Updated: Nov 15
When I think about Ruben Polendo my mind is swooped into a whirlwind of memories that were the foundation for my initiation in the theatre world. Ruben has been a strong mentor and friend in guiding me beyond what I imagined for myself.
I remember sitting in his class for the first time, feeling the rush of excitement as he got our stiff freshmen bodies to break out and dance; shaking off all the nervousness. I knew that I knew that I knew that theatre was the course for me. He was shouting over the music for us to engage in the dance steps, then, he would come and stand directly in front of each of us and literally dance 1inch away from our noses. Who was this man? He seemed to be in his early 40’s but he was jumping higher than I and spinning faster too. Is this theatre? If it is, then I love it!
It is common in theatre to know that the first rule to any work is be on time. However, in Kampala, this rule comes with its exceptions that go something like this: Be on time but if you’re stuck in a jam five minutes away, you’re still on time because it’s the jam that has prevented your progress in life. Or, Be on time, but if you arrive and no one is there, then you can go buy a snack and return thirty minutes later because at least on the time sheet, it shows that you were really there and now, poor you, had to wait. And even though, the producer complains for people to be on time… at the back of their minds everyone is thinking, yea sure, give or take ten minutes. Hahahaha, Ugandans.
Now, I met Ruben with this kind of Ugandan time keeping mindset and I got the shock of my life. The clock became soooo real for me and till this day I can hear his fury ringing in my ears if I’m even one minute late. Ruben would shut the door to any rehearsal on the hour. However, he expected all of you to be in the room ten to five minutes before. So, if you’re that one person dashing in with your Starbucks coffee spilling allover the place and your books creating a clutter as you stretch yourself through the closing door. You’re late! Period. And just like that you either lost your role, your grade or your privileges. I was like: AH! What is this efficiency?
The second no brainer theatre rule is that no phones are allowed in the theatre space. I mean DUH! The last thing you want is to have some azonto beat break out in the middle of Shakespeare. But my Ugandan brothers and sisters always find a way around this: sir, I put it on silent, sir, it’s on vibrate or the classic, “Hold my phone and if they call tell them I’ll call them back after the scene”…As in! You make another actor your secretary just like that. That’s how you both get fired. But Ruben had, and probably still has, a better way of solving this problem. He picks up your phone and throws it as hard as he can at the wall. I’m telling you, the first time I witnessed this being done to a fellow actor, from that day on, my phone never travelled with me to his rehearsals. The point was so clear! How would I explain to my humble African parents that my phone got smashed in rehearsal for ringing? They would beat that incompetence out of me harder than Ruben could throw the phone.
Ruben has taught be to take my art seriously; to take the art creating time seriously. Through him I learned the value of time and how, when it’s upheld, everyone feels respected, valued and are free to plan their schedule appropriately. These lessons, I’ll never forget.
Learn more about Ruben and his work below: