Sundance Institute Theatre Program Deepens Cultural Exchange with Leading East African Artists

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New York, NY — Sundance Institute today announced four projects and a total of 13 artists selected for its second Sundance Institute Theatre Lab in East Africa, taking place July 17-31, 2011 on the island of Manda off the coast of Kenya. Under the supervision of Philip Himberg, Producing Artistic Director of the Sundance Institute Theatre Program, and Roberta Levitow, Artistic Associate, the Lab will provide artists with guidance in their creative development toward final production. Sundance Institute Theatre Lab on Manda is made possible through the generosity of Wayne McGregor CBE who has provided his Manda studio, Akili, as rehearsal and convening space for the artists. In addition to the upcoming Lab on Manda, and as part of year-round exchange and support, theatre artists from the 2010 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab on Manda will take part in a week of theatrical immersion in New York City, April 18-25.


Modeled on the annual Sundance Institute Theatre Labs, Sundance Institute East Africa is an exchange and development program, with fellows and advisors sharing training and mentorship. Deborah Asiimwe, Specialist for East Africa, administers the East Africa Initiative under a grant from the New Generations Program, funded by Doris Duke Charitable Foundation/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and administered by Theatre Communications Group.


  • Desperate to Fight (Ethiopia) by Meaza Worku Berehanu
  • He is Here He Says I Say (Uganda) by Margaret Namulyanga
  • Mo Faya (Kenya) by Eric Wainaina
  • Safari Ya Mwandale/Mwandale’s Journey (Tanzania) by Irene Sanga

In addition to the fellows, participating artists from the region include: Andnet Dagnew (Ethiopia), Philip Luswata (Uganda), Mumbi Kaigwa (Kenya), Schollarstickar Luwi (Tanzania), Pili Malundila (Tanzania) and Angel Uwamahoro (Rwanda). The creative advisors for the 2011 Theatre Lab on Manda are: Hope Azeda (Rwanda), Lynn Nottage (USA), Stew (USA), Indhu Rubasingham (England) and Liesl Tommy (USA). Additionally, the Theatre Program gratefully acknowledges the support of Cristina & Thomas Bechler.


The Sundance Institute’s Theatre Program is the only program based in New York of the 30 -year-old nonprofit organization. Since moving to the city in 2009, the Theatre Program has cultivated a community of theatre artists in the city through programs, including a new play Lab held on Governor’s Island in 2010. In the spirit of cultural exchange and theatre immersion, Sundance Institute, in collaboration with 651 ARTS in Brooklyn, will also host theatre artists in New York from the 2010 Theatre Lab on Manda this week in what is called ETI! VOICES FROM EAST AFRICA. In addition to a private program of professional development and exchange, Sundance Institute will hold the following public programs featuring artists from Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda:


  • A free, Meet-the-Artist event and cocktail reception on April 19 at the opening of A View from Manda, a photography exhibit at The Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC of the 2010 Theatre Lab on Manda (RSVP at 
  • A free, work-in-progress presentation of East African performance will also be held at Mark Morris Dance Centre in Brooklyn, produced in partnership with 651 ARTS.

For more information about these events, please go to

“At Sundance Institute we are striving to discover and develop today’s most exciting new storytellers, and today it is vital for us to include global viewpoints,” said Keri Putnam, Executive Director, Sundance Institute. “Our East Africa Lab and exchange provide artists– both here and in Africa– a unique chance to share ideas and experiences as they develop their new work.”

”Last year’s charter Theatre Lab on Manda was a revelation for all participants, including our American creative advisors. As a result of that residency, we hosted our first Tanzanian, Kiswahili-language play at our 2011 Theatre Lab at The Banff Centre in March and April. Four other alumni from the Lab on Manda join us in New York April 18 through April 25 for a week of theatrical immersion,” said Philip Himberg. “We are committed to ongoing exchange with leading artists from this region, as a way to deepen our awareness of and appreciation for the unique contributions of East African theatre artists to world culture.”


Three out of four of this year’s plays are written by women, and they speak of the struggle for African women to find their role and identity within family relationships and on the larger public stage. 

Desperate to Fight  by Meaza Worku Berehanu (Ethiopia)
Marta has been divorced three times, and now she’s not sure if she wants to give marriage a fourth try. Tormented by a the sounds of a newly and seemingly happily-wedded couple living next door, she wrestles with her past and the memories of her former husbands. How can Marta reconcile her principles and justify those extreme feelings of love and fury that come with marriage? Desperate to Fight is a sophisticated, witty and paradoxical story about relationships, love and marriage from the heart of the gender-struggles in contemporary Addis Ababa.

He is Here He Says I Say by Margaret Namulyanga (Uganda)
Ruth is a young woman who throughout her life has listened to the advice of others to guide her in her role as a woman. After all, in different Ugandan cultures, there are norms that clearly state what a good woman should be like! Marriage, pleasing men and being subservient to men top the list. In this poetic meditation, Ruth decides to do what is not expected of a woman. She counters the orders of others with a candid personal voice and her belief that the time is right for women to stop following societal norms blindly. He is Here He Says I Say asks us to answer honestly: what is “a good woman”?

Mo Faya by Eric Wainaina (Kenya)
DJ Lwanda’s voice rings out daily on local radio, leading and inspiring the Nairobi community of Kwa Maji. But Anna Mali, an avaricious real estate diva, craves the land beneath their slum. She seduces the fiery young DJ away with a job at a top nationwide station, and organizes a violent campaign to terrorize the people of Kwa Maji. When the government and media turn a blind eye to the decapitated bodies in the streets, DJ Lwanda must return home to expose the truth. But at what cost? Well-known Kenyan musician Eric Wainaina is composer, lyricist and book writer of this dynamic work of musical theatre.

Safari Ya Mwandale/Mwandale’s Journey by Irene Sanga (Tanzania)
This project takes you on the journey of a young Tanzanian girl to become who she believes she can be. Having been denied many privileges and opportunities because of her gender, Mwandale, now a woman, recounts the story of the sacrifices she made and her crucial struggle with her father to transform limitations into challenges. In Kiswahili using a combination of narration and music, the Sanga looks at the effects of a patriarchal society that keeps the African continent “a continent of beggars” in spite of its enormous resources – particularly women. Mwandale speaks on behalf of the independence of all African women and their potential role in social transformation.

Wayne McGregor CBE/Akili
Akili is the private home and studio of British choreographer and director Wayne McGregor CBE. Created in 2006, Akili has played host to over 60 international artists from a diverse range of artistic disciplines in small scale residencies and retreats. Akili affords artists the time, space and inspiring location to stand back from their usual practice and simply ‘breathe’ re-energizing their personal creativity. Wayne McGregor is a multi award-winning artist, renowned for his physically testing choreography and ground breaking collaborations across dance, film, music, visual art, technology and science. He is the Resident Choreographer of The Royal Ballet, Covent Garden and Artistic Director or Wayne McGregor | Random Dance, a resident company of Sadlers Wells Theatre, London.

It is the mission of 651 ARTS to deepen awareness of and appreciation for contemporary performing arts and culture of the African Diaspora and to provide professional and creative opportunities for performing artists of African descent.

651 ARTS is proud to partner with the Sundance Institute on Eti: Voices from East Africa through our Africa Exchange program. Africa Exchange, established in 1992, supports US artists traveling to Africa and African artists traveling to the US to engage with their counterparts in residency programs, workshops, educational activities and performance. Africa Exchange encourages artists to explore each other’s ideas and inspirations, and facilitates the creation of new, collaborative work between artists from the two continents. More than 300 artists from twenty-two African nations and the United States have participated in Africa Exchange. For the past five years, 651 ARTS has focused Africa Exchange on the region of East Africa. By concentrating most of its resources on engagement with this region, 651 ARTS has hoped to provide more channels for communication and creative dialogue between the artists and audiences in the US and Rwanda, Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya- countries that have had, until recently, limited artistic engagement with one another.

Sundance Institute Theatre Program
The Sundance Institute Theatre Program is a program of the Sundance Institute. Through its developmental activities at the Sundance Institute Playwright’s Retreat at Ucross, the Sundance Institute Theatre Lab at White Oak, Sundance Institute East Africa, and two new pilot theatre programs at Mass MoCA and Governors Island, the Program identifies and assists emerging theatre artists, contributes to the creative growth of established artists, and encourages and supports the development of new work for the stage. Under the guidance of Producing Artistic Director Philip Himberg, more than 85% of the work coming out of the Program’s labs has found professional production at theatres across the United States, Mexico and Europe. Recent productions of Sundance Institute-developed work include: Passing Strange by Stew and Heidi Rodewald, which won the 2008 Tony Award for Best Book of a Musical, Circle Mirror Transformation by Annie Baker and The Lily’s Revenge by Taylor Mac.

Sundance Institute East Africa is a program to support the work of theatre artists in East Africa, as well as to create exchange and exposure opportunities between U.S. artists and East African writers, directors, and performers. In the spirit of this exchange, Sundance Institute East Africa engages with East African artists in Africa as well as East African artists sharing their work with artists in the U.S.

Sundance Institute
Founded by Robert Redford in 1981, Sundance Institute is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to the discovery and development of independent artists and audiences. Through its artistic development programs for directors, screenwriters, producers, composers and playwrights, the Institute seeks to discover, support, and inspire independent film and theatre artists from the United States and around the world, and to introduce audiences to their new work. The Institute promotes independent storytelling to inform, inspire, and unite diverse populations around the globe. Internationally recognized for its annual Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Institute has nurtured such projects as Born into Brothels, Trouble the Water, Son of Babylon, Amreeka, An Inconvenient Truth, Spring Awakening, Light in the Piazza and Angels in

Sundance Institute Theatre Program Public Events – New York

The View from Manda
A Sundance Institute East Africa Photography Exhibit
In Partnership with The Greene Space at WNYC
Tuesday, April 19
The Jerome L. Greene Space at WNYC
44 Charlton St @ Varick St
7:00 p.m. Cocktail Reception and Meet the Artist
Join us for the opening of The View from Manda, an exhibit of photographs from the 2010 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab on Manda taken by Philippa Ndisi-Hermann. Ugandan playwright Lucy Judith Adong will also discuss and perform a portion of her Sundance Institute-supported project Silent Voices, a piece that mirrors the views and emotions of the real victims of the Northern Uganda war. The project explores how victims have been ignored in the constant calls to “forgive” and “reconcile” at the expense of justice. Through the protagonist (Mother – a symbolic representation of life and death), Silent Voices examines what good citizens can be driven into by unhealthy policies. Conversation will be moderated by Eisa Davis with music provided by Rwandan musicians Samuel Kamanzi and Moise Mutangana. Visit our online Photo Gallery to get a first glimpse of the exhibit.

Work-in-Progress Presentation of Work from Tanzania, Kenya and Rwanda

In Partnership with 651 Arts
Thursday, April 21
James and Martha Duffy Performance Space, Mark Morris Dance Center
3 Lafayette Ave – Brooklyn, NY
7:00 p.m.
FREE – RSVP by calling 718-636-4181 x2229
This Work-in-Progress presentation will highlight the project Africa Kills Her Sun (Tanzania/Kenya) and artists from Rwanda. Ken Saro-Wiwa (1941-1995) was hanged by the Nigerian dictatorship for his activism on behalf of his Nigerian Ogoni people. The original text is a condemned man’s last letter to his loved one. Mrisho Mpoto and his creative team are adapting this text and using his poetic style in Kiswahili to combine it with slam poetry and storytelling to talk about corruption and abuse of power in contemporary Africa. Partnering with UK-based director, Rubasingham, the team is developing Sundance Institute’s first all-Kiswahili theatre project. Africa Kills Her Sun was previously workshopped at the 2010 Sundance Institute Theatre Lab on Manda Island in Kenya as part of the Theatre Program’s charter lab for East African artists.

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Media Contact:
Kristina Parker

Program Contact:
Deborah Asiimwe

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