Wednesday, March 28, 2012

On the bus to Reuhengeri, Elizabeth, Pacy and I are brainstorming ways to generate stageworthy movement and text. “Self-selecting” didn’t happen at all—all of the boys participated enthusiastically and are thrilled about the show—meaning our cast size is nearly 40, and we’re going to have to get really creative on leading the group to produce material that they can all perform together.

Elizabeth recounts a memory-based exercise that her director Rhodessa used in her work in prisons in San Francisco. The group says in unison, “I remember my mother.” Then they walk around the space until, on a collective impulse, they stop moving. At this point anyone who would like to speak solo begins by saying “I remember…” and then says something about their mother. This text is written down and can be collaged later for performance.

We all decide that the memory game is good model, but that we should choose something a bit less fraught than “mother.” A few of these kids lost their mothers (along with the rest of their families) during massacres or fighting in their Kivu camps, and those whose mothers are still living have obviously been separated from them for a while, often forcibly.

We agree to change the wording to “I remember, in the forest…” figuring that gives a lot of leeway to talk about anything from their recently abandoned daily lives. We begin by creating a group ritual to begin and end each session from here on out (the boys choose the words “Gukina, Kwishyima, Kubabara, Isomo,” meaning, “Play, Joy, Sadness, Lesson” creating movements to accompany the chant), and then we play a image-based freeze game where the boys dance to music and then freeze when it stops, creating the picture of a word or phrase that Pacy calls out just before stopping the music. The boys had chosen the words beforehand, and despite our not having said anything about relating it to war, the words that spilled forth were all on-theme: “regret”; “to be bound at the wrist”; “being shot at”; “to evacuate someone injured”; “to transport gear”; “to force to one’s knees”. The youth are amazing performers, physically engaged in a way that I have never seen in a group their age. The dancing is joyful, filled with their spirit; its juxtaposition with their frozen pictures is powerful.

After a break (which means more dancing), we jump into the text exercise. As Pacy nods, scribbles, and translates, I begin to worry about our choice of the word “Forest.”

I remember how they beat me during the military training. I remember trying to escape from the training camp. Being caught and taken back. I remember sleeping three nights in the forest before they caught me.

I remember well the time I was separated from my parents. That’s when I began living a difficult life. They made me transport gear that was too heavy for me, and en route we inflicted a lot of violence on civilian farmers, and forced them to give us their things.

I remember being forced to consume ganja. I would pass whole days smoking non-stop, and then all night I would participate in ambushes.

I remember being shot at for entire days.

I remember my close friend who died.

All of the worst things, I realize a bit too late, happened in the forest. This is session 2 of 10, and the boys are pushing into dark territory faster than we had expected or intended. At the end of the session ever-inquisitive Janvier asks, “What about the comedy?” Yes, next session we’ll definitely look at comedy.