Ubumuntu Arts Festival inspires dialogue through global exchange

Joe Quintero (the other co-founder of B.R.I.D.G.E Theatre Project) and I were first introduced to Mashirika in the fall of 2012, when they performed their powerful production of Africa’s Hope in Los Angeles.

Afterward, I attended a theatre workshop led by Hope Azeda of Mashirika, where I connected with her about the possibility of collaborating. It seemed a natural fit, given our organisation’s shared passions for original theatre and utilizing art as a tool for connecting and healing humanity,” explains Adam Kalesperis, a co-founder of the B.R.I.D.G.E to Africa Theater Project, one of the foreign theater companies that will grace the forth-coming Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Kigali.

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’See You Yesterday’ performed by Cambodian actors was one of the stand out performances at this year’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival.

The collaboration between Mashirika and Bridge already promises to be one of the highlights of this year’s festival, running in its third edition now.

BRIDGE is an acronym for “Building Relationships and Inspiring Dialogue through Global Exchange”.

The project works to educate, inspire and connect young people around the globe through intensive theater education programs. It helps youth to share their stories from different cultural contexts with a view to conflict resolution and peace through shared theater experiences.

The collaboration will see plays written by students from Nepal, the US and Ecuador performed by Rwandan children at the festival. Artist educators from Mashirika and Bridge will further perform original works created by Rwandan students.

“They say every journey starts with one step. I remember Joe saying to me after the performance that he was moved by how the cast of Africa’s hope moved towards the audience, shook hands and hugged instead of going to their dressing rooms,” reminisces Hope Azeda, the founder of Mashirika and curator of the Ubumuntu Arts Festival on that 2012 performance in Los Angeles that was to open doors for the collaboration.

“I told him we constantly seek connection and we need to bring down the wall between the cast and the audience and become one. This goes well with the festival slogan; “We are human together”.

This year, performances will be grouped under four different clusters, as the festival grows from strength to strength, both in terms of the number of theater production companies on board, and the quality of the performances that will grace the Ubumuntu stage.

In the first cluster, called Ensemble, there will be a total of twelve professional performances that will run for duration of 30 minutes to one hour.

In the recreational cluster, upcoming young artistes drawn from school drama clubs from across the country will have a go at the big stage. Their performances will last between 10-20 minutes. A total of four school drama clubs will make up the recreational cluster of performances.

Another cluster, titled Works in Progress will have just one performance.

There will also be presentations that came about as a result of international collaborations and they will run from 10-15 minutes each.

Before the main stage performances, there will be pre-events that will take place on the 7th, 8th, and 9th of July, to be followed by an opening reception on the 13th of July.

The pre events will comprise of flash mobs that will take place at different strategic locations across the City of Kigali; Nyamirambo, Remera, and Nyabugogo.

A flash mob is a group of people who assemble suddenly in a public place, perform an unusual and seemingly random act for a brief time, then quickly disperse.

The pre-events will feature, among others, a dance showcase by the Krest Crew, a local Hip Hop dance group, and Inyamibwa. The Inyamibwa is a unique Rwandan cultural troupe whose sole aim is to preserve the unique dancing traditions of the country.

It was established in 1988 by the AERG Club (Association des Etudiants Et Elèves Rescapés Du Génocide), an association of students who survived the Genocide at the former National University of Rwanda (NUR), in Huye. At its inception, the aim of the troupe was to help youngsters stave off the depression that was brought on to them by the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.

One of the performances, Recontre, is a collaboration between a Rwandan and US theater company, while there will further be a joint Yoga performance by Belgian and UK performers. It’s the first time in the festival’s three consecutive year run that a yoga ensemble will be gracing the stage.

Five performances have been lined up for day one, July 14: Romeo and Juliet (Rwanda); Humanity Rising (Rwanda/USA); Run of the Power (DRC-Dance); Who Are You? (UK/South Africa); and Pambazuka (Rwanda).

Romeo and Juliet will be performed by students from Kirehe district in the Eastern Province.

Speaking of Pambazuka, it is one of those Mashirika classics with which the troupe has toured extensively, especially at their community-based shows in the Rwandan countryside. Pambazuka tackles the societal menace of child abuse head-on, in a bid to demystify a practice that is generally treated as taboo subject in most African societies.

It’s lead character is a girl just into her teens, and who has to endure the humiliating ordeal of bearing her own father’s child. Does she kill the child and avert the shame, or should she brave the pregnancy and give birth to a child with who to share a father?

Another skit in Pambazuka portrays an innocent child whose innocence is gone with the wind, after it witnesses the mother murder the entire family. The play tries to resolve the question of what is the best societal response to such a tragedy which, incidentally, the Mashirika team picked up from the local media.

Day two will have a total of seven performances, with two from Rwanda: . Have Mercy, and Inshuti. There is Desolation in Chains (Uganda); One Gesture (Poland); 7/7/7 (India); Super Heroes of Cohesion, (Great Lakes Region); and We Won’t Forget, from Kenya.

On day three, the Rwandan production, Crazy Wonderful World will be the first to hit the stage, followed by Barzakh (Lebanon), and Bartolomeo from Sweden. Also on stage will be the Belgian/Iraqi collaboration, Waiting; and from neighboring Burundi, Le Zenith de la Folie. Day three will also have Beyond Mandela (South Africa), and The Chibok Girls: Our Story (Nigeria), which is one of the festival’s highlights.

The festival will be wrapped up by workshops and presentations, including; Man the Unfree, Kenya/UK/Rwanda, and Out of the Blue, Rwanda/Uganda/UK.

The Ubumuntu Arts Festival was created in 2015 by Hope Azeda, the founder and artistic director of the Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, to act as a catalyst for national and international peace building processes. It is set at the end of the 100-day Genocide commemoration period in Rwanda and indeed was designed to be a part of the national and international genocide commemoration activities.

“Rwanda, with its unique history, is the perfect venue to gather people from all walks of life to reflect upon topics like conflict, peace, and humanity through the medium of art. Art has manifested itself the world over as an efficient form of communicating, expressing opinions, airing issues, and sharing values, about all aspects of life that affect humanity,” she said.

The Ubumuntu journey started when Azeda submitted the idea to the Africa Leadership Project (ALP) as her leadership project proposal in 2014. The overwhelming positive feedback the proposal received is what would later culminate into the festival.