KAMPALA, UGANDA – In the middle of a small street flanked by fragrant jacaranda trees blooming with purple flowers, a group of actors jostles for space with passersby and a succession of big, white government vehicles outside the Uganda Museum.
This is not a demonstration. Rather, it's a street theater rehearsal in full force in Kampala, the capital of Uganda.
Clad in bright yellow clothes, yellow heavy-duty gloves and yellow socks, some actors take a break after a week of training in the use of props, effective body language, mime, song and dance. Two men chat on a wooden bench under a pomegranate bush.
“Only a few hours left ’til the first show,” says Okuyu Prince Joel, a model and actor, while twiddling a twig.
Joel says the show is unique because there are also actresses participating in it, which is unprecedented in street theater here. He points to two women standing near the door of the main hall.
“They are really cool,” he says. “We’ve been working together for a week now.”
Women’s participation in street theater was unheard of in Uganda until the Bayimba Cultural Foundation sent out calls for the workshop. The two women standing in the doorway, Moreen Duudu Hazel and Rehema Nanfuka, showed up to attend. As the only women on a team of eight men, they didn’t realize that they had become pioneers in a challenging art form.
Because many say that art doesn’t offer financial security in life, minors have to seek permission from their parents and guardians to study art courses or do it on their own.
“I had to sponsor myself through school,” Hazel says. “People thought that I was crazy to want a career in art. Therefore, it was up to me to have faith in myself.”
Hazel breathes deeply and says that life as a performing artist is challenging.
“It has been tough, besides the street theater itself,” she says.
She had to suspend her work as a full-time jeweler before going on tour with the street theater group because her shop was broken into during the last week of rehearsals.
She says her family also doesn’t understand her passion for acting. After presenting her family a video clip of her street performances, she says they thought she was crazy.
“They were happy for me, but they didn’t understand why I was doing street theater,” she says.
For women in the performing arts, it’s common to face sexual harassment and assault. When the performance takes place on the street, the support and protection that a stage or a set would offer is nil.
Hazel and Nanfuka say the disconcerting specter of sexual harassment is always present on the streets of Kampala as well as in other towns where they have performed, such as Gulu, Arua and Jinja.
“Guys were pulling my hand, saying, ‘I want this one, and I want that one,’” Hazel says.
The actresses say that, fortunately, the other actors in their