En Garde Arts' Site-Specific RED HILLS to Premiere in June
En Garde Arts presents Asiimwe Deborah Kawe and Sean Christopher Lewis's Red Hills, returning the company to its trailblazing site-specific origins with a work that speaks "precisely to its time" (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). This haunting two-person play follows an American and a Rwandan who, as teens during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, shared a chance encounter that changed them forever. En Garde, with director Katie Pearl, has adapted Red Hills to a New York-specific space: an empty floor in a downtown office building one block from Wall Street, where it will run from June 6-July 1. (Opening night: June 13; location: 101 Greenwich Street, 9th Floor.) The close proximity of this vacant location to America's capitalist core evokes the tension of a global superpower against one of the many global atrocities that America tends to overlook, or think of as a distant abstraction. The performance stars Patrick J. Ssenjovu and Christopher McLinden, with music played live by Farai Malianga, and photography by Jonathan Wallen exhibited on the walls of the space.
En Garde Arts breaks down barriers artistically, socially, politically, and philosophically through telling nuanced human stories and bringing together those familiar with and affected by the subject matter with those who know little about it. Founding Artistic Director Anne Hamburger says, "There is the presumption that Nazi Germany can never happen again, yet during the Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda, the former government, through their Hutu Militias [called Interahamwe] planed the extermination of Tutsi. At this moment, people are being slaughtered in Syria and in the ethnic cleansings in Rohingya-it is happening all over the world. I have a strong interest in challenging the basis of our own cultural and social assumptions about-and ownership of-historical narrative. This is an urgent issue."
David, a young American missionary visiting East Africa, and God's Blessing, a young man from Rwanda, meet as teenagers during the beginning of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda: a homegrown Hutu militia is set on eradicating the Tutsi population-whether they be neighbors, friends, or family members, resulting in the murder of more than one million people in one hundred days. The two boys separate after only a few days spent together in Rwanda, but the aftermath of this experience affects each of them in shockingly similar ways. The American man comes home and writes a best selling memoir, Dogs of Rwanda, around his experience, setting him on a course for a high profile career in the U.N., specializing in peace and reconciliation. The Rwandan man becomes a tour guide where he revisits the sites of atrocity again and again and again.
To rectify the crimes committed by a huge swath of the population, the Rwandan Government held Gacaca courts, a system of community justice, to deal with the perpetrators of genocide. Held on grassy fields in villages throughout the country, this is where perpetrators were tried in a system of restorative justice. En Garde Arts brings a Gacaca court to the empty Downtown Manhattan office-building floor, where the stark, cement, raw urban space sits in sharp contrast to the grassy fields in Rwanda where the Gacacas take place. The audience witnesses the unfolding of a Gacaca court, revealing the events that occurred for these two men in 1994-each telling the story of what happened from their own particular point of view. Their reunion after two decades forces them to confront disparities in memory and the contents of the best selling book-to reach forgiveness by reliving their roles in understanding past.
When it was founded in 1985 by Anne Hamburger, En Garde Arts was the city's first strictly site-specific theatre company; when it re-launched in 2014 after a 15-year hiatus, it took on a more all-encompassing approach to redefining theatre-often using multimedia, and vehemently and explicitly centering catalyzing social change within its mission. Wilderness, first performed at Abrons Arts Center,explored issues of teenage mental health, addiction, and gender and sexual identity, all through the true stories of 21st century families; it was deemed, in a New York Tines Critics' Pick review, a "terrific, moving" work whose "emotional fluency is bell-clear." When BASETRACK Live, which also used multimedia to tell true stories-this time about the lives of Marines returned from duty-was performed at BAM, Charles Isherwood said in the New York Times, "This production brings the gritty, brutal truths [of the impact of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars on soldiers] alive in ways that nothing I've read or seen has succeeded in doing." As part of its extensive tour to 40 cities, BASETRACK Live premiered at the Fort Hood military base in Killeen, TX, and was seen by over 2,500 soldiers.
For Red Hills, En Garde Arts is delighted to be working with director Katie Pearl, co-Artistic Director of the Obie winning performance company PearlDamour. Katie is known for her unconventional, often site-specific staging. "A site like this asks both for deep attention to space and deep inventiveness in story-telling," Pearl says, pointing out that the two go hand-in-hand. "I'm thrilled about the ways this site is actively shaping the narrative of the play." Pearl has spent time in Rwanda and brings this experience to bear upon the design of the space: a raw concrete urban empty floor that will offer long views of grassy fields, up-close encounters with personal shrines, and walks down red dirt paths-all on the 9th floor of a building situated in the center of the Wall Street financial district.
In keeping with En Garde Arts' historic development of works from their inception through to opening night, the company has seen this script through a number of phases and evolutions, as they adapt it to new spaces and audiences. American writer Sean Christopher Lewis originally wrote the piece as an hour-long monologue called Dogs of Rwanda, which Hamburger then asked him to turn into a two-person show. Following an original production in Pittsburgh at the Quantum Theatre, En Garde Arts and Sean Christopher Lewis decided, given its theme of dual, culturally fractured perspectives, to bring on acclaimed Ugandan playwright Asiimwe Deborah Kawe to co-write as part of the continued evolution of the script. Pearl's site-specific staging and hands-on development with the playwrights elucidates their script's compelling tensions, spatially and thematically replicating the treacherous process of coming to shared understanding as depicted in the text.
Schedule and Ticketing
Red Hills will be performed at 101 Greenwich Street, 9th Floor (Cross street: Rector Place). It runs June 6-July 1, Tuesdays-Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 7pm. Opening night is June 13. There will be no performance on Sunday, June 10, and there will be an added performance on Monday, June 11. All tickets for the first week of performances (June 6-9) are $15, while tickets for performances beginning June 11 are $25-$45.
About the Artists
Asiimwe Deborah Kawe (Co-Author) was born in Kiruhura, in South Western Uganda. She is an award-winning playwright, producer and performer. Currently the Artistic Director of the Kampala International Theatre Festival, Asiimwe has worked with The Sundance Institute Theatre Program. Dividing her time between New York City and East Africa, she led the East Africa initiative, a program that covered the countries of Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda for six years, and she continues to be associated with the Institute on its new initiative in North Africa and the Middle East. She received a Diploma in Music, Dance and Drama, a B. A. in Theatre and Performing Arts from Makerere University in Kampala-Uganda, and an M.F.A. in Writing for Performance from the California Institute of the Arts. Her recent plays include Forgotten World, Cooking Oil, Appointment with gOD, Un-entitled, Do they Know it's Khristmas? to mention but a few. Her radio play, Will Smith Look Alike won an award with the BBC World Service African Performance playwriting competition. Recently, she became a writing fellow at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany, and a guest lecturer/Artist at Pomona College in California, USA.
Sean Christopher Lewis (Co-Author) is the co-creator and writer of the comic books Saints and The Few, both published by Image Comics, with Saints recently optioned for television by Grandview/Automatik. He can be heard as a commentator on NPR'S This American Life, and he serves simultaneously as the Artistic Director of Working Group Theatre, a national and international touring company, and Riverside Theatre, a member of the National New Play Network. His work as a playwright, solo performer, director, sound designer and actor have won the NEFA National Theatre Project Award, the Kennedy Center's Rosa Parks Award, the National New Play Network's Smith Prize, the NEA Voices in Community Award, a Puffin Foundation Artists Award, a Barrymore Award from the Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia, a Central Ohio Critic's Circle Citations for Best Touring Production and Best New Work, a National Performance Network Creation Fund Grant, the William Inge Fellowship and an NNPN Emerging Playwright Residency. His plays and solo pieces include: Dogs of Rwanda, Killadelphia, Just Kids, The Gone Chair, I Will Make You Orphans, Black and Blue, Militant Language, The Aperture, The Homeschooling of Jonathan Anderson, and Manning Up. Recently, with Jennifer Fawcett, he developed the one-man performance installation Ghost Story, at Berkeley Rep, which then performed at the Englert Theatre.
Katie Pearl (Director) Katie Pearl has a twenty-year history of creating and directing site-specific and interactive shows in collaboration with designers and artists from all disciplines. Her performance work has been commissioned by the American Repertory Theater, Trinity Repertory Theater, the Kitchen, PS 122, Arts Brookfield Properties/WFC, and the Whitney Museum Performance on 42nd St series among others. Pearl is co-Artistic Director of PearlDamour, an interdisciplinary company she shares with playwright Lisa D'Amour. PearlDamour's work has been honored with an OBIE Award (Nita & Zita), a Creative Capital Award (How to Build a Forest), four Multi-Arts Production Fund grants (LandMark, Terrible Things, How to Build a Forest), and two NEA Our Town grants (Milton). In 2011, PearlDamour received the Lee Reynolds Award from the League of Professional Theater Women, given annually to women whose work in the medium of theatre has helped to illuminate the possibilities for social, cultural, or political change.
Pearl is recognized for her play direction throughout the Off Broadway, regional and experimental theater worlds. Notable projects include Why We Have a Bodyby Clare Chaffee (Magic Theater, San Francisco); Panic! Euphoria! Blackout! by Ellen Maddow of the Talking Band (HERE Theater, NYC); The Wrestling Patient, developed with playwright Kirk Lynn - finalist for NEA Outstanding New American Play (Speakeasy Theater, Boston); and Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, by Kristina Wong (National Tour). Pearl has a vibrant history of developing works with writers at organizations such as New Dramatists (NYC), the Playwright's Center (Minneapolis), PlayPenn (Philadelphia), Clubbed Thumb, Soho Writer/Director Lab, and the St. Ann's Puppet Lab. She is the current Anschutz Distinguished Fellow at Princeton University, where her work focuses on the concept of the Artist-Citizen. She will hold the Quinn Martin Directing Chair at the University of California San Diego in the fall of 2017.
About En Garde Arts
Founded by visionary producer Anne Hamburger, En Garde Arts is a New York-based 501(c)3 not-for-profit that builds upon a globally-recognized history of creative excellence alongside such luminaries as Reza Abdoh, Anne Bogart, María Irene Fornés, Charles L. Mee, Jr., Tina Landau, Jonathan Larson, Bill Rauch, Fiona Shaw, and Mac Wellman.
From 1985 until 1999, En Garde Arts was the first exclusively site-specific theatre in New York, re-envisioning the city as a stage with experiential events that interwove story with location in Central Park, Penn Yards, East River Park, the Chelsea Hotel, a Meatpacking District before gentrification, and beyond. Using original and adapted texts, productions tackled such timely subjects as the AIDS epidemic and the city's growing economic disparities and were collectively honored with six OBIEs, two Drama Desk Awards, and an Outer Critics Circle Special Award - with The New York Times proclaiming the organization to be "an invigorating urban presence."
In 2014, En Garde Arts made a triumphant, mission-driven return to the city with BASETRACK Live at the Brooklyn Academy Of Music (BAM). Named one of the top ten productions of the year by The New York Times, the piece employed a boundary-breaking form of multimedia documentary theatre-making, combining real life narratives with journalistic footage, music, and movement to elucidate the impact of war on the 21st Century American family. A 40-city national tour extended the impact of the En Garde Arts ethos-once reserved solely for the people of New York-and marked the beginning of the organization's integrated approach to creative development and community engagement.
Championing an immersive process of understanding and discovery for artists and audiences alike, En Garde Arts continues to redefine the ways in which theatre is produced and presented for maximum artistic and social impact. In considering the myriad elements that combine to tell a story, it serves as an incubator for dynamic experiences that encapsulate today's most pressing issues and move publics into action.