This Place is a Prison…

“This Place is a Prison… “ –The Postal Service

One question we received during our initial staged reading of 1,000 Hills was, “who are the people telling the story?” We lacked a framing device to properly contextualize our script.

Preparing for the reading, my research focused on the genocide itself. Between the Tutsi people and their Hutu accomplices, 800,000 men, women and children were brutally slaughtered over a 100-day period in 1994. (Mostly by machete or other hand-to-hand method.)

During this workshop, my research expanded to the culture of Rwanda. I stumbled across these facts: Though many Rwandans claim Islam or Christianity as their primary form of worship, most still follow some sort of traditional religious practice– from paying devotion to dead ancestors (guterekera) to the belief that objects contain spirits (abazimu).

Kubandwa, a secret cult among the Hutu people, uses imandwa (the ones who are grabbed), to enact a form of ritualized possession. During Kubandwa celebrations, Ryangambe, the most venerated ancestor, “grabs” the initiates and they become his lieutenants. Often, they would enact ritualized scenes as a symbolic protest against Tutsi dominance.

In an earlier draft of 1,000 Hills, the character Fran had a line toward the end of the script, “the day I left Rwanda plays over and over in my mind at least 100 times a year.” Even if characters survived, some experiences are powerful enough to devour the spirit. Reliving these events, the characters admit that, at least part of them, is trapped.

Using these ideas as a launch pad and setting our production in a cabaret (a bar that serves as a center of life for a Rwandan village which was frequently used as meeting place for the Hutu perpetrators of the genocide), we began to re-vision the play.

Searching for answers to help us frame the text, I discovered another question.  What’s worse:  being murdered as part of the genocide or leaving part of your soul behind to relive the events ad infinitum?

-Benjamin Rexroad
Managing Artistic Director


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