Sunday, October 4, 2009

Goodness Opens in Rwanda

Saturday, Oct 1.

This is one of the biggest days of my life.

Rebecca and Laurette at load-in. Laurette works on the Kinyarwanda synopsis. Rebecca runs the lighting hang.

The indomitable Rick Banville. And his broom.

Rick atop the rickety scaffold, refocusing a light.

Rebecca and Guillaume in the 'booth".

Our audience begins to arrive.

The after-party at the Hotel De Mont Huye. Jack serenades.

Lili Matabishi, an actress based in Kigali (coincidentally, i had recently read about a show she was in New York - a Rwandan production of The Investigation, by Peter Weiss). Lili is tremendous - and offers to handle our publicity in Kigali - all from the goodness of her heart.

1) We're at the theatre at 9am. Our crew is two cracker-jack Belgian technicians, and the never-daunted Rwandan technical director, Judo. The Belgians came to teach a workshop, and assist, and have ended up working very long hours just to make the tech possible. Judo is the epitome of competence and friendly energy. We will have only this one day to install our seating (we're performing on the stage of the large theatre, with the curtains drawn, and the audience with us on the stage), clean the stage and dressing room, hang and focus our lights, set our sound levels and light levels, rehearse, and open at 8:30pm. We work in three languages.

2) It's a lot of work. But it goes well, mostly. There is a scare when one of the Belgians, Carrie, atop a rickety scaffold, is nearly electrocuted. The voltage here is 240, and he gets a shock that sends him cursing down the scaffold in seconds - not bad for a man who weighs well over 200 pounds. The gear is not all in the best of shape. Some is new, some is old, all comes from different continents, and is difficult to make work together. We take a break.

3) We begin to realise that there isn't much help to be had, outside of Gloria, and the core crew. It's an election day, and the whole country is not working. We have to carry all the seating ourselves across campus from the library - Rick, Guillaume, myself, and a student good enough to help. 70 chairs in several trips under a hot African sun. Two risers we wanted are locked in a room elsewhere in town, and the man with the key makes it clear to Gloria that he is not coming in to work until Monday. That's after our closing. So, we make do. The dressing room needs a substantial cleaning, and Gloria brings mats and a rug from her house to make a pleasant space for the actors.

4) Rehearsal begins at 2pm. We gather outside under a spectacular tree for notes. The atmosphere is charged. We are all acutely aware that we are about to open a play about genocide in Rwanda. The film crew is present, and documents everything.

5) Song rehearsal in the dressing room. Then a few scenes are run to make sure they are tight. We move to the stage.

6) Onstage, there is a problem. The lighting board we are using is new, and has been brought for us from Belgium. None of us have seen a board like this before, and Rebecca can't get it to record cues. This discovery is made when the Belgians have gone on their dinner break. We call them, and Manu comes back. He, too, can't get the board to work. Out comes the instruction manual. They figure it out, and we can begin making light cues. But there is now only about an hour and a half of rehearsal time left. We jump from cue to cue. Rebecca works as fat as she can. We build the lighting for the first act, then lose the actors to their dinner break. Rebecca builds the second half with Rick and i pretending to be the cast. Guillaume works on sound levels, and setting up all the props.

7) We finish, and actually get a dinner break ourselves (we had worked through lunch). We're ready to open. Nerves ensue.

8) We have a full house at 8:30 - on time. We hold for ten minutes, for a few stragglers. I give a curtain speech in French and English that Laurette translates into Kinyarwandan (Laurette speaks about half a dozen languages). And then Michael Redhill's Goodness begins.

9) I don't relax. I sit behind the audience, and watch both the show and the crowd. The show is ON. The actors are charged and giving the performances of their lives. The audience is silent. There is no laughter at the jokes, almost no visible reaction at all. But there is silence and focus. Intermission happens. A group of young men leave. The rest of the audience returns. I still have no idea what is happening. Are people understanding this complicated, English drama? Are they silent because they are bored? Offended? I have no idea. It's disquieting, to say the least.

10) The show ends. The audience rises to its feet. Cheers. Oh. My. God.

11) We hold a post-show talk. It is an intense experience. There are comments that are tremendously moving. Gloria speaks of how this play helps her reconcile what happened to her family in the genocide. Kiki asks if art can do anything, if a play can have any effect. Several people ask why is this play called "Goodness". IS there goodness? One woman - Lili - speaks of how this play tells her that this experience - genocide - is shared, or born, by people the world over. The actors are asked to speak to why they are doing this play - what does it mean to them. I hear my friends speak with a deep honesty about this project, and its significance in their own lives. It is very emotional. Big questions are asked, and answers are struggled with, because there are no answers to many of them. At the same time, there is a large group of yong men who say nothing, ask no questions, simply listen. What are they thinking? I have no idea. The experience of this talk is almost too big for me to process.

12) We party. We go back to the hotel and drink and sing. Rick plays Jack's guitar. Jack plays Jack's guitar. They are both amazing musicians. Jack's voice is stirring. We then ask for some songs from the Africans who have joined us. Kiki and Lili (the Rwandan Lili - not our Lili) sing a Rwandan ballad. It is one of the saddest songs i've heard. Gloria sings a haunting lullaby. Pamela teaches us a refrain, and as we all sing it, she speaks a poem about the struggles in her homeland of Northern Uganda. It is colossally moving. A man named Sammi borrows the guitar - which he plays masterfully - and sings a song in Swahili that his father wrote. It is beautiful. We drink and talk and sing through the night. Until the Dutch man (we think he's Dutch) across the compound finally asks us to keep it down. We're mostly in bed by 4am. Some are still up, though, when i retire.

What a day. A day like no other.

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