By Nick Eustis
Pittsburgh Current Contributing Writer
In 2009, 50 of the world’s leading humanitarian organizations declared April to be Genocide Awareness Month, because six different genocides have anniversaries within that month. It is a month to raise awareness on how to stop the spread of hate and bigotry, and remember those who lost their lives.
To commemorate this occasion, Prime Stage Theatre is collaborating with the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh to present a virtual production of “Miracle in Rwanda,” a one-woman play based on the book “Left to Tell,” the life story of Immaculée Ilibagiza.
“Miracle in Rwanda” will stream live April 10 at 8 p.m. followed by a talkback session with Uwamahoro and Ilibagiza. Links to the recorded performance will be available April 16-26. For tickets and more information, visit primestage.com.
Central to “Miracle in Rwanda” is the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi people of Rwanda. After the assassination of President Juvenal Habyarimana, who was ethnically Hutu, Hutu militias systematically killed their Tutsi neighbors, as well as anyone deemed a Tutsi sympathizer. An estimated 1 million were killed over a 100-day period, including approximately two-thirds of the total Tutsi population.
Immaculée Ilibagiza was a Tutsi woman who was forced into hiding when the genocide began. With seven other women, she spent 91 days hiding in a tiny church bathroom. Though dealing with incredibly sensitive situations, “Miracle in Rwanda” imparts the uplifting power of hope and faith in telling Ilibagiza’s story.
Directed by Steven Wilson, actress Malaika Uwamahoro will star in the production. Born in Rwanda, Uwamahoro graduated with a degree in Theatre Studies from Fordham University in New York, which she attended on a Rwandan Presidential Scholarship. The role is a demanding one technically and emotionally, but Uwamahoro embodies the part with grace and power.
“Malaika Uwamahoro is one of the most gifted performers I have ever had the pleasure of collaborating with. She plays a bunch of different characters in this play and flows seamlessly from one to the next,” said Wilson.
The soundtrack of the play comes courtesy of Teta Diana, a singer/songwriter who also hails from Rwanda. Her music blends Kinyarwanda, one of the official languages of Rwanda, with English and Swahili to create a uniquely Rwandan sound.
The opening night production will be followed by a talkback with Malaika Uwamahoro and Immaculée Ilibagiza, hosted by Dr. Lauren Bairnsfather, Director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh. The collaboration between Prime Stage and the Holocaust Center on this production carries particularly deep meaning due to the date April 7, which marked the first killings in the genocide against the Tutsis.
“Not only is it Genocide Awareness Month, but [April 7] also is Yom HaShoah, which is the Holocaust remembrance day,” said Tina Cerny, managing director for Prime Stage.
With these two deeply meaningful commemorations occurring so close together, Cerny hopes the production will be impactful and educational to those who may not be aware of such events in living memory.
“We’re developing this story to educate and teach about not just genocide, but the genocide against the Tutsis that happened in such a recent history,” said Cerny.
But the key to the power of telling Immaculée’s story is that above all, hope and the will to live persist even in the most trying circumstances, and that a degree of inner peace can be found, even after unbearable hardship.
“The story itself is about faith, hope and forgiveness, and that of course is such an important lesson for all of us,” said Cerny. “It’s just so powerful, the story of Immaculée, and how her faith led her to forgiveness.”
April 12, 2021 correction: 1 million Tutsi were killed during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the original story estimated between 500,000 to 600,000.