The sunlight that cracked through a blanket of dry grey clouds, made the garden restaurant feel warmer than it really was. Dry fallen leaves scattered freely around the chic green garden and I spotted a table just a second before seeing Nini Wacera. She spoke with alacrity to a group of patrons on the next table. My first assumption was that they were long lost buddies but I soon realized they were mafans. She spotted me and immediately shouted a greeting as she walked over…I might be the one who shouted the greeting, can’t remember since I also have this habit.
I noticed she was reading, The In-Between World of Vikram Lall. I absorbed the synopsis hastily and made a mental note to get it as I am a hunter-gatherer reader who depends on recommendations. The page she was at was marked by a large, dry deltoid leaf. Why had I never thought of doing that? I observed keenly as she explained how she finds the leaves. Actually it was very simple- She finds a dry leaf from wherever she visits and replaces it with the previous one. It was the combined intensity and simplicity of how she explained her view point that I found fascinating. Her soft skin and beauteous face did little to cover her tough but gentle demeanor. Still, I wondered, why? Why had I never thought of using a dry leaf as a bookmark? I was soon to find out that there are many things that this former capital FM radio presenter thought of and did differently from the rest of us.
We looked through the menu hoping to find delicious vegetarian dishes. By now half an hour had passed with us completing each other’s thoughts and philosophies and basking in her epiphanies. This is when I knew the interview was never going to end. Every sentence we had started gave birth to baby sentences each with its brothers and sisters. So quickly we settled on Indian vegetable curry, sending the waiter with a strong message that the food better come out as good as he had described it. As she gave back the menu we quickly took it from where we were which was actually nowhere and everywhere, (please tell me you know what I mean).
“Those extra-ordinary people like, Jesus and Buddha, chose to view their world from within them and in the process defy the realities of the societies at that time. The society saw them as different or even troublesome, but they simply chose not to join the robotic thinking of the society and therefore in turn changed the whole society’s perception,” She emphasized as she continued to explain how she viewed life. Her cunning and optimistic nature saturated our space and I easily understood why she had a constant bout of Midas touch in her acting career. She had co-starred in Dangerous Affair, a local film that was arguably the most popular in recent history until, Nairobi Half Life, – which she also featured in. Her name was probably propelled to the Kenyan masses through her antagonist charismatic role in, Wingu La Moto as Susan. She featured in many more popular shows including Changes, Kona, Desperate Housewives Africa and Sense 8 but I do not intend to list down her CV for you. Check her Wikipedia…hehehe.
Back to the “Interview”. I became curious to know the epoch of her artistic journey.
“Why acting ?” I asked her.
She remained thoughtful for a moment as the sparkling hazel eyes behind her glasses riveted on mine.
“It’s the feeling. I love the feeling it gives me. It is like discovering a really good dish. Will you not order it again next time because it was too good the last time?” She explained as I warmed up to her story.
Nini Wacera had taken interest in theatre performances in school where she would represent, Kahuhia Girls, at the National Drama Festivals with solo verses or stage performances in which she landed on male roles. After school she joined the USIU. This was during the Safari Cats and Five Alive phenomenon. She wanted to join Safari Cats but her father would not let her. This is when she and her friend Lorna decided to form a dance group, and called it Karisma. They had their share of fun as they were hired to dance in major events and for several famous artists including FIVE ALIVE!
In the midst of it she found herself juggling dance and theatre at the Phoenix Players…and of course college…yes of course, college. One day she came to the Phoenix and found a long queue of beautiful female models. She found out that they were auditioning for a major role in an upcoming film. Nini, got excited as her secret desire had always been to act for screen. She was however nervous because she was not dressed for the role and felt intimidated by the beautiful elegant models on the queue. She had to go in last as she had not been invited. She entered the room to find a tired and frustrated looking panel of producers including Njeri Karago. They explained the part to her and she soon got into the character and enjoyed the audition. That is how she landed on the role of Kui in Dangerous Affairs.
Her acting career was definitely been a fulfilling one and continued to be. She pointed out that part of the reason why her generation produced strong actors was because theatre directors of the time were committed to training actors as opposed to simply putting up a play. She acknowledged James Falkland’s influence in her career. This was a super opportunity to talk about what I actually really wanted from her. Earlier we had talked about the need to train our actors. I had done three workshops and thought of her in the fourth one. To my pleasant surprise, this had been Nini’s burden and desire as well.
In the recent five years, she has embraced a career as a casting director for tv, films, and TV commercials, Nini Wacera has found herself stuck in an all too familiar territory: Dealing with untrained actors. She explained her frustration of how she has had to audition the same actors year after year and every year only one or two of them come back improved. Most of them remained flat if not worse. It was clear to both Nini and I that our country had very talented actors. But talent was not necessarily translated to skill and therefore the delivery was wanting. If we did not train our pool of actors, then we had no case to put across whenever international films shot a Kenyan story and cast American or British actors to play Kenyan parts.
The meeting ended with a decision to hold monthly workshops to train actors. For the first workshop with her, we agreed to give an introduction class, foundation course and a Master Class.
Two weeks later the workshops happened and the results were astonishing. I discovered that Nini Wacera was an adept at the Meisner technique and very passionate about being truthful to the moment. Meisner technique is a style developed by American theatre practitioner, Sanford Meisner that mainly promotes the actor’s impulsive response to what is happening around him or to an imaginary object.
Watching the actors ‘become’, day by day was a tearful experience. Nini balanced technique with teacher’s intuition to a point where the students were compelled to dive deeper into their personal lives and tackle obstacles that prevented their impulses and imagination.
The intensity and physical demand of the sessions got hold of me on the last day. I turned to see if Nini felt the same. If she did, it was hard to tell. Her spirit was bubbly as ever. She embraced tightly with the actors who had now become family. She received more testimonials as she added more life lessons. Nduta Sialo, the incoming Secretary of the Kenya Actors Guild gave a vote of thanks that made me feel rejuvenated.
“This is exactly what we need!” She told Nini then turned to the rest of the class.
“I am impressed with the high level of the training and the final outcome of the course which has ensured our total development, not only as actors, but as confident and beneficial members of the society. We hope to promote your courses as KAG across the country so that our members in other parts of Kenya can also acquire the important skills of acting on screen…”
As Nduta spoke to the actors, I looked at Nini and asked her of only one factor that would make her want to do this (training) again.
“There is no actor playing truthfully…acting is not pretending.” She said.
Here is the information about the next workshops:
FOUNDATION IN ACTING COURSE
3 day workshop running for 3 consecutive weeks @ ksh 9,500.
Tuesday 1st, 8th & 15th Nov 2016
Thursday: 3rd, 10th & 17th Nov 2016
MASTER CLASS IN IMPROVISATION TECHNIQUES
1 day workshop @ ksh 4,500
18th Nov 2016
Above workshops will be held in Nairobi. Venue to be provided after booking.
Mobile : 0797 730 083