Muraho from Kigali! This is Rachel, and because I am writing after a long, celebratory and culminating day, this is a long entry, so put your reading glasses on, grab a cup of coffee, and sit back. But now, how do you write about a day that culminated in three performances, heartfelt speeches, tons of hugs, dancing and eating, and a whole lot of love?
Well, I guess I’ll start at the beginning. In the morning we rehearsed our two plays, and in the afternoon we came together at 2:30 for our festival of performances and sharing. We had a nice audience in attendance, with Deans from the school, our beloved Jean and Leon and volunteers from the Kimisagara Youth Center (where we will be working next week). The performances began with a very moving and expressive performance from the students that was created in remembrance of Steven Buckingham, the drama teacher at KIE who passed away earlier this year. Displayed by their raw and honest emotions onstage, you could sense the enormous impact this man had on the students.
Next, KIE 2 and the 7 final year CUNY students performed the story of “Zenzele & Djiaka”, a folk tale based on the story of Romeo and Juliet (see the previous post). I taught the students the phrase “break a leg” (good luck!) beforehand. At first they all seemed confused by my desire for them to have physical pain, but once I explained its origins and meaning, we were all ready to break legs. And did we ever! Together as a cast, we shared the story of two star-crossed lovers with joy, and energy. With so little time, we became cast-mates, friends, co-directors and devisers of original theater. All in a days work for sure! We ended the play with Chris posing a question – do Zenzele and Djaka flee their families’ conflict and live together in peace somewhere else, or do they return to their families and try to mend the rift? The audience shared their thoughts, and by asking them to think of the story’s potential endings and consequences, Chris was exemplifying a small part of what applied theatre can do, allow the audience to participate and form their own conclusions.
Next, we got to see the fruits of Michael and Joey and KIE 4’s labor over the previous 4 days. Their play, “Nankabirwa”, an original African version of the Cinderella story, was fantastic. The play explored the issues of oppression, tolerance, forgiveness and love. The actors spoke loudly, clearly and with emotion, and they were precise in their every movement. From the stillness of the trees in the forest, to the detailed facial expressions of the various animals, the story was conveyed clearly with energy and power. Afterwards, we broke into groups and the actors spoke to us in-role (which means they were still playing their characters), asking us questions, and challenging us to consider what we would do if we were in their positions. This is a technique that we, M.A. students, have been learning over the last one or two years, and the fact that the KIE 4 students were already displaying such skill in role-playing and problematizing was a true testament to Michael and Joey’s hard work, but also to the growth that the KIE 4 students have made over the last 3 years working with CUNY. This has been a recurrent theme this week, how much all the students have grown in skills and knowledge, and yesterday we saw the fruits of all their labor.
Finally, we topped our day off with a celebration and a party at a restaurant near KIE. It was so nice to break bread with our new friends, and sit and chat about our lives, and the reasons we are drawn to theater and education. We might come from different cultures and continents, but we find the common ground in theatre. We want to express ourselves, we want to tell stories, we want to educate, and we want to change the world. And these are all things that I believe are possible when you come together and build community the way we have this past week. We ended the evening by hitting the dance floor, but before we did that, a few CUNY and KIE students expressed what this past week and what the three-year exchange has meant to them thus far. They expressed their pride in their growth and their gratitude to us, and to Helen and Chris, or ‘mom and dad’, as they put it, for returning every year to teach and guide them in this work. And I want to thank Helen and Chris as well, for being at the helm of this program and fastidiously planning, structuring and guiding this trip and this exchange, where in a week we built a community, and became both each other’s educators and students, exchanging the learning back and forth.
There were presents and sentiments shared, and one KIE student said that something they see about us CUNY students is our desire to know more than we know. I think this is true of both groups. This week brought us together because of that desire, and because of the hope to connect and open ourselves to other peoples’ experiences, cultures, lives and skills. Chris mentioned Friere’s statement that you cannot teach people and you cannot come together without love; mutual love has to be the foundation for the learning. In Rwanda, there is an abundance of love, it has been pouring forth since the first hugs we received before a word was exchanged, and it was there when we created theatre together. I have been so touched by how open, affectionate, talented, smart, and loving the people we have met are, and how they have filled me, and my classmates up with joy and learning. It has been a true exchange.
One KIE student said, “We keep growing up and up.” That pretty much sums up how I’m feeling now too. And now, to keep climbing that ladder, and grow even more!
Turongera! (see you later!) And with LOVE,