Singing Together

Two days ago, I learned a Rwandan song of celebration, and the students who taught it to my classmates and me invited me to sing the lead part (the call of the call-and-response) when we shared it back to our peers. Today, I stood onstage and sang that song again as part of a rehearsal for the play we are creating together. Tomorrow, I will get back up on that stage and perform that song as part of a Rwandan and American ensemble, for a mostly Rwandan audience. I am more excited, humbled, and honored than I can say to have this opportunity.

When I left New York to come on this adventure, one of my goals for myself was to shed the habitual shyness that I feel around new people. We are in Rwanda for such a short time, and I didn’t want my natural reticence to get in the way of forming meaningful connections and friendships with the people I would meet here. I am happy to say I think I have succeeded, but I can only claim partial credit. The warmth and friendliness of the URCE drama education students (and in fact everyone I have met in this beautiful country) are contagious. To take just a few examples, as I worked to learn the “Ganyobge” song, one student helped me write out the lyrics, one got a friend to play a recording on his computer so I could hear it, and many more corrected my pronunciation and rhythm, cheering me on when I got them right. How could I not come out of my shell (shoutout to my turtle actors!) in response to such encouragement? I hope I have supported my castmates equally well in our sessions together.

The supportive environment we have created, so full of joy in cultural exchange, learning, and sharing, is one of the most beautiful things about this program and my experience in Rwanda. All of the participants, CUNY and URCE alike, are so enthusiastic about the work, ready to dive in and try new things. We all leave our comfort zones behind as we strive to become better collaborators, better educators, and better theater makers. It is incredible to witness how much people can grow in just two weeks, how well we can rise to the challenges before us. I am beyond inspired by the amount of new information all the students have been able to process on a daily basis.

For myself, I have seen my relationship to the work of applied theater evolve each day. Fear and anxiety about facilitating give way to exhilaration when a session goes well, and so my self-confidence grows. Ways to apply pedagogical principles like scaffolding and problematizing become clearer. My notebook is full of words like “SIMPLIFY,” “CLARIFY,” and “STORY” scrawled in capital letters as I remember the importance of key theatrical concepts. Every day, a few more puzzle pieces fall into place — and I learn a few more words of Kinyarwanda!

Tomorrow morning we will put the finishing touches on our play, and I will do my best to incorporate everything I have learned here into the process. Then I will act and sing and rejoice with my fellow students, and I will try to honor the way they have shared their culture with me by bringing as much of myself to the performance as they do. In a few days, I will fly back home, and I will not have to try to remember my new friends or the things I have learned from them. They are indelible.

Posted in Student Post | Tagged Applied Theatre, CUNY MA in Applied Theatre, CUNY SPS MA in Applied Theatre, Platbuilding, Project Rwanda, School of Professional Studies, Study Abroad, Theatre for Education and Development, University of Rwanda College of Education | Edit

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