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From the fireside to the stage: a study of Performance of the oral narrative in shifting spaces.

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ABSTRACT The study is premised on the idea that performing arts are dynamic and adaptive to the changing social and artistic demands. It therefore examines the artistic adaption of the oral narrative from the traditional setting in the Bukusu community to the modern conventional and converted spaces. The study utilized semiotics and performance theory in analyzing the oral narrative as performance text focusing on the dramatic structure and how it is enhanced through character construction. It also traces the evolution of the script from the traditional setting to the contemporary setting. The study explored the different contexts in which narratives are told in traditional Bukusu setting within both aesthetic and social dramas. It further traces the transformation of the oral narrator over time and space and interrogates the oral narrator adaptability and the changing spaces and his/her treatment of the audience within the emerging spaces. Finally it focuses on narrative techniques employed by both traditional and modern day narrators seeking to explain the role of and centrality of the oral narrator in the traditional setting both as an entertainer and socialization agent and extending to how the modern narrator hopes within unfamiliar audience in conventional spaces. The study notes that the traditional oral narrative text is latent with conflicts that are built around interests over shared resources. This conflict is further enhanced through characters whose desires, owing to their inherent behaviours put them in constant conflict with other characters. The desire to make conflict credible and interesting demands that the forces in conflict are balanced, making the conflict worth watching. The animal characters carry along mannerisms noted in the animal world that reinforces their roles in dramatic construction. The notable changes in the narrative structure in the modern script are the elaborate introductions of human characters. These narratives have names of characters borrowed from Kenyan communities that bear certain levels of symbolism but they have to be introduced for them to be understood by the audience. Thus compared to the traditional narratives, the festival narratives have a fairly long introduction before the inciting action. Within the traditional setting there were conditions and an atmosphere that favoured the performance of the oral narrative. These conditions include a set time that was inbuilt within the social systems thus availing most members of the community for the occasion. The onus of narrating was placed on the elder members of the community who were bestowed with respect and could therefore easily manage their audience. The narratives have familiar images that can be interpreted by the audience since they emanated from their own environment. The performance space, whether around the bonfire or in a burial ceremony, was considered a conducive and favorable context for the performance of the oral narrative. The performers operated within a realm understood by the audience as the performance conventions of the Bukusu community. The modern narrator comes in without the added advantage of a familiar audience. Some of the professional performers have mainly utilized the traditional narrative albeit with minimal modification to suit their purpose. They have also restructured the performance spaces in order to increase the level of intimacy in an atmosphere where modern built theatres create a lot of formality and distancing. The drama festival on its part has made use of the stage audience in order to recapture the traditional context which, when strictly applied, denies the actual audience full participation. They have however moved away from animal characters but borrowed names of the animal characters to enrich the symbolic representation of the human characters. The festival has blended new wine with the old wine to carry the tradition of oral narration from the bonfire to the stage.

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