In the 1990s, Hope Azeda took it upon herself to tell stories and touch people’s lives through movies and theatre. And in her quest to tell stories, the bubbly actress has achieved what very few would have expected her to achieve. In her more than a decade long career, she has traversed the world staging plays and directing movies.
She was also the organiser of Miss Rwanda 2012. But despite her enviable successes, Azeda has managed to remain as humble and ambitious as she was several years ago. Lifestyle’s Collins Mwai caught up with her to quiz her on Mashirika Troupe, theatre, film, her association with Miss Rwanda and more…
There have been arguments about your nationality. Are you Rwandan?
Yes, I am 100 per cent Rwandan. It is just that I was born in exile. I was born in Uganda where my family had fled following unrest in the late 1950s. I attended school in Uganda. I returned in 1999 after completing a degree in Music and Drama at Makerere University (Kampala.)
You are the founder and director of Mashirika Troupe, which has been in existence for close to 11 years. Tell us how it all started.
Before I got back to Rwanda I had met with the then head of ORINFOR in Uganda. He suggested that drama would be welcome in Rwanda as a tool to help heal the country from the memories of the 1994 genocide. When I arrived in Rwanda he offered me a job at Radio Rwanda to edit radio drama scripts. This gave me a chance to present to them a play I had written while in Uganda titled Amashyiga ya Sehutsitwa. Soon I received Rwf1.5 million sponsorship from Bralirwa and began staging plays. I chose the name Mashirika because I had seen it on a bumper sticker on a Mercedes Benz outside my residence while I was still a university student. I was told it meant ‘combined efforts’ in Swahili.
How was the reception of plays at the time considering that there were no theatres at the time?
There we no theatres but the reception was very good because of the titles of my first plays. We aroused the curiosity of many. Tickets always sold out.
Most of your plays are sad stories, aren’t there happy stories to tell?
(Laughs) actually, not all my plays are sad. But it could also be because I grew up in an environment where there weren’t as many happy stories. I grew up in Uganda during Idi Amin’s regime, which was marked by war, and returned to Rwanda soon after the regrettable 1994 Genocide.
Between movies and theatre, which do you prefer doing?
I prefer theatre because I consider it a true reflection of life: it encompasses dance, music and every aspect of art. It is communal; one has to be at the top of his game since it doesn’t allow for second takes. And it is live.
Most of your works are very emotional, are they real life stories?
All my plays and movies are real life stories. At Mashirika we have a policy – we have to feel before we can act. We have to feel the character’s pain before we can play the role. If we can’t feel the role we cut out the scene. This empathy enables us to captivate the audience. I also think it is fair to individuals who have been through such incidences.
In all the plays you have staged, which had the most impact on you?
Two weeks to the commemoration of 10 years of the Genocide, I was asked to come up with a play to be staged at Amahoro Stadium before an audience of 30,000 people. It was to be covered by international media agencies. It was the biggest assignment I had ever had. I chose a true story of young children trying to understand how the older generation orchestrated the massacre. The play went against everything I had learnt in school. I had a cast of a thousand people on a football pitch. It was crazy. After that I staged the play 55 times in Europe and had 150 workshops about it all over the world.
This year you were invited to a director’s workshop in New York, tell us more about it?
It was a conference of 72 directors and writers from across the world. It was so humbling that I was considered and included. It gave me a chance to see that my work is beyond my local community; it is global and reaches out to people of various nations. I have staged plays in the US, UK, Africa and Asia.
Creative minds like you are said to consume a lot of Vodka or liquor…
(Laughs) I don’t even drink. For some reason alcohol doesn’t appeal to me. I like silence instead; it helps me think and listen to myself.
Is there any money in theatre?
There is good money if you beat on your craft and are patient enough to grow. But there is more to art than just money. If you are in it solely for money, you may not get through with it.
You are also the organiser of Miss Rwanda… When should we expect this year’s event?
I am no longer organising the event. I did it for two years. It gave me a chance to have a platform to empower women and I was happy doing it. This time round it is someone else’s turn to organise Miss Rwanda. I am still a fan of the event though.
People have been seeing you around for a while and wondering if you are married…
Hope Azeda is happily married with two beautiful daughters…you can underline “Beautiful”… My daughters are really pretty!