International Educator - January/February 2013 - 28
Actors from Buffalo State College’s Anne Frank Project and Rwanda theater company, Mashirika, in rehearsal as they collaborate to create their original play, “When the Walls Come Down—Truth!” at the ISHYO Performing Arts Center in Kigali, Rwanda, in January 2012. (and opposite page)
Anne Frank Project Director/Buffalo State College Professor Drew Kahn delivers the welcome address at the Anne Frank Project’s annual conference at Buffalo State College in Buffalo, New York.
the Rwandan massacres—the department’s leaders had no idea the sentiment the play would unleash. The department cast two “Annes”—one Jewish, hiding from the Nazis, the other Tutsi, hiding from Hutu extremists—both of whom spoke Frank’s words. The production follows the two Annes through childhood, adolescence, and adulthood and chronicles events that tempt each to buy into hatred of ethnic or political groups. The play so touched audiences that the department decided to take its Anne Frank Project outside of New York. Today department Professor Drew Kahn and his students, along with Wilkens—the American who stayed behind in Rwanda—conduct playwriting workshops at colleges, universities, and high schools around the world. The challenges that confront many high schoolers—bullying, hate crimes, social tensions, cultural conflict, and stereotyping—can be addressed with the very tools required to research, rehearse, and produce a play, Kahn says: collaboration, listening, diplomacy, clarifying, articulating, reconciliation, and forgiveness. “The same elements that make genocide possible are the elements that make conflict and bullying possible,” Kahn said. “If we can use the Anne Frank Project to identify the systematic nature in any conflict, and then provide tools and vocabulary to avoid those conflicts, then perhaps, as one of my students said, we will realize that bullying is just a form of genocide.” The Buffalo State Theater Department, which gets funding from grants and from the fees schools outside western New York pay for the project’s workshops, offers a program that helps students produce the play I’m Not Leaving, based on the book by Wilkens, depicting his 100 harrowing days in Rwanda during the genocide there. Schools that participate in the Anne Frank Project residency program perform their productions at the annual conference of the Anne Frank Project, which happens every September on the Buffalo campus. Kahn’s students wrote original poetry and songs to illustrate the connections between the Rwandan genocide and the Holocaust during WWII, as well as massacres in Bosnia, Turkey, Russia, and Cambodia.
The Anne Frank Project also tries to illustrate the societal dynamics, personality types, and events that can lead to genocide by convincing people that their lives would be better without a certain group of people, by creating “scapegoats” for societal ills and by dehumanizing the targets of hatred and mass violence. “There are issues—recipes that go into these conflicts—that are eerily close in just about every genocide,” Kahn says. “There are essential ingredients to all genocides—they’re systemic, not spontaneous, and they’re very well planned. They are expansive, so they need a government regime, a leader to sponsor the effort. And they need good people to do nothing. In fact, the most dangerous character in any genocide is not the perpetrator, but the bystander.” Kahn brought his first group of students to Rwanda last January . The nine theater and film undergraduates—three of whom had never been on a plane—spent two and a half weeks in Kigali. They lived in a house in the nation’s capital and visited genocide memorials, theater companies and universities. They performed Buffalo’s version of The Diary of Anne Frank at orphanages and refugee camps. They interviewed survivors from both sides of the conflict and collaborated with a professional Rwandan theater group called the Mashariki to perform Americanstyle and Rwandan-style plays. “They were astounded, they were horrified, they were petrified in many cases,” Kahn said of his students. “They were moved. They were hungry for more information. They were immediately given a huge dose of perspective. We’d all talk for hours around the dinner table. Watching my students develop this level of emotional maturity was incredibly rewarding, and it was transforming for them. Most in their lifetimes don’t see what they saw in that two and half weeks.” The students also presented a cow to a village woman, offering her what Kahn described as “a huge change of life for the woman and her family.” “Getting a cow in parts of Rwanda is like suddenly moving
INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR J A N + F E B . 13
PHOTOS COURTESY OF DREW KAHN