I am grateful to my classmate Claro for sending our group an inspiring essay on travel by Pico Iyer. In his analysis on why we travel, he recalls that all of his meaningful journeys have involved hard work, which brings to mind the similarities between travel and travail (French for work). Yesterday (Friday), our group experienced the aforementioned analogy and I conclude this: the harder you work on applied theatre here the bigger the pay off. Our stay here in Rwanda is one of the richest journeys that some of us (and I would argue most of us) have experienced, and working to create AND perform a play in four hours yesterday only added to the awesomeness. So yes, did I mention we performed a play to an audience of hundreds of students that we created and rehearsed in ONLY four hours? WE DID! And we are incredibly proud, not only in our work, but in the effort the KIE and KYC students put in. In general, it has been wonderful to begin our work and (hopefully!) future partnership with the KYC. It is clear that they have a strong group of talented individuals who are already engaged in applied theatre work. I am eager to stay in touch with all of them!
The Morning: Our One And Only Rehearsal!
Our day began early after our lovely outdoor breakfast ritual at the Civitas. We created our scenes in the Little Red Riding Hood play the previous day, and came in ready to refine and tweak them. Bennett was my scene partner and we devised the beginning of the play in which Little Red is nominated to journey to her grandmother’s through the woods. In our process, it was important that we start to foster the leadership that is already very present among the KIE students. I worked with one student who I have been totally awed by. Her aim is to be a director, and her ability to synthesize our suggested directions with her own while translating in Kinyarwanda was awesome to watch. We could not have created such a solid, humorous scene without the help of the KIE students.
One, Two, Three, Action!
We took a van ride to a school in Gatsata near Kigali where hundreds of students were waiting for our arrival, some of them perched high atop trees to get a good view of the stage. After the introductory African rap lip singers, we watched the KYC perform a play that had created on the dangers facing Rwandan young people. It was clear that the heavy issues that would be considered taboo to perform in front of young kids in America were meant for all of the ages present. The show’s content was educational in nature and ranged from scenarios of young girls talking about the value of sugar daddies to the desire to take academic enhancing drugs. I’ve learned that sugar daddies in Rwanda have a different meaning than in the US. Here, they are men who offer to pay the way of the young girl or woman in exchange for sex, however, often these men have HIV and believe that their disease will be cured if they sleep with a virgin. Later on when I asked a KYC member why it was OK to talk about these issues in front of five year olds, he told me that the government has a strong push towards early education and intervention on these problems. The KYC also asked the audience to come up and participate by speaking with the characters while they were still in role; it was so interesting to observe!
After their performance, it was our turn to present our version of Little Red…What I noticed immediately is that the children were totally engaged. To give you a picture of the audience: they were gathered in a 270 degree angle along a steep hill. It was clear to me that we hooked them into the show with our concrete mime. What is that? Concrete mime is when actors personify intimate objects; in our case we opened the show as animals, we became trees swaying in the wind, cabinets that opened and closed, beds etc. We had two microphones to amplify the show that were passed around the many actors in one scene to make sure. Highlights of the play included some great repetition in the excuses given by the children for not wanting to go into the woods in the first scene, the personified flowers and woods changing position in the second scene, a tree morphing into a pack of hungry wolves in the third scene, Jean D’Arc as a scary wolf in the last scene, and the overall ability to use both English and Kinyarwanda throughout the show. All in all, our play was a success! In this case, success is measured by our ability to playbuild based on a folk story in 4 short hours and present it to a huge audience. While the show had small technical glitches, the most important part, for me, was that we set our actors up for success. They were not nervous, they had fun, and they seemed proud of their work.
The End: Joy And Dance
As we were on our way out, the school DJ threw on some tunes which the little kids immediately ran out and danced to. We joined them on the red dirt floor of the stage to dance. What I will never forget for the rest of my life is dancing after working so hard, hundreds of children swirling around us, singing every word to the pop music while holding our hands, and the plumes of dust being kicked up by the happy feet. In that moment, we were lost with joy: the joy of the people and children of Rwanda, with accomplishment, the embodiment of work and travel with the beauty of this country, the love the people have given us…I find once again that it is near impossible to capture in words.
This is Amy singing off with gratitude, love, and praxis.