Monday, October 5, 2009

A Unique Two Show Day


Soccer chat outside the theatre, as the mob assembles...

1) We had offered to add an extra show on Sunday afternoon when we arrived. The festival had said yes. Little did we know what would lie ahead.

2) We show up at the theatre, and we're ready for our 2:30pm curtain time. Unlike last night, there are only six audience there for the start. I talk to them. All are university students. They say the timing of our show is very bad - there are important exams tomorrow for almost everyone. They also say the advertising has been poor, and that nobody knows about this aded show. We ask them if they would prefer to come back to the evening show, when there will be more people. They deliberate. This deliberation stretches on. A few more people arrive. Then a few more. We decide to go ahead with the show. At some point, someone tells us that a group of students expect to use the auditorium to watch a Champion's League soccer game at 5:30. We say we don't want this to delay our evening show, and then don't think much about it. We being our matinee about an hour late.

3) At intermission, a group of men arrive. There are two student leaders, and the Director of the Centre, Jena-Marie. The students are vibrating with anger. They are the organizers of the soccer match. Gloria and Kiki from the festival arrive. A discussion begins that gets increasingly heated. There has been a lack of comunication between the two groups. The theatre folks have the official booking, but the soccer folks have numbers - as we talk, hundreds of soccer fans begin to gather outside. The student leaders are rude and barely in control. Laurette, our translator, begins speaking to them in Kinyarwanda, saying they can't just take over the building in the middle of a play. The man she is speaking to begins to shout at her, and raise his arms. Laurette recoils, afraid, raising her arms to shield herself, stumbling backwards. I scream at the man in my loudest actor voice. This stops him. I tell him, quite volubly, that i am the director of the play, and that if he has an argument, it is with me, not with her. He dials everything back, and the discussion continues. All this is during our intermission. Some of the actors begin to gather. Our audience is wondering what to do. All is being captured on camera by the film crew. Finally, the soccer boys are pursuaded to step outside. Amy says to me - "Soccer is important here - we should let them watch their game". She's right. I go outside to tell Kiki that i will be happy to cancel the show tonight, if it becomes an either/or situation. We then learn that the match ISN'T at 5:30. It's at 4:30. We are currently at 4:15.

4) We begin the second half of the show. Outside, a mob is gathering. Lili's second act monologue about the genocide is accompanied by the sounds of hundreds of men just outside the building. The actors rise to the occasion and turn in piercing performances. Our audience is entirely focused. I am not. Nor are Rebecca and Guillaume. We exchange worried looks. I finally slip outside to see what's happening.

5) Outside, I find Rick and Stefan, who had agreed to stay with the discussion when it moved outside. Rick tells me there is now a compromise. We will finish our show, and immediately set up the giant screen, and open the main auditorium doors. The soccer fans will miss only part of the first half. Rick tells me the scene was a nervous-making. At one point, there were five theatre people standing in front of the closed doors, and hundreds of men staring at them, wanting to be inside. That is the energy i step out into, but it dissipates quickly, as the news spreads through the crowd that they will be let in soon. Later that night, Jean-Marie, the Director, speaks to me. He apologizes, but says the students in such a situation can turn violent, and it's best to let them have their way.


6) Our show finishes. We spring into action. The hall fills with men. Chelsea versus Liverpool comes to Butare on a giant screen. At Rick's suggestion, Gloria finds the young soccer organizer and drags him over to Laurette. He apologizes for threatening her. The apology is sincere. Laurette is very upset, still. She accepts his apology. She then tells us that he is a friend of hers, and she cannot understand how he could have done that.

7) I watch a bit of the match. It's really good. Then go for a beer.


The evening show goes much more smoothly. The crowd is almost all male, but they are riveted to the show. I believe that the language barrier adds to this attention, but nonetheless we have a good show. The local police commissioner attends. He asks questions at the talk-back - wondering why we had some details in the play, and not others. He speaks about the machinery of genocide: the army, the decision-makers, the militias, the propaganda, the elaborate facilitation of murder. He wanted to see a more complete revelation of this complex and powerful machinery. I answer that there is so much that we leave out because of the time constraint of the play. We have 2 hours to tell a story that is bigger than our imaginations - so our playwright makes choices, focuses on the personal as a way to speak to the societal. We hint at the powers that are engaged during such killings, but we don't focus on them. He is satisfied by this answer. Later, he tells me that he really liked the play, but still wants this story told, examined: the machinery of mass murder.

Like so many of the audience, like so many people on the streets, he is young.