By Jessica Hergert
How do you search for a way to live next door to your sorrow? That is the question presented in the one-act play, “Deceived by Silence: A Workshop Production,” which premiered on the Spitz Theater stage on Sunday, Oct. 16.
Written and directed by Ivan Fuller, associate dean of fine and performing arts and chair of the theater and dance department, “Deceived by Silence” follows three characters still influenced by the aftermath of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda where 800,000 Tutsi people were murdered by their neighbors and often friends, the Hutus, according to the BBC.
The play takes place 15 years after the genocide has ended and portrays Rwanda as a country bent on establishing peace, removing the Hutu and Tutsi names and giving the people a neutral, inclusive title: Rwandans.
According to Fuller, the play explores the complicated question, “How is it possible for you to survive through all of this when, inside, underneath, you have such hatred for one another?”
More questions stemmed from that main idea in Fuller’s mind. He stated the play also examines issues like “How do you heal? How do you move on?”
The play starred freshman musical theater major Kate Lincoln as an American school teacher, Geneva, searching for answers with a complicated past of her own, junior musical theater major Charlene Jean as a Tutsi woman attempting to heal after the murder of her daughter and freshman musical theater major Sheldon Steele as a Hutu man living with the horrors he inflicted on innocent people.
Fuller began writing this play three years ago. He said the inspiration came from a previous student who had gone to Rwanda to help female genocide survivors. In researching the mass genocide, he realized “more people needed to know about this.”
After careful research, weeks worth of writing, multiple revisions to the script and a personal trip to Rwanda, Fuller felt confident to begin moving his “baby” to the stage and held open auditions for Rider students.
Fuller said that the auditions were unique because students were not getting credit for participation and it was not a main stage production. Also, freshmen were eligible to audition, something that is not usually allowed first semester.
According to Lincoln, “Sheldon and I are actually the first two freshmen to be in a public platform,” a nerve-wracking but exciting opportunity for the musical theater major who made her Rider debut in this play.
Lincoln, 17, said the play presented its challenges, particularly through playing a character who is 10 years older.
“It’s definitely challenging playing a woman who has had so much life experience when I am still living and learning,” she said.
The stage was set up with minimal props: just three chairs, a couch, two tables, two bottles, a box of tissues and a pencil holder.
Costuming and lighting were also simple; Fuller said the costumes were actually taken from the actor’s closets and lighting changes were only done when necessary.
That workshop performance style allowed the attention to be given to the script and not special effects. The audience had time at the end to express questions, comments and concerns, allowing Fuller to gain insight on what revisions need to be made before moving forward.
“It is great that at a place like Rider, we can do things like this, workshop productions, to help [the scripts] grow…before they go out into the world,” Fuller said.
Fuller has grand plans for the play, possibly taking it to Rwanda to perform during a film festival.
The play was moving, emotional, comical, tragic, eye-opening and inspirational, featuring truly talented actors and a beautifully challenging script. “Deceived by Silence” opened up a discussion that has been closed for far too long about the Rwandan genocide and what it means to suffer, heal, trust and forgive.
Lincoln hopes audience members took the time to “be open to learning a lot and be open to experiencing the emotions of people who have really suffered.”
Printed in the 10/19/16 edition.