose a school in Nyeri, Mukuruini Boys. He didn’t get in. His grades weren’t good enough for Mukuruini, and his family could also not afford the school fees for such a heavy weight school, but the butterfly still lives. The school right next to Mukuruini is Mweru High School. Mortal enemies to his dream school. If Mukuruini was Mr. Krabs, Mweru was Plankton.
Form Ones in Mweru were not allowed to be in plays. They probably needed to flesh out the ones who would get lost in the funkie crowds. Form Ones have a naiveté that Mweru did not want to deal with. The butterfly, still stuck in his foot, allowed him to sing. It gave him an edge, and he was, surprise surprise, the exception.
Mweru went on to reach National level competitions for the first time in it’s existence. They were second, and Eric says the Alliance Girls’ performance was not as great as theirs [he should know]. They got some perks for their secondness; a school bus, more certificates and a performance at State House that was shifted to KICC. The drama teacher transferred and no one stood up for their rights. It was as if a switch to the sun was found. Everything dimmed out, curtains!
Form Three forced Eric to write his very first script. There was no teacher in charge so he wore the pants. It is a safe bet that he had some idea on what to do. He had seen a good number of scripts in his lifetime. He joined hands with the less talented Drama Club chairman and they got to Nationals level. They were second.
In Form Four, he met Aliwa, a dude who made the same promise as the mzungu. “Look for me when you’re done with school.”
After high school, there was no doctoring or lawyering for Eric. He joined a local theatre group. He acted out set books and church plays. Did odd acting jobs that paid less than enough. Then he met Lodeki who taught him acting, directing, producing and all that appertains to the stage.
Eric found Aliwa. Eric moved out from home. Eric’s dad wanted him to become a lawyer. Eric refused to go to University. He prioritized talent over lawyering. He put together a group and called it Kinship Theater and Arts. They went on putting together skits for the church, and since whatever you put in you pull out, the church gave him rehearsal space.
When he called out for his first auditions in 2016, he was spoilt for choice. There were so many people who came it, and he only needed a dozen people. The church hall was great, but not so much. There were echoes. “It was not designed as a theatre hall so there were a number of challenges,” he adds. “The theatre group was demanding, we had no money. It was hard.”
He attended script writing seminars, did short contracts and gained some experience.
Eric’s big break came from the set of Beba Beba [Kenyans remember this. Apologies to my diaspora peeps. Beba means carry. Beba Beba was a local TV drama series that aired a few years back] He was hired as an extra. Some guy to walk past a matatu. Some dude to fill the matatu. [The show was matatu based. It revolved around passengers in said matatu. Oh, and matatu is a van, I think, or small bus. But I digress]
As the extra, he formed relationships with the crew and cast. He got more episodes to pass in vicinity in till he wrote a script that impressed them. He wrote more Beba Beba scripts. “That was also how I found myself writing for Real Househelps of Kawangware (RHOK). I started off as an actor, then went off to directing and now, Eric Mdagaya is the Casting Director at RHOK.
For the fourth year now, Kinship has been doing monthly theatre plays at Kenya National Theatre. They have been derailed with COVID, like everyone else, but that is what they do.
“Theatre has not been easy. I remember we would hit shows that would have a total audience of 14 people. It gets you in trouble. You have paid for the hall, there is no more money to pay the actors. And yeah, some of them understand the situation, but some don’t. You acquire debts to pay people because from Friday to Sunday you have received an audience of 14. But you have to do it. You get on that stage and hold on.” Their slogan has become ’14 is not just a number’.
He sees growth. He has built a fan base. Marketing the shows is easier now. He knows people. The challenges are not as huge as they were when he was starting out.
“You build a brand, like mine is ‘Super Director’. You have a name out there, but nothing in your pockets. It is a very depressing industry. You get to a point where nothing you do works. Nothing makes sense. But this is the life you have chosen. No one is forced into acting, you choose it. I chose it. All I can say is I believe in this and nothing can hold me back. I already decided that this is what I am doing, and this is what I am going to do for life.”
He realized he likes teaching. Imparting the knowledge of his craft to others. He teaches performing arts and theatre production, from his talent. He has not studied any of it in school. He is qualified from that Class Five classroom when his stomach bubbled. His life is on stage. It has entwined itself in him that he cannot say where the stage begins and he ends.
I forgot to ask about the mzungu deal.
Well kids, I finally finished this story just in time for January’s second post. I’d say I’m doing well, wouldn’t you?
It’s my birthday on Sunday, my stomach bubbles. I’m so old, lol.