A Prayer for a White Woman, her African Servant, a Shaman and a Spirit Child
By Kenny Mann
An epic poem that I have adapted for the stage
In this mythical story set in Colonial Kenya of the late 1950s, a shaman finds ways to heal the wounded souls of a white woman and her African servant.
Poster by Sophie Mann
A portion of funds raised go to Maasai women of the Kitengela community in Kenya who are struggling to send their daughters to school.
Teenage Maasai girls risk being forced to marry much older men or even being sold in exchange for livestock. Watch the video to see how your money can help these girls once they are in a sancturay such as the Empakasi High School in Kitengela, Kenya.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
My name is Kenny Mann. I was born and raised on Masai land in Kenya and most of my life's work of documentary films and books has been about African issues. You can learn more about me at my website: www.rafikiproductions.com .
At the age of 71, I'm taking a huge step in a new direction! Last summer, I wrote what I call an epic poem, called NAISULA: A PRAYER FOR A WHITE WOMAN, HER AFRICAN SERVANT, A SHAMAN AND A SPIRIT CHILD.
Please note that gofundme takes a total of 7.9% in fees + $0.30 for every donation. Your money goes straight to my WePay account. I receive all funds collected, whether or not I meet my goal of $15,000.
If you prefer to donate by check, please send to: Kenny Mann, Rafiki Productions, PO Box 2789, Sag Harbor, NY 11963. If you use Chase Quickpay, simply transfer money to my registered account #
I have come full circle. I have maintained strong connections to Kenya, where my family still resides, and in particular, to the Maasai people of Kitengela, very close to the place where I was born.
Last year, I bought a mesmerizing painting by Beth O'Donnell . It is a photograph of a Turkana woman from northern Kenya, taken in the 1970s. She stares proudly out at the camera - old, wrinkled and fearless, adorned with bead necklaces. The artist has used encaustic to make her even more mysterious and other-worldly.
Recently, my good friend Maasai Chief Nickson Parmisa of Kitengela came to visit me in Sag Harbor. He made a very fine picture in the Village!
I asked Nickson to hold a traditional naming ceremony for the woman in the painting. Standing in my living room we bowed our heads, sent up a small prayer for her, and in the Maasai language, Nickson named her NAISULA - Woman of Power.
NAISULA became the inspiration for my poem, which involves a white woman, her African servant, a shaman and a spirit child. In Africa, a spirit child is one who has chosen to leave the spirit world to live among humans on earth, and who can choose at any time to return to the spirit world. Those are very tough choices to make!
In my story, I named the spirit child Naisula - or "woman of power." She unites the white woman and her servant as a symbol of hope, and the potential for mutual understanding and healing between Africans and Europeans. For me, Naisula also symbolizes the power of women everywhere - and especially in Africa.
To round off the story, Nickson has identified a group of Maasai women in his community at Kitengela - just a couple of miles from where I was born - who are desperately in need of funds to send their daughters to school, so that they, too, can become women of power.
So this poem is dedicated to the Maasai Ladies of Kitengela and their daughters, and to all women of every color and creed, that we may ALL become NAISULA - WOMEN OF POWER.
WHAT IS THE MONEY FOR?
"Work-In-Progress" can be widely interpreted. Some people will have actors just reading the script. Not me. In order to bring this script to life, it needs a lighting designer, stage manager, sound mixer, composer, musicians, professional actors, a casting director, a choreographer, masks, costumes, props, a dog, a goat and even a troop of baboons! The dog agreed to work pro bono, but everyone else needs to get paid. I also need to transport, house and feed the actors. I need to rent a rehearsal studio and a recording studio.
All of this costs MONEY!
WHY SHOULD YOU SUPPORT THIS PROJECT?
--- It is unique
--- It is beautiful
--- It examines a little-known aspect of Colonial history in Kenya
--- This show is just a test run. I plan to take it to theaters in Manhattan, Los Angeles, Nairobi, London and Hamburg. And just imagine - YOU could share the credit for that accomplishment!!
--- A portion of YOUR donation - no matter how small or large - goes to the women of Kitengela and their daughters. There will be some little Maasai girl who will know YOUR name as her benefactor. She will know that she can attend school because of YOU. That is a priceless gift - for both of you!
Whether you donate money or not, please give me a shoutout on social media - Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and any others you use - and help to spread the word among your friends, which helps drive people to this funding campaign website. If you would like to donate more or less than the amounts specified for perks, please feel free to do so.
This project represents the culmination of 50 years of thinking, writing about and documenting issues of identity in Kenya. To me, it also represents the hope for the future - the empowerment of women and the eradication of racial prejudice everywhere. At this time in our history, those dreams seem particularly pertinent.
Your support will enable me to bring this work to a renowned theater as a test run for future performances elsewhere. I am arrogant enough to believe that the work is important - it has something to say - and it is beautiful. At my age, I'm allowed to toot my own horn just a little bit! But it's not about me. It is about the work itself. Josh Gladstone, Artistic Director of the John Drew Theater , has given me an unprecedented opportunity to bring this to life. And that cannot happen
without the help of a team of professional people who have made a committment to it and thus to me. I have a huge obligation to meet that committment with my own.
Thank you all from the bottom of my heart for having enough confidence in me to support this project.
MEET THE TEAM
John Drew Theater Lab
Artistic Director - Josh Gladstone
Technical Director - Sebastian Paczyinski
Assistant Technical Director - Joe Brondo
General Manager - Jennifer Brondo
Writer, Producer, Director - Kenny Mann
Casting Director - Sue Crystal
Choreographer - Marcea Daiter
Stage Manager - John Zaleski
Lighting Designer - Sebastian Paczyinski
Sound Engineer - Joe Brondo
Props, Stage Hand - Dicie Carlson
Shaman's finger gongs - John Battle, Battle Iron & Bronze
Music composition & performance - Lutz Rath (cello), Tyler Sussman (digeridoo, flute)
Production Consultant - Maria Schon
Costumes, Goat - Sophie Howell
Poster image & Baboon Mask Design - Paton Miller
Poster design - Sophie Mann
WHITE WOMAN – BEVIN BELL-HALL
MFA from Wayne State and certified by Moscow Art Theatre School. NYC: Swingtime Canteen at The Cherry Lane, Grand Theft Musical and Speakeasy at Theatre for the New City, Professor Hemlock’s Mansion; she has also performed with Shakespeare in Queens, Take 10, and Royal Family Productions. Bevin is a founding member of Name of Bird (nameofbird.com) and company member at Shadowbox Theatre. Regional: The Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, NY Stage and Film, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Broadway by the Bay, Sierra Shakespeare Festival. Favorite roles include Diana in Next to Normal, Eva in Evita, Helena in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Woman in 39 Steps, and Lydia in Big Love.
SERVANT – LAMBERT TAMIN
Lambert Tamin is a recent graduate of the William Esper Studio. He has most recently played the role of Jason Willis in Riant Theater's production of In Mysterious Ways at Theater at St Clement's. Lambert has also appeared in productions and readings at Theater for the New City, The Episcopal Actor’s Guild, Luna Stage, and The Theater Project. TV: Mysteries at the Museum Film: On the Hook, Untitled Batman Fan Fiction (Iron Horse Cinema), Storefront Pursuit, and the Ballad of Bobby Carr. Lambert is a native of New Jersey and developed a love for acting at an early age when he got the lead role in his first grade play. He is very excited to be a part of this production and to help bring such a powerful piece to life for the first time.
SHAMAN – DIANNE NIXON
In a stage and screen career spanning nearly two decades, the multitalented, Jamaican born Dianne Dixon has established herself as one of the most dynamic and popular Caribbean actors working in New York today. Her dramatic appearances include Off Broadway productions such as Haiti’s Children of God, One of Our Sons is Missing, An Old Woman Remembers, Massinisa- Lord of Thunder and Karl O Brian Williams’ Not About Eve, which played to sold out audiences at The National Black Theater Festival in Winston Salem North Carolina in 2013. Her musical talents have also earned her excellent reviews in such productions as Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Flambeaux. She has been nominated for the Audelco Award- New York’s highest honor for Off Broadway black theater – on two occasions, as Best Supporting Actress for the musical Jamaica and for the drama Dinner at The Manse. Her most recent stage appearance was in Hair’itage The Play and she will shortly be seen in the Emmy award-winning television series We Are New York. She is also a recipient of the New York City Council Award and Proclamation for Excellence in the Arts.
MARILYIN LOUIS – ANCESTOR & DANCE CAPTAIN
Marilyn Louis is a self-proclaimed, Renaissance Womyn. She’s a feminist, a yogi, a book lover, a writer, and a lover of arts and culture. She’s also a visual artist and her paintings are on Instagram (IG: marilynL992002) for sale! As the daughter of Haitian immigrant parents, born in Niger, West Africa and bred in Brooklyn, NY, Marilyn self-describes as a Haitian Dyasporan and loves Afro-French cultures. Marilyn has trained in musical theater as a singer, dancer and actress at the Steps on Broadway, Dance New Amsterdam (now Gibney Dance), Academy of Dramatic Arts, CAP 21 and currently at HB Studio. Her career goals are to work professionally in theater, film/TV and music. Most importantly, she wants to use the arts to address socially-consciousness issues and impact social change.
AHKAII FRANKLIN – ANCESTOR & GOAT SELLER
Ahkai was born and raised in the Bronx, New York, where the world of dance primarily existed at parties or on TV. While he loved to dance and perform for family at parties and other gatherings, Ahkai never saw dance as anything more than something to do for fun. His formal training started at the age of thirteen at the Trevor Day School in Manhattan. While acquiring his BFA in theater at Wesleyan University he would lead several dance troupes, eventually founding his own. He went on to dance behind emerging artists, perform a multitude of lead roles for the renowned Afrikan Women’s Repertory Theatre NYC, dance and teach with New-York-based dance companies like Mix’t Dance Company and Arch Dance Company, and open for major recording artist Snoop Dogg. T Ahkai currently teaches throughout the tri-state area. He continues to work with Afrikan Women’s Repertory Theatre NYC and Arch Dance Company and develops choreography for Piel Canela New York Center for Latin Arts. Ahkai has recently been working on music video choreography for emerging artists, flash mobs for weddings and other events, and competitive Hip-Hop choreography.
AKYIAA WILSON - ANCESTOR
A native of Brooklyn NY, Akyiaa has participated in the development of many new works in New York’s thriving off and off-off broadway scene at places such as Ensemble Studio Theatre, Ars Nova, The Lark, an Primary Stages. She was recently seen at in Charly Simpson’s Hottentotted. (The Tank) Other recent favorites include Mike Iveson's The Tear Drinkers, Helen Banner's choral play Icons/Idols.(New Ohio) and a turn as Olga in HIT’s immersive Three Sisters She has also had the good fortune to be a part of the company of the RSC’s Julius Caesar at BAM.A former Bat at the The Flea Theater, where she was seen in the world premiere of Girls In Trouble, and as Clytemnestra in the New York premiere of the epic These Seven Sicknesses as well many weeks of #Serials@the Flea. She holds a B.F.A. from Syracuse University.
SCOTLAND NEWTON – ANCESTOR & LEOPARD
Scotland Newton is thrilled to be apart of this ensemble. REGIONAL: Shakespeare Theatre Company: Macbeth; Mainestage Shakespeare: Macbeth, The Taming of the Shrew; Pittsburgh Musical Theatre: Hairspray, Jesus Christ Superstar; Bricolage Productions: STRATA. NEW YORK: Manhattan Repertory Theatre: Tybalt & Mercutio Live! TRAINING: Point Park University: BFA in Acting. WEB: www.scotlandnewton.com
MAMIE DUNCAN-GIBBS – ANCESTOR
Mamie Duncan-Gibbs has been featured in numerous Broadway shows including: Chicago, Cats, Jelly’s Last Jam, Kiss Me Kate, Liza Steppin’ Out @ Radio City, and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. National Tours include: Sweet Charity (with Bob Fosse), Damn Yankees (with Jerry Lewis) and Chicago (starring as Velma Kelly alongside Ben Vereen and Marilu Henner).
ADRIENNE HARDIN – SPIRIT CHILD
Adrienne Hardin is a 6-year-old first grader at Phillips Avenue Elementary in Riverhead, NY. She loves to sing, practice ballet and read.
EVAN THOMAS - BABOON
Evan has a long history of excellent performances in the former Community Theater Company of East Hampton. He is now an expert fire-dancer and, of his own free will, offered to perform the BABOON in this production.
MARIA BACARDI – NARRATOR
Maria left Cuba as a child, grew up and was educated in Europe. She has been living in East Hampton, NY, since 1990. She was the Founder and Artistic Director of Oddfellows Playhouse, a not-for-profit artist’s theater company, which instigated new work and used alternative indoor and outdoor stages throughout many locations in the Hamptons. Maria has played numerous roles in many theater productions in New York City and in the Hamptons including Woyzek by Georg Büchner at BAM, directed by Robert Wilson; One Thousand Avant Garde Plays by Kenneth Koch; Cote d’Azur Triangle, by Harry Kondoleon; Joan of Arc,by Uni Dahrand John Morrow; Behold and Reflect and Systole and Diastole by Maria Pessino; The Lost Lesson by Joan Marie Moossy. Maria is now focusing on her singing career, bringing to life her beloved Cuban songs, and is currently releasing her second CD.
KENNY MANN – WRITER, PRODUCER, DIRECTOR, NARRATOR
Kenny was born and raised in Kenya, where from the age of 16, she was actively involved both on- and off-stage in local theater productions and live radio drama. Following her interest in natural sciences, she obtained a B. Sc. In Zoology, Botany and Chemistry at the University of Nairobi, and went on to earn a post-graduate Diploma in Film and Theater at Bristol University, UK. From 1970 to 1982, Kenny worked in Hamburg, Germany, as a writer, researcher and scientific liaison for a TV production company as well as a free-lance contributor to countless German magazines, newspapers and radio shows. In 1982, she moved to the US and obtained a M. Sc. In Education from Bank Street College in Manhattan. She teaches African Studies at all levels and has published 8 books on African history. Kenny also teaches documentary film production and has herself produced and directed 8 documentary films, one of which won several awards. A lifetime of thinking about and documenting African issues in various media has led Kenny back to the theater. NAISULA evolved organically from an epic poem she wrote in 2016. After reading it to friends, all agreed that it needed to be staged. Et voila! rafikiproductions.com