On Tuesday, June 6, 2017 Peter Kagayi and his friends staged a performance they titled The Audience Must Say Amen. This is Raymond Lule’s impression of the experience.
I have been present at all of Peter Kagayi’s poetry production The Audience Must Say Amen, from the very first time, at the launch of his debut poetry collection at the National theatre, to the most recent one, at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala. If there’s any I missed, then, I just wasn’t invited. I won’t claim to have been taking keen observation of the changes, if any, in the production since then, but I can identify some of them.
The first time The Audience Must Say Amen was staged at the National theatre, it could easily be called a one-man show. And, that’s exactly what it was. Before this memorable event in the history of poetry in this country, other poets had dared themselves to recite or perform their poems for a period of utmost two hours, and avail a published collection of their work, for those who managed. This happened at the National theatre still, under a poetry platform called The Poetry Shrine. The platform, which got its name “Shrine” because of the hut in which the shows were held, was being managed by Peter Kagayi himself, and a small circle of like-minded friends.
When Kagayi stepped on stage that day of his book launch, he was taking a shot at something he had helped other fellow poets accomplish. This was supposed to be tough, because he had made a name for himself in our small, but growing poetry community as a remarkable performer. But, that was “Kagayi and friends”. He had to do more, to reach for the sun and still stay alive, to go for the peak of poetry performance – the one-man show.
For most of the previous performances, Kagayi did the reciting and the performing, the dramatization of his work. The people who helped him were selected for simple “supporting” roles like dancing behind a projector-screen as the performance for the poem Nightmares, or reading news for the poem The Headline That Morning.
For his most recent show, at the Goethe Zentrum Kampala, however, it felt, sounded, and looked like a completely new piece of work. Despite what has always happened at his – Peter Kagayi’s – previous shows, like the “mandatory” utterance of the word Amen by the audience, what was happening on stage was a reproduction of what most of us had experienced before.
The people Kagayi was performing with mere not mere props but well-built characters with individual powerful stories to tell, and with the ability to have just as much effect on the audience as the main act himself.
The production took a form of a play. Most of the scenes were conversational enough to keep all the characters alive throughout the entire show, and to not bore the audience with the usual uninterrupted recital of poetry.
I believe what set this particular show apart is that us, the audience, could tell that all the performers were enjoying themselves, and not just maintaining a certain posture or movement so they don’t forget the next line they are supposed to say.
I remember the conversation I had with Alexander Twinokwesiga as we took the same taxi from Kamwokya to the old taxi park. It was about maturity: of the artist, mostly, and then, of course, of the performance of his work. We also shared a couple of bitter words for people not recording videos of such shows for the purposes of better documentation, and archiving for future reference.
In fact, on telling anyone who did not attend, about how the show was, we both agreed that pictorial evidence would not be enough to tell the story as it was. Here we were, two poetry lovers, going back to our homes with all the courage to say, even if nobody asks, that the poetry in our own country has grown. We were proud. We were satisfied. We said Amen with all our hearts.