By Ornella Mutoni
Created by Jo Ingabire Moys, Laila Sumpton and Maja Milatovic Ovadia, I Am Leah is a new theatre performance and radio play about a Rwandan refugee, embarking on a journey of self- discovery after facing a life changing movement. Leah, the protagonist uncovers painful family secrets as she reconciles multiple identities as a Black, British women in 2021 who has lived through a genocide.
The project is led by filmmaker and writer Jo Ingabire Moys, a 1994 genocide against the Tutsi survivor, born out of the need to resource educators with survivor led content with which to teach about the genocide. Award winning writer Adam Usden joined Jo to start interviewing survivors in Rwanda in 2018 which was the start of the 100 stories project, in collaboration with the Ishami Foundation, a survivor led organisation for genocide and holocaust education that amplifies voices of survivors, countering denial ideology and reclaiming the narrative. 100 stories allows survivors to own their stories using poetry and storytelling and be part of the plan to share them.
Poet, educator and producer Laila Sumpton joined Jo to do workshops with UK based survivors in 2019, during the 25th anniversary of the genocide against the Tutsi, known as Kwibuka 25. The workshops included a tour with 10 survivors performing their stories at the Mayor’s Office, Eid Festival and the V&A Museum and a resource booklet for Secondary School students to support education exploring human rights and Black History Month.
“The written word lasts forever; so should our stories,” said Eric Murangwa on what it meant personally to tell his story. For many of the survivors, it was the first time they had shared their story creatively and written them in English, in what for many of them is their 2nd or 3rd language.
By foregrounding the Rwandan voices involved and making transparent the process of production, I Am Leah hopes to give a glimpse into people’s lives, an insight into our common humanity and a new way of approaching and remembering the past. By using art to explore trauma and the effect of history on contemporary British society, the play is able to engage and educate different audiences in light of Black Lives Matter.
Sharing this complex journey about search for the peace after trauma, with a contemporary British audience this play hopes to reveal unanswered questions and dilemmas about grief and survival, brings understanding, and asks for what it means to be human. This search for the universality of being human is in intersection of the story about the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and troubles of contemporary British society.
Queen Mary’s University has provided the space for the scratch performance of I Am Leah, which will be able to be streamed from the Peopling the Palace Festival on Sunday June 13th at 5pm.
These stories were used to inspire this new Arts Council England and The Tudor Foundation funded radio and theatre production where Maja Milatovic Ovadia, a theatre director and researcher and Tonderai Munyevu a writer, actor and creative director joined the team to turn the inspiration into reality.
Instead of focussing on what happened it explores particular moments of emotional change and reflection. “The play is really inspired from this project. The solidarity and humour that came from doing it”, says poet Laila Sumpton. The cast includes Taz Munya as Leah, Ery Nzaramba as Maurice, Ayesha Casely-Hayford as Ames, Matthew Romain as Steve and the role of Odette to be announced soon.
The theatre production also hopes to promote the completed 100 Stories collection which will come out in 2022 and find a home for the play in time for Black History Month in October this year.