Saturday, October 10, 2009

Closing in Kigali

The final minutes of the final show in Rwanda

Saturday Oct 10

1) I spend the day in bed. Cipro, arnica, charcoal, ibuprofen and gatorade. I am feeling much better than last night, but certainly not well yet. I do have time to catch up on some blogging though. The internet connection at the Milles Collines is slow, and keeps going down, so the photo backlog is large. I do have some new shots posted, though (see below).

We will be closing in Rwanda tonight. I hope to be recovered more by then.

2) The final show. I am feeling almost normal again (thank god). I arrive at Heaven to find it occupied by a predominantly white crowd, and my heart sinks a little. But it is still early. By showtime (which is an hour later than advertised), we are at about half and half between ex-pats and Rwandans.

The show goes very well - as they all have here. The actors have found something very deep during this tour, and it is translated into their performances. It's sad that our last audience isn't a little less Euro - this is a by-product of too little PR, our American-owned location, and the first night of the big Beer Fest (daunting competition - like Soccer games in Butare!) - but many of the Rwandans who come to see it stay afterwards to talk to us, one on one. We decided to change the format from a formal talkback, to informal discussions, and the result was overwhelming. One on one, the Rwandans who wanted to talk felt much freer to enter into deeper, more personal conversations with us. As, in fact, would I in a similar situation.

And without exception, they speak about about how important it was for them to see this play. It actually seems to have been a more powerful experience than I had imagined it would be for people here. I listened to about half a dozen incredibly articulate, and very moved people describe to me the worth of the experience they had just had. The key, it seems, was how complicated the play is. These Rwandans were almost relieved to encounter a work of art that DIDN'T reduce or simplify just how complicated genocide is, how ubiquitous pain, anger, hatred and love is - among victim and perpetrator alike - a play that didn't solve anything, but instead somehow asserted what it is to be human, and in chaos. This - seemingly counterintuitively for someone like me - seems to be what the Rwandans I spoke with last night called a way forward towards forgiveness. Because the situation here is impossible, the tentacles of the genocide are everywhere, and yet people are moving forward in a way that is, I believe, unprecedented in history. And the message of this play, if there can be said to be such a thing, supports this: that there is no simple way to account for what happened, that there is no answer, and that complexity is what must be grappled with. No one is simply good, or simply bad. Even as I write this, I see how inadequate my own words are in comparison to what I listened to last night, but perhaps you get the idea - the welcome they gave the play was without reservation. The impact was palpable - perhaps for the first time to us in this very polite, and reserved country. Our Rwandan audience found this work essential.

Which makes me feel very torn. I didn't expect that Goodness would have such value here, would find such approbation. That's not even the right word - I can't actually put it into words. The play hit something true, and in this context, hearing the words of the people I spoke with, seeing in their faces that they meant what they said, shaking their hands, feeling their emotion, in THIS context, the worth of a piece of theatre seems exponentially more than it has ever seemed to me before.

And so, it makes me mourn that more people didn't see it. This was also said to me over and over again - it's a shame that more Rwandans didn't know about this play, didn't come to see it. "Why wasn't there better publicity?". Even if there had been, there was another barrier. As one man said last night, he thought at first: "Oh God, not another play about genocide". But then he was astounded by Goodness.

So - we came with something more valuable than we knew, and we leave with having shared it with too few.

Michael Redhill has offered to give the play rights-free to Rwanda for translation into Kinyarwanda. I think this idea is a beautiful one, as does Kiki (the head of the festival) and many of the theatre artists I have spoken with here. And so I will pursue finding a translator with Kiki and Michael. One man said to me he wanted us to play in schools all across Rwanda. I said this is simply impossible - I cannot raise that much money. But i said there might be a Kinyarwandan translation that could travel with Rwandan actors. He lit up. This is something like Jen Capraru is already doing here with Colleen Wagner's The Monument, so there is precedent.

Anyway - my emotions are mixed because it went so well. What is my duty now? Do i return to Rwanda? I have been asked to. So i ask myself - why do I do theatre? And I suspect it is to satisfy myself as an artist, first and foremost. Often, theatre and development can go hand in hand, but sometimes, they don't. So I have to decide if I will pursue the funding to return, to perhaps try to facilitate the conversion of Goodness into a Kinyrwandan production. It would be a big commitment. And I also ask myself, does such a production need me?

As my good friend Michael Greyeyes has said, when confronting a big decision, sometimes the best course is this: wait. Time will tell.

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