Insights into the Our Lady Of Kibeho rehearsal room from Michelle Asante (Sister Evangeline) and Ery Nzaramba (Father Tuyishime).
Weeks 1 and 2 by Michelle Asante
It neither matters how many shows you’ve performed in, how long a career you’ve had, nor how big a celebrity you might be; day 1 of rehearsals will ALWAYS cause at least 1 tiny bead of sweat to trickle down your forehead. Before the (dreaded) official ‘Meet and Greet Circle’ you usually wonder around the room trying to look cool and calm. You introduce yourself to your fellow actors, production team and the theatre staff, getting their names and job titles all the while knowing that in 5 milliseconds this information will have left your brain and floated up and out into the stratosphere. Day 1 of rehearsal for Our Lady of Kibeho was no different.
We all survived the process, however, and discovered that quite a few of the cast have worked with Artistic Director James Dacre or at Royal & Derngate before. Some also had mutual friends. 2 of the cast have known each other for near enough 3 decades! It was also lovely to find out that this is another cast member’s first professional job since graduating from drama school.
After all the first day shenanigans then the real work begins. It is both exciting and sobering to bring a character to life through the rehearsal process. However when the play is based on true events, set in recent history and the character is a real life person from a country and culture completely different to your own nor like any other that you have ever explored before; then things get slightly terrifying. You ask yourself: Will my normal process for characterisation work with this? How on earth am I going to learn this accent/language before opening night? Why oh why did they cast me in this?!!! (Okay…panic over). This is where great direction and team work play a vital role. Surrounded by beautiful images on the wall of Rwanda and the town of Kibeho- the people, the geography, the school in which the play is set; week 1 and much of week 2 was spent as a Company sat around a table breaking the text down into jigsaw pieces. A process often referred to as ‘unit-ing’ or ‘actioning’. Dissecting the play into bitesize chunks allows the director and cast to analyse, evaluate and scrutinise the themes and words with greater detail. Suddenly you see things you hadn’t noticed before. In this instance many heads are definitely better than 1. Every now and again, having now received deeper revelation of the scenes in the play; I found myself looking intently at the images of Kibeho on the wall and allowing my imagination to drift off into that beautiful country of many hills that is Rwanda. I imagine smelling the flowers, seeing the intense colours of the infamous red Rwandan dust road, feeling the heat of the noon day Sun. Exhilarating.
Week 2 and we added into the mix music and movement and a little bit of magic! Its spine-tingling listening to the great musical composition by Orlando Gough and Michael Henry, bringing the choral sounds of Rwanda that will be interweaved into the storytelling. Movement Director Diane Alison-Mitchell gets us to use our bodies to express that which cannot be seen with the naked eye. Illusionist John Bulleid has a few tricks up his sleeve to help with that (a few tricks…get it?).
Question- How do you bring the supernatural into a tangible world? How thin is the line between excitement or intrigue and fear or terror when the unknown, the unseen, the invisible is presented?
By the end of week 2 we are up on our feet and playing with some of the scenes. What is in our head must now sink deep into our bodies and our hearts as we ‘become’ the characters. It’s all a little bit thrilling to be honest. Week 3 can only go one way from this point- FORWARDS AND UPWARDS!!
Sunday, 13 Jan 2019 by Ery Nzaramba
As a Rwandan, I’m highly critical of anything about Rwanda, written by non Rwandans. However hard they try, it always tends to be stereotypical, a black and white context in an exotic yet poor African setting. The exception has been the recent BBC drama Black Earth Rising, and, now, Our Lady of Kibeho. With the BBC drama (set in today, current times) you clearly get the impression that you are dealing with a very specific country, with its own identity, that happens to be located in a continent called Africa. With Katori Hall‘s play (set in the eighties), it’s the same. The audience (used to plays about “Africa” or “some African country”) will immediately realise they are dealing with a specific, unique country that happens to be in Africa. The “tribal” complexities are introduced, and tackled, beautifully and precisely. Katori Hall has done a fantastic job here. You can tell she spent two years in Rwanda researching, and speaking to locals. You can tell she didn’t go off what had already been written and said about Rwanda in the wake of the genocide (because, let’s face it, before the genocide no one had written about or even heard of Rwanda). And that’s why many a times in rehearsals I’ve been holding back tears, because a scene has evoked the tragedy that I, that we, Rwandans, have lived. Or it has evoked, simply, nostalgia.
Working on Our Lady of Kibeho, in which I am the only Rwandan involved, is proving to be some experience to me. And James Dacre, the director, has been instrumental in making this a beautiful experience. It could have easily gone the other way. The tiniest sign of laziness in seeking to achieve authenticity and cultural precision would have killed it for me. Or if the story had been told from a Western perspective (then I probably wouldn’t have signed on in the first place). But as I mentioned earlier Katori has done much to neutralise that Western point of view (hers) – in fact, if I didn’t know I could have thought the play had been written by a Rwandan.
The few people I’ve told about the project were quick to express their disapproval at yet another white man directing a black story. But James has been so respectful and so inclusive. He listens and tries out everyone’s input. And he has been particularly receptive of my input, giving me a sense of ownership, which has helped. Whenever I’ve found it difficult emotionally, he has found me afterwards enquiring about my wellbeing. Don’t get me wrong, I haven’t just been sitting and crying in that rehearsal room. But there’s been a moment or two when it’s been difficult to keep it together. This, to me, shows that James is conscious and respectful of the nature of the material he’s dealing with. Even though our audience will predominantly be British and non Rwandan, he’s taking into consideration that one Rwandan person who might show up one day.
In Our Lady of Kibeho I’m playing pretty much myself, transposed back to Rwanda in the early eighties. Of course I wasn’t there in that time and I’m not a priest. I’m even having to put on an accent. How ironic that the first time ever I’m having to use an accent other than mine in a production, is when I’m playing a Rwandan character. I’ve lived in several countries and several cultures since I left, that my accent is no longer “Rwandan”, if there is such a thing. Plus, at the time, we only spoke Kinyarwanda and French, English was only recently introduced. So, a Rwandan accent in English? I had no idea, except for my own accent. So put on an accent I did. Yet it still feels like I’m playing myself. There’s a lot of similarities between Father Tuyishime (my character) and myself, in terms of our character, of our inner working. His ambiguity about his ethnic identity, even though he calls himself Tutsi, his abhorrence and strong reactions to any form of ethnic racism has led me to see him as mixed, of both Hutu and Tutsi heritage though he’s taken on the Tutsi identity. This is thanks to Katori’s writing’s richness (usually, in other pieces about Rwandans, they’re either Hutu or Tutsi and that’s it).
We’ve only just opened but to me the experience can already be classified as a milestone in my personal journey. Healing and affirming.