Theater in Rwanda faces numerous challenges, beginning with the very fact that there is no public theater in the country.
Worse still, theater is still viewed largely as an adult indulgence, with little to offer to the younger generations.
The week-long theater-centric KINA Festival that opened on October 31 and that closes today, Sunday November 8 sought to specifically address the second issue.
Organised by the Ishyo Arts Center and held at the Kigali YMCA Youth Center in Kacyiru, the festival brought together theater companies and theater practitioners from Burundi, the DRC, Cameroon, Italy, Germany, and host country Rwanda on one stage.
In its third edition now, the festival brought a bouquet of plays and contemporary dances that are geared for kids and the youth. These were interspersed with acrobatic performances, conferences and workshops for arts practitioners and enthusiasts.
For the first time this year, a play specifically for adults, on the theme of unity and reconciliation was also staged by the La Troupe Lampyre from Burundi. It was titled En Pleine Mer (In The Sea). The troupe first staged the play in Rwanda in March.
The festival kicked off on Saturday, October 31 at 3:00 pm with Abole, a play by the Cameroonian playwright, Etoundi Zeyang.
Abole is a Cameroonian word that means “it’s broken”, explained Zeyang. It’s a two-piece play without words, and is the story of a rich man and a poor man who are friends.
“That play is speaking to the world: That peace will only come to the world when people know that we have to share,” explains the playwright. It’s very important and we have to teach it to young people now. Peace will come to the world when everybody knows the value of sharing.”
The following day, he facilitated an adult professionals’ workshop under the theme; Sounds, Songs and Dance in the traditional African Theater.
Zeyang is the Director and one of the founders of Theater du Chocolat, a theater company based in Yaounde Cameroon. He is also General Manager of the African Theater Festival for Children and Young People, a biannual festival, still in Yaounde Cameroon.
Theater du Chocolat specializes in theater for children and young people. It was started in March 1981.
“We work with kids and for kids around the world. When we started it was very difficult, but now in Cameroon it’s a tradition that there is theater for children and young people,” explained Zeyang.
“It’s why we have to support initiatives like these. The work Carole Karemera (the festival’s curator) is doing here is very important. We are here just to support because African productions usually to go to Europe directly without touring Africa first, and this is wrong. It’s important that when we create a production in Africa, if the production can tour first in Africa then go to Europe, the better.”
He added that festivals like these are of importance to arts practitioners for their networking value. “That way, we can have a production move from South Africa to North Africa, East to West Africa.”
Zeyang first met Carole Karemera, the festival’s curator in Johannesburg, South Africa at the World Summit of Culture, but only made real contact with her in Bologna, Italy last year, where the Ishyo Arts Center had gone to stage their production, My Little Hill.
“Everybody in Africa likes children, but to take care of them is the problem,” he explained, adding that “if you want to save the world you have to save children first, because they are the future.”
Generally, performances were structured in terms of age-groups like 1-5 years, 4-8 years, 12 years and above, and 15 years and above.
In between the plays there were also dance and acrobatic performances from the Gatenga Youth Center, and Hip Hop dance by the Sick City Entertainment, all from Rwanda.
Rwanda had the biggest number of productions –three in total, all by the Ishyo Arts Center. These were; Ma petite Colline (My Little Hill), which was showcased on the opening day, We Call it Love, and Kura, which is still a work in progress.
“We started on Saturday, and it’s really been wonderful seeing children just sitting and enjoying performances played by adults just for them,” explained Umuhire Eliane, one of the actors who featured in all the Rwandan productions:
“It’s something that’s unique and that is still lacking in Rwanda. We have a huge performance industry for adults –like Hip Hop, painting … we have everything for adults but nothing for children.”
Umuhire contends that acting for children is more challenging than doing it for adults: “It’s more difficult to play for kids because kids don’t lie. They will never pretend that you’re good. They can’t clap if they’ve not enjoyed the performance.
If you try to fool them they will tell you off as a liar. If they are bored they will walk away or start to talk or to sing. You have to work harder and be true to yourself and to forget the adult in you and become a child completely.
Kids need theater even more than adults, and not just theater but all other art forms because art is something that moulds you from a tender age and ignites your imagination and creativity.”
Roberto Frabitti traveled all the way from Bologna, Italy for the eight-day festival.
“I work with a theater company for children and I’ve worked for children for the last forty years taking theater to the very young and to the adolescent. We have in our town a theater that is dedicated to children and young people,” he explained on the third day of the festival.
The theater produces and performs productions, and hosts theater companies from Italy and from other parts of the world on a regular basis, with sessions for children as young as zero years old.
Last year, the Ishyo Arts Center staged a production at the theater, and it’s how they made contact, hence the reciprocal visit.
“It’s a way to continue to share our experiences, and also to have real exchange between different countries and different generations.
I think that theater is important for all human beings. That is why we work with very young children under one year as well. It’s a really human art where it’s possible to meet people directly.”
Carole Karemera, says the festival started in 2008 and was intended initially as an annual event, although it has since gone biannual.
At the time it started, the Ishyo Arts Center still occupied prime space at their former premises in Kacyiru, but when that was closed down, Ishyo was forced to move to a much smaller space at the International School of Kigali, which could not host the event.
The next edition of the festival will take place in October/November 2017.
Typically, it brings together theater professionals from all over the world, and for this year it was mostly those from Africa and Europe.