There is a Rwandan story, starring one of our own that is taking the New York theatre scene by storm, garnering five star ratings from The New York Times theatre critics and selling out every day.
Written by Hall Katori and directed by Micheal Greif, “Our Lady of Kibeho” is a play that dramatises the events that took place in Kibeho, Gikongoro, Rwanda in the 1980’s.
According to lore, the Virgin Mary appeared to a group of young female students at Kibeho College, warning them of an upcoming apocalypse. Some believe that the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi was prophesied by the apparition.
Unlike many Hollywood productions that attempt to tell the Rwandan story but lack a Rwandan cast member, “Our Lady of Kibeho” stars famous poet and Mashirika artist Angel Uwamahoro.
The New Times reached out to her and she answered a few questions about the play, her career in the US and where she sees Rwandan theatre in the coming years.
How did you get involved with “Our Lady of Kibeho”?
It was during my second semester last year at Fordham College. I was performing in a Fordham University Studio play called, “Bishop” written by Eljon Wardally and directed by Serette Williams. This play had cast members from the Fordham Theater programme (myself included) as well as outside actors from the actors’ equity union.
Two of the equity members were having a conversation about a lady/play write named Hall Katori, and then one of them told me that she was going to have a play about Rwanda soon. He later sent me the audition information. After reading the synopsis- I wanted so much to be a part of this production, but had no idea how to break into the system. The audition was an ‘equity only’ call...which means only equity members could audition.
However after asking for advice on how I should go about at least getting an audition- and running around New York city with my New York mentor Beth Collins, trying to get all the necessary recruitments for the audition, I ended up showing up for my first audition at 6am in the morning and later that week, I received call backs- and then an email that got me jumping up and down in an H&M store shouting that I was being offered a part in the play.
Did you think that it would get the critical acclaim that it seems to be receiving?
When I first read the synopsis I was so excited about it and I thought ‘Hey, what a cool story!’ When I got to read the whole play I was even more excited and so I only expected the people we were going to share this story with to carry the same excitement.
Did being Rwandan give you a special relationship with the play’s story? And if so, how and why?
Yes, being Rwandan did give me a unique relationship with the play. Starting with the way the play is written; there are many sayings that I could identify with and having been a Rwandan schoolgirl, I knew what was expected of me in the play. Having lived in Rwanda, I had heard about Mother Mary appearing in Kibeho. However only after receiving the role did I actually go to Kibeho and do some research of my own during my summer vacation. This play is so real to me, it almost feels like I am home in Rwanda every time I am on stage, and back to New York every time I am off it.
What is your role in the play?
In this play I am a schoolgirl at Kibeho College.
How much dialogue do you get?
Throughout the play I get a few lines here and there and then in act two I get a decent monologue.
How have you found the ‘Our Lady’ experience?
Truly a great experience! The story is amazing- Hall Katori is Brilliant, and working for her has been a blessing in itself- Michael Greif is a huge broadway director here in New York and being under his direction has pulled out the best parts of me as an actress.
I have learnt so much; stage tricks, stage combat, some Italian…believe it or not, and applying the acting techniques that I learn at school here at work.
When I got on stage I was not nervous. I was ready and excited to share a part of Rwanda with the world
Moving on to your theatre career, how much theatre acting have you done over the years?
I started acting since I was a little kid in nursery school, for talent shows and end of year presentations for families and school staff- but professionally, I started in 2005 with Mashirika Performing Arts.
You are obviously enjoying your acting career. What advice could you give an aspiring actress/actor back home in Rwanda?
My advice is to follow your dreams no matter the obstacles. Look around you, and let go completely of those who bring you down or hold you back, and keep those who support you near.
Just keep at it. Keep looking for opportunities. And when opportunities come to you and you aren’t sure about them, ‘Just say yes’! You can worry about the details later.
Video: Poem by Angel Uwamahoro, Ines Giramata and Natacha Muhoza - 20 September 2014. Source: Rwanda Day / You Tube.