ITLP Returns for Another Year of Theatre!

August 20, 2014

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The Village is excited to have our students back after vacation, and for the third term to begin! While many of our students returned home during the term break, some stayed in the Village to participate in a fine-arts workshop put on by the International Theater and Literacy Project (ITLP).  Mariana Houston and Stephen DiMenna first developed ITLP in 2005 for the purpose of giving voices to children across the globe through theatric exercises and programs [1].  The connection was made to the ASYV when founder Anne Heyman and Mariana Houston met at a dinner and began talking about their similar interests in East Africa. They ultimately decided to bridge their passions and ITLP first arrived at ASYV in 2011. 

This is the fourth year that ITLP has worked with ASYV students to create original pieces that promote the importance of self-confidence, public speaking, and creativity. For some of the ITLP trainers this was their first time in Rwanda, while others were returning to ASYV for their fourth year. 

Third-year veteran trainer, Channie Waites, expressed her motivation for returning to the Village. “For me, this work is not solely about public speaking, although that is a lovely byproduct. It is instead a tool for healing, transformation and positive human agency. We want to show these kids that they have voices and that it’s ok to use them. Our ITLP program is supported by the progressive education system that already exists at ASYV. To have these young people be able to have the ability to express themselves to their community, despite whatever fears they are feeling. That’s what it’s about for me.

The ITLP program is a two-week intensive seminar that culminates in the production of two original theatric pieces that are performed for the Village body as well as a subsequent show in the local town of Rubona. The students are encouraged to open up about their own history and truly come to know their fellow group members. This collaboration eventually leads to a coherent script that holds a special meaning for all those involved. 

Natacha Umutoni is an first year student who is quickly earning the reputation of being a performer in the Village. It only took two weeks at ASYV before Natacha joined the Traditional Dance Team, Isheja Dance Troupe, and helped them to secure a second place ranking in the country. For Natacha, participating in the ITLP training helped her to hone her skills as an actress, which she is excited to incorporate into her dancing. Natacha says of her experience, “One of the things I learned is to feel everything that I’m doing. I learned how to express myself and to think on my feet. I know that I should not care what people think or say about my performance, but I should do what is right for me. One should not focus on the audience; although you want to put on a good show - the ultimate audience is yourself.

The script writing component is the heart of the ITLP program. The sketches this year focused on heavy subjects such as love, corruption and nepotism in the workplace. Encouraging the students to think critically is something that the Village works on throughout the year, and we are happy to see our students investigating these controversial topics.  

First year ITLP trainer Caitlin O’Connell spoke of the “opening-up” process that allowed students to feel comfortable in their performance space. “During our first week, I shared a poem I wrote about my grandfather. I asked if any of the students wanted to share, and everyone put a hand in the air. There were tears and many expressed their previous vulnerability. But most importantly, we learned about one another. I felt that after that moment we knew each other, that we established a mutual trust. This understanding is about what we keep from one another. We applied this concept in the play we wrote about hate and misunderstanding tying into the 1994 Genocide Against the Tutsi. These kids taught me how to be brave that day. I will always remember the things they wrote and shared with me. It is seared into my brain.

As the students finished their performances, the audience was moved to its feet. Many students are already excited to sign up for next years’ ITLP training. A special highlight for this year’s performers was the opportunity to present one of their plays down the road in the local town of Rubona. While the students were nervous that their impromptu performance would not win the attention from Rubona residents, within seconds of their opening line, they were surrounded by hundreds of eager onlookers. Despite the initial anxieties of stage fright, the Agahozo-Shalom students stood strong and put on an excellent show.  

When asked of her experience working with the ASYV students, Caitlin responded, “This community is incredible and is so generous. I have truly enjoyed my time here. The students’ discipline, honesty, feisty intelligence and ability to jump into everything we ask them to do is truly unique to this place. I look forward to returning to ASYV!” 

ASYV wants to give a special thank you to the ITLP team, Channie Waites, Flordelino Lagundino, Caitlin O’Connell, Jeanne D’Arc Zaninka, Patrick Crowley, and Innocent Munyeshuri for coming to ASYV and giving their guidance and support to our aspiring young actors and actresses. We are so appreciative for all that you do! 

[1] http://www.itlp.org/where_we_are/rwanda/2011/index.php

Blog Submitted by Sasha Friedman, 2014 Village Fellow; Video Produced by Ari Beser, 2014 Village Fellow