Updated: Oct 4, 2019
Just ahead of their next sold out show, we unwind with enigmatic spokesperson, Gathoni Kimuyu
By Mariga Thoithi
Too Early for Birds is a series of theatre plays, which brings untold Kenyan history to life. Founded in 2017, it’s staged four editions so far and is headed for its fifth one on the 5th and 6th of October. This edition will be based on the life and death of Tom Mboya, arguably one of Kenya’s most prolific and revolutionary politicians who was gunned down in 1969. TEFB has received three Sanaa Awards including Best Screenplay, Best Play in English and Maya Angelou Award (Best Production on Women's Rights and Gender Based Violence).
Name: Gathoni Kimuyu
Role: Executive Producer(TEFB)
Who are minds behind Too Early for Birds and what inspired it?
Ngartia and Abu Sense are the great minds behind it. They quit their 9-to-5s working for one of the biggest advertising agencies in Kenya and started TEFB. TEFB was initially created to be an on screen show in December 2016. When they were going round to TV stations, everyone kept on telling us how it was an amazing concept but there was always a “but.” Feedback revolved around the Kenyan audience not being ready for it or the stations not having the budget for it. They decided to make it into a show because they weren’t going to wait forever for people to notice them. They had never done a show before but decided that they would figure it out and the first show happened in May, 2017 and it sold out!
What has been the most challenging edition of TEFB, and why was it challenging?
That would certainly be the Nanyuki Edition of Too Early for Birds!
Based on online feedback from online fans who challenged us to take it out of town, we decided to take the challenge and take it to Nanyuki. For the first time in our history, we weren’t able to sell out the hall and it was a small hall with a capacity of 150. We had become a bit comfortable based on our previous successes and didn’t think through the difference in audience and marketing. The experience definitely taught us very valuable lessons!
What’s been the biggest success story(ies) thus far that have inspired you to keep on going?
Many of the cast members have gotten great opportunities locally and internationally after our shows. TEFB has opened doors for people! We had two members who were part of a Broadway show “Tinga Tinga Tales” after our production and we’ve had many more picked for different shows based on their roles. It’s a beautiful thing to see people get bigger and better gigs and to see them grow!
Given an unlimited amount of money from a benevolent billionaire somewhere, what would TEFB become?
TEFB would be the only history lesson you would need in your life! We would be able to stage shows all through the year. We would be able to do educational shows in schools. We would be able to publish comic books for kids and for girls.
We have so much content but we have to fit the content within 2 hours. With one of our shows, our writers and researchers had come up with content for 10 hours but we had to cut it down to 2 hours. Money would enable us to do series with multiple casts.
We would also build our own theatre. The one thing that Kenya doesn’t have is well built theatres. I wish the people building malls everywhere would just stop for a minute and build us a theatre that can seat 1,000 people.
I would love to pay everyone in our team their worth. We do pay the team but it’s nothing near equal to the work that’s put in. We feel like we have a long way to go before we get to the point where we pay people market rates for the endless hours that they put in.
We’re glad to have partnered with Kenya National Theatre (KNT) for the past two years but our audience had grown .KNT has space for 354 people but we’re moving to Visa Oshwal because their theatre has a capacity of 600. We’re planning to sell that out, too!
What role do you feel that TEFB is playing in the larger theme of artivism and an African cultural and historical renaissance?
Our history has been whitewashed in so many ways. We were taught, for example, that Jomo Kenyatta was part of the Mau Mau Freedom Fighters and that he supported them. We were taught that women weren’t part of resistance movements. A lot of people think that only Mau Mau fought for independence but that isn’t true because there were efforts all over the country. This lopsided history for example, has been the basis for Kikuyu Supremacy and entitlement to the presidency because they feel that they are the ones who freed Kenya.
We are reclaiming our stories and highlighting them as factually as possible, one edition at a time.
What collaborations are looking forward to making in the near future?
We’re looking to make collaborations with brands who understand where we come from, where we stand and our principles. We wish more brands would come into partnerships from a brand merging perspective, as opposed to a take-over.
We’ve already kicked off research for our February show and we plan to do collaborations with a lot of artists so keep on the lookout for it.
We’ve gotten a grant from HEVA Fund which we’re really grateful for because money is always the biggest worry and so that’s our biggest partnership right now and we hope to have more partnerships as we grow.
Does TEFB have any surprises this time round?
Yes it does. Tom Mboya will be played by Tom Mboya.
Wait, I thought Tom Mboya is...you know, dead?
He is but Tom Mboya will be played by Tom Mboya. Come to TEFB to see it for yourself :)