Picture the span of 100 days, a little over three months. Now, picture nearly 1,000,000 people being massacred in that span of time.
In 1994, a genocidal mass slaughter of Tutsi occurred in Rwanda by members of the Hutu majority, killing 70 percent of the Tutsi then living there.
This tragic event was the basis of a one-man play that took place on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2015 in Keene State College’s Alumni Centennial Hall.
“Dogs of Rwanda” was written and performed by Iowa City playwright Sean Christopher Lewis.
Based on interviews Lewis had done, this performance focuses on main character David, a grown man who tells his story about being a young missionary in Rwanda 20 years ago.
Lewis is well known for his previous contribution in “Killadelphia,” which he also wrote and starred in, about the murder epidemic of Philadelphia in 2008.
Due to his previous play, Lewis explained in his post-show discussion that he was familiar with the process of creating a production from interviews. He went into the details of the show and what it takes to keep the audience captivated.
“Unlike a lot of other shows,” Lewis began, “I am less worried about it being word-perfect and am more worried about it being emotionally connected. I definitely feel like something as an actor has changed for me.”
Being a one-man act, there is no scenery or no costuming, just Lewis sitting in the middle of a stage with the occasional music in the background.
With such a heavy topic and no distractions, Lewis had explained that people need time to reflect after seeing this and each person will absorb it in a different way.
“After every show,” Lewis admits, “There is the same dead silence in the audience as the lights go out. There is almost a sense of awkwardness, but it is a good thing. I know that I have influenced them.”
After talking with the Director of the Redfern Arts Center Shannon Mayers, she explained that the show “Dogs of Rwanda” was definitely not an easy show to pitch, especially to a bunch of college students.
However, she said Lewis was not like your typical performer. When he met up with Mayers three days before his debut, he told Mayers that he was willing to meet anyone and go anywhere. “It makes a difference to have the artist make a connection with the students and faculty,” Mayers explained, “When they do this the student thinks ‘oh, he is a pretty likeable guy,’ and then they feel a little bit of investment with the show.”
With KSC being the only school in the country with a Holocaust and Genocide Studies major, this show was especially intriguing to the staff of that department.
Many classes incorporated the context of this show into their curriculums so that students could come see the show and then debrief it in the classroom.
“For Holocaust and Genocide students and scholars to see it interpreted artistically is a lot different perspective than reading books or watching films or going to panels. It requires a lot more extra thought,” Mayers stated.
However, students of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies major were not the only ones who found the performance moving.
Senior Sarah Croitoru, a triple major in the Women and Gender Studies, Sociology and Social Science programs at KSC, was riveted by the production.
“It was definitely a well-told story,” Croitoru shared, “I would recommend it. It has definitely gotten me engaged and thinking.”
Based on the crowd’s positive reaction to not only the show, but also to Lewis, Mayers wants to bring his other performances back to KSC.
Olivia Belanger can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org