For many performing artists, the new coronavirus outbreak was a major distraction which did not only affect their means of survival, but it also meant that they had to find other things to do to make ends meet. But when you consider yourself a ‘Juggler’, then you can adjust to every situation and find ways of staying relevant under difficult circumstances and evolve with the situation. That is what poet, actress and creative mind Natacha Muziramakenga has done to keep going in a sector that was hard hit by the pandemic. Muziramakenga, also known as Muzira since childhood, a short version of her surname, one of Rwanda’s leading spoken word artists and poets, stumbled into arts as her initial childhood dream was not to be a performing artiste but rather an astronaut or a scientist. “I must say I never thought about it as a child, you know. I was thinking more about becoming a scientist. That was my dream as a child. I wanted to be an astronaut,” “I was thinking more of becoming maybe a mathematician or physician,” recalls Muzira, who spent her childhood in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), before her family returned to Rwanda in 1996, like many exiles. At the age of 14, Muziramakenga started mingling with friends, particularly a crew which was more interested in performing arts, making her slowly abandon her introverted dreams of becoming a Scientist but even then, she still had stage fears to deal with. It wasn’t until the age of 17 that she started gathering guts to be part of plays. All this time she had been rehearsing with others but feared going on the stage. “I remember I always used to rehearse with everyone, but I never used to perform. I always used to find an excuse not to perform because I had stage fright,” “I thought maybe that wasnt for me and then later on when I was more like 19 or 20, it started coming. I did my first theatre play. I went on to act in the film called Un dimanche à Kigali’, a production on the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi,” she says. At this point, Muzira started writing her own compositions, especially a lot of poetry and she started participating in Spokenword Rwanda -a stage which she believes cured her stage fright. “Progressively, like a forced marriage. You know, the idea of forced marriage, which I believe is horrible, by the way, but that is how parents would encourage you and say it will grow on you and that you will grow to know the person and understand them and grow to love them,” “That is what happened to me with performing arts. At first, it was so excruciating because I used to want to keep to myself, to stay alone. I was the type of person who wanted to stay in the room and write, rather than performing what I write on stage,” she recalls, adding that inside she used to feel like the ‘awkward kid’. Finding her identity As she grew more into writing, the urge to write about her identity doubled. As a child who grew up in a neighbouring country and had just returned to her native, she longed to know more about who she was and finding her place in the world. Life in DRC, what used to be Zaire then, was not bad at all for her, but by 1996, being a ‘Rwandese’ in DRC was beginning to be dangerous, as tensions in the region boiled up. Her family had to return to Rwanda for safety. Apart from identity, her other favourite subject was ‘human loss’, having lost her mum early on, which meant that she felt the loss and grieved through poetry. Muzira found power in rhymes and used them a lot to express herself in her writing. The year 2020 has surprisingly been Muzira’s busiest year in terms of creating and production. A week before the lockdown, she had just completed the shooting of ‘Neptune Frost’, a film by Saul Williams, in which she was part of the production team and as an actress. Things were really beginning to take shape. Earlier in January, she had hosted a music concert at Mamba in Kimihurura, which was well attended, then all of a sudden, the new coronavirus outbreak happened. “Right after those events, every single event started being cancelled, one by one, and I thought to myself ‘Oh my God. This is it. This is the end!,” “Im not going to have any work, especially because it happened right at the time when I decided, in December 2019, that I wasnt doing anything else but art,” Muzira says, recalling life in the last nine months. At the same time in March, Goethe Institut had approached her and requested her to write a story, which was part of a project called ‘Time to Listen’, which really excited her because she had got something to do in the lockdown. “I wrote a little short story that I read. It was accompanied by a video. So, it was featured and they liked it so very much and I was happy because it was part of a website, which had many other stories, some by prominent authors,” “It was part of a project where they were asking authors to send short stories either from one of the books of theirs that were published or just something that they were writing for that project in particular,” Muzira says, adding that it spurred her to do something during the lockdown. She paired up with filmmaker Clementine Dusabejambo to make a film, documenting life under confinement. The duo is working on final touches on the documentary dubbed ‘Inward’, which will be out soon. Apart from that, Muzira also got the opportunity to be invited to participate in a feminist play in Germany, known as ‘Learning Feminism in Rwanda’, which she had been working on since February, with the hope of conduction workshops in Kigali and Germany. With the outbreak, the plans were equally affected but the organisers tried their best to ensure that it is not cancelled, carrying out as many activities online, as possible, rather than cancelling everything. “The idea was that we would still do what we have to do but remotely. It was the first time Ive worked on a play on Zoom, where the directory is in Germany and the performers are in Rwanda, or at least most of them,” “Some of them like Nirere Shanel, who is part of the project, live in Europe. Shanel can travel from France where she lives, to Germany to be with Lisa who is the German performer of ‘Learning Feminism in Rwanda’.” In Rwanda, Muzira, and others like Wesley Ruzibiza, a Rwandan film director and choreographer, and dancer Yvette Fasha, participated virtually via Zoom. “It was the hardest way of working because you know, when you prepare a play in general, we are together in the same room, you know, because its intense. We disagree, we fight, we have to make up. Everything is happening there,” something she said virtual meetings don’t offer. “There are no coffee or lunch breaks to talk things over,” Muziramakenga says, adding however that they had to find a way. The production process was a bit complicated, with the team in Kigali having to produce what the team in Europe would act out. To cut the long story short, the ‘Learning Feminism in Rwanda’ project continues to run and it is touring Europe, with Muzira and others participating yet physically they are in Kigali, leveraging the power of technology. Muzira, who considers herself a jack of all trades, is trying her hand at directing as well. She has already directed two short art films which are due soon. But that is not all. The mother of three says that she has partnered with her friend called Bingy to start a group known as ‘Disco Titties’, which is doing alternative experimental music “We experiment a lot with poetry, electronic music drums, and now we want to do some sort of traditional fusion and just see how we can extend the ways we express ourselves and we usually accompany this with videos,” she says. “Overall, it has been an interesting year,” Muzira says, adding that she chose to produce a lot of creative work during this period, not only to survive but also to stay sane. She says that art helped her pull through the new coronavirus outbreak, first by producing it and consuming it, though she admits that the arts and creative industry were among the most hit. Fighting for women’s rights, juggling motherhood Muzira considers herself a feminist but also acknowledges that today there are too many stereotypes surrounding the word ‘feminist’ but for her, the true meaning of a feminist is someone who pushes for women to be treated fairly as all human beings. The 36-year-old mother said that most of her 2020 works have something to do with the life of a woman -mainly tackling social ills such as body policing and ensuring that women have the right to own their bodies. For a mother of three juggling several things, Muzira refused to let motherhood ground her dreams and ambitions. “I told you that I am a performing artiste earlier but I think that my true career is juggler,” she says, adding that she is always trying to do so many things at the same time and doing so with all her passion and all the energy she can muster and she is hyperactive in it. If not acting, writing poems or reciting them, Muziramakenga offers consultancy services in project implementation and is also a creative copywriter, whose services are sought after by communication agencies.