'My House', a Rwandan-German improvised theatre project

‘My House’ is an improvised collaborative theatre piece between the Ishyo Arts Centre of Rwanda, and the Helios Theatre Group of Germany.
The German-Rwandan cast of the play, My House, during rehearsals in Kigali. (Moses Opobo)
The German-Rwandan cast of the play, My House, during rehearsals in Kigali. (Moses Opobo)

‘My House’ is an improvised collaborative theatre piece between the Ishyo Arts Centre of Rwanda, and the Helios Theatre Group of Germany.

But more than just that, it is a stage production that brings out the similarities in the two countries’ turbulent histories:

 

The 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda on the one hand, and the Holocaust (1941 and 1945), in which over six million Jews were killed by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler. 

 

It was because of the need to compare notes on the two countries’ tragic experiences that a cast of four performers under the Helios Theatre Group visited Rwanda late last year. Ultimately, they intended to put up a joint stage production on the subject. 

 

Carole Karemera, the founder of Ishyo Arts Center had met Kolling two years earlier at the staging of the play, Traces in Bologna, Germany. Impressed, she invited the Helios Theatre cast to the Kina Festival of the Arts organised by the Ishyo Arts Centre in November last year.

It’s at this point the two parties knew they needed to work together.

“We hosted them because we were still on that journey of research to know what we really want to do with the play and also to get to know each other as people and as countries to see our commonalities and differences, and that’s what in the end helped us come up with something together,” explained Carole Karemera.

The success of Traces gave birth to the idea of memory, particularly in the context of the Rwandan Genocide and the Holocaust.

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The German-Rwandan cast of the play, My House, during rehearsals in Kigali. (Moses Opobo)

In January, a cast of performers from the Ishyo Arts Centre travelled to Hamm, Germany for the first half of rehearsals. They spent a fortnight there.

Coming to Rwanda:

In all, the production will be rehearsed for six weeks. The Helios Theatre team recently made a reciprocal journey to Rwanda to join their counterparts in Ishyo Arts centre for the next set of rehearsals.

Then in October, the Rwandan cast will again travel to Hamm, Germany for the last leg of rehearsals.

In Hamm, which is the home of Helios Theatre, the play will also be premiered and afterwards the team hopes to bring the production to the Rwandan audience.

Real life enacted:

Basically what the different cast members did was simply create personal stories about themselves –all true real life accounts of their experiences in different situations of unrest.

I attended the cast’s rehearsal session at the SOS Children’s Villages in Kagugu on Thursday night.

Umuhire Eliane, one of the cast members from Ishyo Arts Centre recounted her own genocide story, revealing how she spent most of her time outdoors because it felt safer than locking oneself indoors.

Meanwhile Marko Werner, a cast member from Helios Theatre acts a Jewish man in 1933 Germany who returns home from school to find somebody is opening the door to his flat. His family is no longer there, and the other man is telling him ‘you don’t live here anymore’.

Another performer, Helena is German but was born in Kazakhstan.

“I was six when we left, and I have very strong memories of the house –of smell, how the house looked, the animals, the journey, and what I was wearing.

I was born there, left at six years and never returned, so it’s only this memory that I have about Kazakhstan. The closest I’ve been to it again has been Russia, so I don’t even know if the house is still there or it’s gone. That’s the most emotional house I’ve ever known.

This was my first English improvisation play, although it turned out easier than I thought. It wasn’t that easy of course, but I had thought I would struggle a little more. Maybe the fact that English is not the first language of any of us was an advantage. When I heard that the project was coming to Rwanda I was immediately in. I didn’t ask any questions, and when I came here I really liked it from the beginning. I love the gentility of the people.”

It was different stories brought together, all very personal.

On stage, the ubiquitous presence of bamboo was my first impression:

“When we arrived here in Rwanda, we decided to work with bamboo sticks and for us this is really to enable easy changes of pictures and scenes, and actually at a certain point in the production they use the bamboo as weapons so it’s versatile,” explained Kolling.

Rehearsal experience:

“When I first came here I thought that it would be complicated, but in the end it was so well-prepared,” Kolling notes, adding:

“Of course it’s really different between here and Germany, for example the concept of time. For example here in Rwanda I’m impressed by how people deal with waiting and the way they do it because they really do it relaxed. In Germany people would get hysteric and ill … there would be a lot of energy which is not good energy. This is a very good exercise for us.

Also in Germany theatre is very much concentrated; dark room, everything silent, and only the director speaking and here you have to change all this and capture the right moments when you can.”

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