The evening of October 30th 2009 was a special one for me. I was part of 80 plus audience that was treated to theatrical experience which won overwhelming applause.
More than 30 percent of the audience consisted of what may be called expatriate community. I was reminded of the good time at Globe in London, Wits theatre in Johannesburg, and the Kenya National theatre in Nairobi, where I enjoyed what my friend Marcel calls “a civilized way to spend an evening.”
This time round, the venue was the Caisse Socialle hall at Kacyiru. The ballet which was a corroborative project of a local group Amizero Dance group and an American one, Rebecca Davis companyp, put their experience and expertise together to put up a splendid performance.
“Differences explored”, the theme of the night with a universal relevance was timely for Rwandan audiences. The thrust of the message of the performance is aptly captured in the words of the groups’ choreographer Rebecca Davis who says it is a “story of challenges and rewards of building friendships across historical-cultural divisions”.
In other words, whether our differences are based on religion, ethnicity, language, gender or otherwise, there is a way for us to be simultaneously different and united as demonstrated in the story.
Performance arts, has a way of communicating that appeals to audiences in a different mode than other communication forms.
What makes it unique in relation to other forms of communication like education or public announcements is that it has the capacity to hold the attention of the audience by providing enjoyment, so that the messages are communicated without the people feeling they are being preached to.
Theater, in particular, has been used successfully worldwide to support development projects, health information dissemination, entertainment and as a vehicle for prompting social-cultural values.
From the Amizero dancing group and Rebecca Davis company performance, I realized that there was something crucial missing in our cultural milieu—a national theatre. When you have a stage, actors and audience, then you have theatre.
There is talent in Rwanda as demonstrated by the trio: Wesley Ruzibiza, Viateur Benimana, and Eugene Dushime whose performance of Rebecca Davis’s choreographic construction and movement motifs told the story of “differences” without uttering a word.
Experts like Rebbecca Davis, the Rwandan theater director-producer Hope Azeda, Ishyo and Goethe Institute are ready to train young talented performers.
Rwandan could utilize available halls/stages at the National University of Rwanda, The Rwanda- French cultural Center, ETO Kicukiro among others to develop national theatre.
Besides the benefits of education and entertainment mentioned above, we should look at theatre as viable cultural/economic industry.
In countries where they have national theatres they are institutions located in ministries of culture, national heritage or education and may be independent of or part of national cultural centers.
In Kenya the National Theatre is a semi autonomous government agency mandated to provide space for rehearsal and staging of local as well as international productions.
In Rwanda we need a National theatre to provide space and management to promote national drama. Borrowing a leaf from our neighbors Uganda, the national theatre established by law is charged with providing and establishing theatres and cultural centers in the country, encouraging and developing cultural and artist activities and providing home to societies, groups and other organizations that deal in art and culture.
National theatres elsewhere have been credited for being animators and ambassadors of culture, sites for artistic events and trendsetters. The Ministry of Culture and sports will have invested well in a national theatre.
As a result of developing a national theatre, we shall have laid ground for a new industry and initiate an activity that will compliment football fandom that is evident in Kigali, thus generating employment, for actors, directors, producers and theatre critics.
If given the benefit of training and professional theatre exposure our actors and actresses will be competitive in the film industry locally and even internationally.
Recently Hollywood and Nollywood directors have been scouting for talent in East Africa and some East African actors and actresses have landed lucrative deals.
Whereas private theaters have thrived in some countries and in some cases overshadowed national theatres, where theatre has become a successful industry, like in Great Britain, they have played a vital role in their initial development.
I have hope that the need and potential of theatre in Rwanda will not escape the attention of individual artists and government, after all as my friend Fidel says “ Inkono ihira igihe:”