Two days ago, we all, CUNY and URCE students together, began creating a play using the folk tale The Magic Calabash as inspiration. Yesterday, Friday, after a whirlwind devising and rehearsal process, we ended that process with a final performance for faculty members, fellow students and graduates, and students from a local secondary school. The performance was a huge success. As a group, under the careful eyes of Helen and Chris, we brought a tale of poor families, magic seeds, and a watery world to life. Children played, families celebrated, a water monster terrorized, and turtles laid golden eggs. In a mix of Kinyarwanda and English, we collectively created the world and presented it to our audience, and had an exhilarating time doing so.
After the performance, Chris led a mini-workshop with the audience, asking them to discuss the themes they saw in the play, as well as any connections that they could make to the real world. It was fascinating to hear the themes that the audience connected with, and I was especially moved by one individual who compared the humans’ disregard for the world of the water spirits and the subsequent mutual destruction with the current status of the environment. After that brief discussion, there were speeches, more dancing, and collective celebration of the end of the playbuilding process.
After every play I have ever done, there has been that moment of elation, the joy of seeing all the work you’ve done together come to life in front of an audience. There has been celebration and excitement, but also sadness. The work is done but now you will not be seeing these people every day anymore, sharing fun, creativity, struggle, and triumph.
In some ways, the end of our two-day playbuilding adventure feels exactly like this. There was the same buzz in the room after we’d finished, the excitement caused by the knowledge of a job well done, a happy audience, and potential fulfilled. There were the same hugs, the same “Good jobs!” thrown around, the same high fives and promises to see one another at the post-show celebration, provided by us, the CUNY students. And what a celebration it was! Good food, lots of laughter, and one seriously epic dance party, where traditional Rwandan dance melded almost seamlessly with modern hip hop, rumba and club dance for around two hours!
The aforementioned sadness was also present. We were ending the show we’d created, saying goodbye to our work and to our working relationships. We were also saying goodbye to friends we’d become so fond of so quickly, knowing full well that we may not see each other again. There were hugs goodbye, photographs taken to commemorate moments and friendships, promises to keep in touch via Facebook, all familiar rituals after the closing of a show.
But this one felt different, sharper somehow. Perhaps because we’d all become friends so quickly, having only met one another less than two weeks ago. Did goodbye seem more abrupt, coming so soon on the heels of hello? Or perhaps because Rwanda and New York are very far away? It’s not an hour and a half on the subway, but rather 18 hours or more on an airplane or two. Maybe goodbye felt more final given that sheer distance means that, no matter how much we may want to, we may not have another opportunity to see one another again. For whatever reason, saying goodbye both to the play and to these wonderful, warm, enthusiastic people felt especially hard. With that in mind, by the end of the night, I’d decided to stop saying “goodbye, and started saying “I hope to see you again,” keeping open the possibility that maybe this wasn’t a final farewell.