Rwandans explore their history on Toronto stage
Newly formed troupe explores painful memories with help of Canadian play
A Rwandan theatre troupe is in Toronto this week with a play that explores the pain, loss and restorative justice of their history.
The troupe was the brainchild of Canadian Jennifer Capraru, who travelled to Rwanda to film Shake Hands with the Devil, inspired by the memoir of Lt- General Roméo Dallaire, the Canadian soldier in charge of UN peacekeepers during the 1994 genocide.
Capraru was in the Rwandan capital in 2006 and the experiences of the Rwandan survivors moved her to action.
"I was so struck by them and their courage that I thought, what can I do? What can I give?" Capraru told CBC News.
There was only one real theatre in a country of 10 million people, she recalled, so she created a troupe to provide training for Rwandan actors and playwrights.
Capraru began looking for a play for them to perform and struck on The Monument, by Canadian playwright Colleen Wagner. The Governor General's Literary Award-winning play was inspired by conflicts in Bosnia and East Timor.
When Rwandans saw the play, they believed it was about themselves.
"First when we played it in Rwanda the reaction was, this is Rwandan history — this is what happened in Rwanda," said actor Jean Paul Uwayezu, who trained as an actor with Never Again Youth Theatre and is in Toronto to perform.
"We don't understand why something written before the genocide and in a foreign country reflects what happened in Rwanda — it's very strange," he added.
Uwayezu was a child when the Hutus massacred 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus during the Rwandan civil war. His own family members were among the victims.
In The Monument, he plays a killer who has to eventually find a way to ask for forgiveness. The plot revolves around a former soldier who is reprieved from execution by a woman who has lost members of her family.
"I'm convinced that if everyone, perpetrators and victims, could try to put themselves into other's shoes we could have a positive thing out of it," Uwayezu said. "If I was a killer during the genocide and I was told to kill, what would be my choice?"
Uwayezu and his Rwandan castmates will get to act out their country's trauma as a reminder of the universal human capacity for evil but also, infinite forgiveness.
Capraru hopes it's a message that resonates with Canadian audiences.
"If theatre and art can be a part of making the world a place where genocide isn't possible, that's really what drives me," she said.
The Monument appears at Harbourfront in Toronto from April 27 to May 1. It is performed in Kinyarwanda with English surtitles.