Posted on April 19, 2018

Last year MAYK collaborated with Mashirika Arts (Rwanda) and Theatre Factory (Uganda) and artist Caroline Williams to create Can You Hear Me Now, a show about the relationship young people have with technology. 

Hope Azeda, Artistic Director of Mashirika Performing Arts and Media Company, and three Rwandan artists will be resident at Mayfest, seeing shows, making theatre and meeting artists from the South West. We'll be sharing their experience on social media and by the end of their residency there'll be a chance to see what they've been making.  

Ahead of the residency, Hope Azeda talked to Matthew Austin, MAYK co-Artistic Director:

MA: In some ways, Mashirika sounds a little bit like a Rwandan version of MAYK. You’re an arts organisation that also produces a festival – Ubumuntu. Tell us a little bit about what you do.

HA: Our main activities are music, dance and drama. The unique thing about Mashirika is that we constantly explore new ways to develop, learn and create exciting theatre. We bring together different passions, moods, moves, sounds, words, rhythms and visuals, and we’re always ready to add new things to the mix! Mashirika uses art as a tool for social transformation. We started Ubumuntu Arts Festival in 2015 because we realised there was a need for public introspection. The word Ubumuntu can be defined as ‘being human.’ The festival aims to create an avenue where people from different walks of life can come together and speak in the common language of art, and in doing so, echo the festival tagline borrowed from Desmond Tutu: “I am because you are, you are because I am: we are human together.”

Art played a crucial role in tackling Rwanda’s immense post-genocide challenges. From genocide perpetrators giving truthful testimonies to victims forgiving perpetrators, public performative acts were part of the healing process and one of the stepping-stones on the way to reconciliation and a peaceful future. We are convinced that art is a forum for communication, expression, reaction, innovation and creativity, and is a key motor for social change.

 MA: In the process of making Can You Hear Me Now, you spoke about a mental health crisis amongst young people in Rwanda. What can theatre do to address this?

HA: Theatre is a great tool for unlocking difficult conversations. It creates a safe space of trust and comfort. Once trust is achieved participants open up and talk about untouched wounds through different artistic expressions. It starts with one individual unpacking the baggage they carry and like a fire everyone starts connecting with some else’s experiences. Eventually a circle of trust takes shape and when it does the chocked conversations spill like a bursting wound and that’s when the journey of healing starts.

MA: You’ve spoken about how theatre has helped heal the scars of genocide in your country. Are there any stories that you can share about this?

HA: Healing the scars of genocide is not like healing a headache, it is a process and the period it takes depends on an individual. The first steps of healing are to talk about a situation, which in most cases sparks a lot of pain that results in trauma. When an individual accepts the situation and becomes acquainted with how to manage, then they have started a slow journey of healing and can no longer be slaves to their past, pain, burden or wounds; they become resilient and begin to move on.

MA: What do you hope to take away from your time in Bristol?

HA: I hope to learn about how the arts engage young people in becoming responsible citizens of purpose. How is art being used to reclaim values of humanity in a world where these values seem to be slipping through our fingers? 

The Mashirika resideny at Mayfest is supported by the British Council #EastAfricanArts