In May , singer Sheebah Karungi claimed she sexually assaulted by a man whose identity became a subject of interest.
Karungi expressed her displeasure at how the said man seemingly used his position of influence to take advantage of the situation. Since art imitates life, playwright and theatre academic, Phillip Luswata has given the incident and the issues therein a fresh perspective through a stage presentation at Uganda National Cultural Centre (UNCC) starting this Friday.
ContextAptly titled Shame on Your Hand, it seeks to tackle the objectification of women and shaming those who occasionally or continuously sexually harass them.
“The toughest action a woman, with a stature such as Sheebah, could take was to present it honestly to the court of popular opinion, and no further. Imagine how many ‘hands’ are doing similar and worse things to so many less powerful girls and women and getting away with it? Shame on those hands – I believe,” Luswata says.
An experienced theatre/arts development and interactive communications professional, Luswata says by design and content, the play will appeal to an adult audience. The playwright has purposely reached out to young adults in schools perhaps to serve them a dose about the realities of the world so that they are better prepared.
Overall, the catch is that the play has a strong crossover potential for adolescent girls who will recognize themselves in the challenges, upheavals and triumphs of the mostly youthful characters and actors.
Even then, it specifically shouts out to men, who raise and court women, and the women who keep experiencing bad touches and sexual advances from male colleagues, sometimes forceful.
The play has a rich musical package that’s been composed by Dr. Branco Lawrence Ssekalega. He is lecturer at the school of performing arts of Makerere University where Luswata is also a teacher of drama and film.
Making of shame
It is within the open compound of the performing arts department that the Shame on Your Hand started taking shape. There, Luswata and Ssekalega have led the cast into gruesome rehearsals that have seen some of the actors drop out.
The play is a journey of honest soul searching for the young ladies involved in its development with notably deep, intimate, mentally affecting conversations that the team have gone through, based on the experiences.
Luswata explains; “At times we have had to stop rehearsal when material has got too emotional, and we have ended up with tears. Like the title says, some of what we have to say is painful to say and hear, yet it needs to be said. These experiences give me a very positive vibe as a producer that the play is striking the right chords.”
Directors Luswata, Ssekalega and Sharon Atuhaire have, thus far, invested themselves into a total and honest theatrical experience and are ready to present a youthful and energetic cast of women in a mix of dramatic expression, music, and dance – ingredients that have been away for some time from local theatre.
The biggest pull, however, should be the collaboration with music scholar, composer, and conductor, Sekalegga.
“We will get to experience the result of collaborative art. I am also particularly proud of my partnership with youthful Sharon Atuhaire as co-director of the show. She guarantees delivery of the feminine perspective of the story we present,” Luswata adds.
Whereas the interest to watch the play has attracted is not something measurable, the support is visible. For instance, on Mondays when the cast has held rehearsals at National Theatre, patrons have eagerly stopped in their steps and gone into the auditorium to satisfy their curiosity after listening to beautiful musical sounds of the actresses as they pieced through the air and into the theatre walkways.
The anticipation and excitement naturally bring a smile of satisfaction to the playwright who is preparing a musical theatre production in a post Covid-19 period.
Back to basics
The other delight is that the stage piece also comes in an era where producers have chosen to shy away from musicals. Luswata is happy to retrace theatre roots and excitedly so, to have taken the rare plunge into an area that was popular in the 1970s, ‘80s and 90s.
There is requisite excitement but with the time Luswata has been in theatre, he is wise enough not to commit to any measurement. He is a keen believer in the opinion that theatre is made by those so disturbed that they have no words to self-express but to demonstrate in whichever other way is available to them.
For some time in the past, theatre in Uganda served this very necessary ingredient of ‘disturbance’. The actor and director observes, “More recently, unfortunately, the theatre has become simply exhibitionist at best and largely lacking in substance and motivation. Many chose to cease to participate in it, but this hasn’t taken away the disturbance in our heads.”
His main motivation is to get back into the practice of shedding his disturbances and probably, in the process, motivate others to return. That should bring competitive theatre back into the hands of those who should hold it.
Luswata is founder and director of the Theatre Factory. He has written for television, radio and stage as well as appeared in productions such as The Campus, Center 4 and Makutano Junction, Kigenya-Agenya, Child of a Delegate, Akabando K’iminsi, Mpeke Town.
Shame on you Hand was earlier scheduled to premiere to an audience in Gulu on August 12, 2022. Luswata says as keen believers in the sanctity of the National Theatre, their plan of premiering the play in Gulu was a way of seeking community endorsement before staging at the National Theatre.
As part of the producers’ Corporate Social Responsibility, the play will be made available to High School students and students of theatre and performing art at a discounted rate.
Other shows are on Saturday and Sunday for Shs30,000.