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Thursday,October 22,2020 17:38 PM

Ndagire finally takes centre stage

By Vision Reporter

Added 4th March 2007 03:00 AM

It has taken 16 years and 37 plays, but Mariam Ndagire has finally been recognised for her contribution to theatre.

It has taken 16 years and 37 plays, but Mariam Ndagire has finally been recognised for her contribution to theatre.

By Emmanuel Ssejjengo

It has taken 16 years and 37 plays, but Mariam Ndagire has finally been recognised for her contribution to theatre.

The Golden Drama Foundation and Pilsner Lager recognised her as the most prolific female multimedia playwright during the celebrations to mark 50 years of drama in Uganda.

Comparing anyone to Shakespeare is often considered as putting the art to disrepute. But in terms of achievements, you cannot avoid the temptation of regarding her as Uganda’s Shakespeare. Just like Shakespeare, she has written 37 plays. And she is aiming higher.

Ndagire will start shooting her first film, Down This Road I walk, in May.

Besides writing plays, Ndagire is a singer and a lead actress in Afri-talent, a drama group she co-founded with Abby Mukiibi and John Segawa. Ndagire is also an administrative and artistic director.

On the populist theatre circuit, she is the only woman who has dominated playwrighting in Uganda. She was only joined by Jean Nakacwa last year. Another female playwright, Mercy Mirembe, has not written for the populist stage.

What started as a passion during her Kampala High School days is now a profession. Like many in her field, she has developed through the years, starting with minor roles.

The first time she showed signs of a star was when she translated her uncle, Ebony Waiswa’s play from English to Luganda. “I played a gossip in the play and I was overwhelmed by the audience’s reaction,” Ndagire remembers. So, when Omugave Ndugwa later asked her to join his group, Black Pearls, in the 1990s, she gladly took up the offer.

“My mother was against it. She at one point sent my auntie to pick me up from the stage at the National Theatre,” Ndagire says. She was only saved by Steven Ondur, the then director of the National Theatre.

Her mum then sent her to Trinity College, Nabbingo, where she would be far away from the tempting theatre in Kampala. In Senior Five, Ndagire was not to give up however. She directed her fellow students in Wycliff Kiyingi’s Lozio Bba Cecilia. She studied Luganda alongside Mathematics, Economics and Geography in order to keep in touch with her passion. It was then that her mother gave up on her and let her be.

Ndagire’s first training in theatre was with the Black Pearls. With a director like Ndugwa, she learnt the hard way. “It was only him who wrote the group’s plays and was strict on us following the lines to the dot,” she says.

Because she would not exercise her creativity, this forced her link up with Ashraf Ssemwogerere, an actor, and the two came up with Engabbo Y’addako (1991). “The older members of the group did not want to be part of it even after Ndugwa had given us a go ahead to produce it,” she says. But that did not stop her from pursuing her goals. A year later came Omuyaga mu makoola. After those two “juvenile” attempts, she even had the audacity to make changes to her boss’ scripts, something that was considered abominable. That was the last nail in the coffin and she had to leave the group in 1993.

This however, gave her time to join Makerere University for a diploma in Music Dance and Drama and later attend Nakawa Business School (currently Makerere University Business School) for a diploma in marketing. But instead of putting all her energy back into theatre, she was to put her marketing skills to test. She took up a job in GM TUMPECO. Her attempt to continue writing and working did not pay off and she resigned a year later. During this period, she wrote Ensitaano, which is one of her most ambitious, yet well-acclaimed pieces. It was the first piece she wrote alone.

Around this time is when she co-founded the Afri-talent. Because of her free spirit, she stopped scripting her plays. Being a firm believer in teamwork, she let her members improvise as much as possible.

Ssemwogerere, now a playwright with The Diamonds Ensemble, admits that his most successful years were when he collaborated with Ndagire. The two have put together 12 plays. Working in a male-dominated area has forced her be at her best.

The late Prof. Rose Mbowa of the Department of Music Dance and Drama at Makerere University, once referred to Ndagire as one of the best costume designers she knew. It is disappointing to note that she is no longer a costume designer. Her reason? “It is so expensive to design costumes for a whole cast.”

Ndagire, 32, has a child with fiancée Segawa. She has 10 music albums, tours the US annually and is the founder of the Mariam Ndagire Foundation that caters for disadvantaged children.

She lives an extravagant lifestyle. She can spend up to sh2m on a pair of shoes. She also spends a fortune on jewellery.

Her life is tied to Bat Valley Theatre, the home of Afri-talent. She spends most of her time there.

Before she received the Golden Drama Foundation award, Ndagire had received an International Theatre Institute Award for Best Actress in 1991.

Ndagire’s plays
1991 - Engabo Y’addako
1992 - Omuyaga Mu Makoola
1994 - Akafubutuko
1995 - Emisanvu
1996 - Ensitaano,
Emanduso,
Enyonta,
Gawandagala
1997 - Maswanku, Pereketya
1998 - Kikunta e kkungu
Basajja baka
Nabyewanga
1999 - Enninga ku Lwazi, Empingu, Ekijjomanyi
2001 - Sebalamu Tebesigwa, Ensitaano (T.V series)
2002 - Empuuna Malungu
Kavavangalo
Ggoggolimbo
Nnabambula
2004 - Akatyoboko, Liberty y’abakyala, Embibya y’abakyala
2005 - Banadda Twegande, Enyana ekutudde, Biswambazi
2006 - Kabiite, Rays in the Dark, Even angels eat beans, Sembera (short film), Akangodiira Kiri bubi ku goolo
Baligeya nkoona
Omwana w’egoma
2007 - Embeteza

Ndagire finally takes centre stage

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