By Rose Behar
Alayna Kolodziechuk has a history of putting words to pain.
So far in her directing career, the soon-to-be Dalhousie law graduate has tackled subjects ranging from AIDS to immigration. Last year, she directed a play on the Holocaust that ran at the Bus Stop Theatre in the North End.
This year, she returned to the same venue to tackle the Rwandan genocide in an original script she adapted from the non-fiction work, The Men Who Killed Me. All profits from the play went to survivors of the genocide through the Steven Lewis Foundation.
Is it safe to say there’s a pattern emerging in her work?
“It has been a pattern for me,” Kolodziechuk admits, “I hope it will continue. I’m done school in April. I have to grow up really soon. But I’m hoping that I can make it work … I plan on it.”
But the play was more than just ‘what’s next’ for Kolodziechuk. The writer and director says it had been in the making for quite some time.
“I had a long-standing interest in this issue, I did some HIV/AIDS advocacy work during my undergrad and that’s what got me in to the Rwandan genocide. It was an idea in my mind for a couple of years before it became an actual production.”
Once deciding on the topic, Kolodziechuk began with her vision, then went on to research, which included interviewing victims of the genocide.
“I had a lot of ideas. I knew I wanted it to not only be a survivor piece about the Tutsi group, I wanted it to address the feelings of the aggressors, the Hutu, as well. Something I’ve tried to emphasize in my work is that I believe everyone is capable of many different things, good and bad, and not to dehumanize anyone,” she said.
The casting call went out in October for six actors. “I had an idea of what type of actors I was looking for. I knew from the beginning I wanted it to be evenly split between black, white and male, female,” says Kolodziechuk. Sourcing through Dalhousie’s theatre society for volunteers, they filled the positions quickly and started rehearsal.
Kolodziechuk describes the first read-through as “very hard” emotionally, but the real challenge was to continue to tap that emotion throughout the process.
Actor and first-year arts student Katerina Bakolias said, “as much as we try to imagine what it was like and try to embody who they were and what they went through, there’s absolutely no possible way to do it.”
Fellow actor Deves Matwawana agrees. “You can’t touch it, you can’t touch what they were feeling, but with this play, at least you can try.”
Kolodziechuk said that the audience’s reaction to the show has been supportive.
“It is a horrendous subject matter, and it is hard to sit and listen. Everyone who has come and stayed has been very brave, and a lot of the issues we talk about, like violence against women, touch a lot of people in our audience, whether or not they have a connection to Rwanda specifically. We have had a ton of support, and I really, really appreciate that.”
And although most of the audience did not have personal ties to the genocide, some members had memories to tie to the play- including Matwawana’s own grandparents, who attended the opening night.
“We were surprised,” says stage manager Chelsey Roy, part of the production team comprised entirely by law-students. “We knew his grandparents were coming, we knew he had family from Africa, but we didn’t realize that his grandparents were in Rwanda almost immediately following the genocide. So that was very surprising, to see people who had that sort of connection.”
Kolodziechuk says she has also seen some meaningful messages in the comment book they’ve kept in the lobby, which will eventually be sent to genocide survivors. “Last night I read a message that said, ‘thank you from your Hutu friend.’”