How difficult is it to truly understand a history so different from one’s own?
Rwandan artist Kiki Gatese creates the Festival Arts Azimut – an arts festival aimed at ‘re-humanizing’ Rwanda. In 2009, she invites the Canadian play Goodness.
Goodness is a play about genocide. Rwanda knows a thing or two about genocide.
Goodness in Rwanda starts as an examination of how we tell stories, and how we ask the hardest questions. But what begins as a search for meaning, becomes a journey into unexplained evil, the simplicity of goodness, and the reality of forgiveness.
I’ve been lucky enough to be a Canadian actor for fifteen years. Does that sound like an oxymoron? Like ‘essential service’? Or ‘progressive conservative? We don’t make a lot of money and we do it because we love it. But in 2009 I found myself asking: does it matter?
When I had the opportunity to tour with Volcano’s ‘Goodness’ – an internationally celebrated play about genocide – to Rwanda, I brought along a camera. I thought that if we all take part in this colourful Arts festival – and we’re a smash hit – I’ll bring back my own little treasure: personal validation. But underneath that self-interest I also had a wider goal: to test our creativity. To see how our imagination in Canada might match their imagination in Rwanda.
The journey was not what we expected. And the pursuit changed me – and my colleagues – in unpredicted ways. Halfway through our journey, I found myself in the same position as the young Jewish writer I play in Goodness: humbled, and with my preconceptions smashed against the wall. I’d found no easy answers: only baffling questions. And the potential folly of our mission stumped all of us.
What could we as theatremakers possibly have to say to this injured country? Maybe this play – so admired in the West – means nothing to the people it should help the most.
But when pride is undone, I think we learn something from the fall. I was humbled and amazed to see a Rwanda that so few Westerners get to see: a country pioneering renewal – in strides. And my artistic validity was renewed, but not in the way I’d envisioned.
Even though I walked away from the trip with more questions than answers, I hope the film does its part in honestly exploring how one part of the world can relate to another part of the world. And I hope to suggest – with my naïveté as my shield – that this difficult, halting, and sometimes embarrassing conversation is the first, essential step toward greater understanding.