One day, your father or mother will sit you upon the knee and tell you a story about a wonderful building that no longer exists. Your father or mother will tell you that thisbuilding was called the National Theatre by everyone who knew it though in the paper work, in the government documentation, it was called the Uganda NationalCultural Centre. The UNCC 8th October 1959, a day before Independence Day for Uganda.
Maybe that is the embryo of why the National Theatre was set down on Dewinton Road opposite the other most important building in the land, the Parliament of Uganda. Culture and Politics. Politics and Culture. Rule with the blessing of the people, understand the people you rule. But that’s not what was always on your parents’ minds every time they stopped to be swiped over before entering the National Theatre gates. The National Theatre was home. The signal tower for them whenever they happened to be in Kampala with an hour or two on their hands. The National Theatre was always there, with open arms from its open piano face, to welcome the prodigal travellers back.
It was at the National Theatre that your parents’ first started to imbibe what restaurants called, “African tea.” Not the sulkily served Nasser road African tea by dirty blue apron wiping hands in plastic Tumpecos. National Theatre African tea could have an aroma, a variety of herbs brought together by that magician who never wanted to leave the kitchen until your parent insisted they wanted to thank them personally.
In that little restaurant at the back of National Theatre, they probably first locked eyes across the many tables taking a second too long not to look away, and you were not too far off anymore. But before you came along, there would be many Friday evenings in the dimly lit auditorium waiting for the antique chime of bell that Theatre Factory were on stage, scramble for seats. Theatre Factory, FunFactory, Pablo Live, comic acts regenerating a fire of an industry that had almost died out. Or only embers were smoking. National Theatre at the heart of that revival.
The dusty, creaking National Theatre boards were the stages far flung Namasagali, Namagunga, Kings College Buddo, St Mary’s College Kisubi thespians rehearsing, every Saturday and Sunday, behind their classroom blocks dreamed of strutting. Parents in the audience wiping tears, siblings applauding during the national secondary schools drama competitions.
For your parents, perhaps, the National Theatre was where their own parents used to stop after Sunday prayers from Christ the King or All Saints Church, negotiating for a walk down to Bimbo Ice Cream after the scarcity and fear of the 1980s.Okot p’Bitek, Byron Kawadwa, Stephen Rwangyezi refusing to let theatre die. Sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
They remember, like you will never know, when the Uganda National Cultural Centre was one of the beating hearts of an entity called Uganda no one wanted but came to love. But you will never know all this because you will only ever see the NationalTheatre in photos, a background in forgotten selfies.