Into the Artists' Arena

Several people enjoy the pleasure and fun that Rwanda’s entertainment sector has to offer. Yet, many do not stop to consider the professionalism, hard work, sacrifice, talent and passion poured into the artistic streak that fuels the business minds of Rwanda’s top creatives. 

Hope Azeda is well placed to dispel myths about the industry: she is a business creative and the founder of the Mashirika theatre troupe. When she dived into the Arts in 1999, she found that her passion to create was alive. Mashirika is one highly dynamic creative and contemporary dance and theatre troupe in Rwanda. They inspires change and thought opinions in regards to what leisure involves—so much so that they captivate audiences to their stage performances.

“We need to value the Arts, it all starts with us. We need to give value to our work, inject professionalism and dignity into what we do, so that we earn respect and the much needed value we deserve from home. If we treat our work like trash, then our work will be treated like trash.” ~ Hope Azeda.

Azeda attributes her success to a highly professional and dedicated team behind the scenes. Mashirika has gone on international tours and collaborations, and through an encounter with the Rwandan history, are developing a home grown methodology of devised theatre, an approach to theatres also known as collaborative theatre where the script is improvised by a group of people who are not necessarily a writer or group of writers. Azeda hopes that their experience will eventually evolve into a published book.

“Artistic excellence is one goal we all aim for. We believe that once we achieve creating a quality product then the product will sell. We endeavor to deliver beyond our client's expectations. It is always indeed rewarding when clients come back to us with overwhelming positive feedback,” she explained.

A Mashirika dancer performs the traditional Kinyarwanda ballet.

However, it was her debut play, ‘Amashyiga ya sehutsitwa’ that she wrote for her university dissertation, that led to the creation of Mashirika and shaped it into what it is today. 

“It earned trust and set the bar high; we have grown from rehearsing under tree shades, verandas, small retail shop spaces to now a house with two rehearsal studios and admin offices,” she said adding, “…and we have grown from performing to an audience of 250 people to creating mass works for stadiums of 30,000 people, plus, we have expanded from just inviting audiences to come to come us but are taking transformative arts to empower communities with knowledge about different issues that affect them.” 

Married and a mother of two daughters, she says that her parents and siblings were key when it came to her education. “They all scratched earth to make sure I completed school,” she said.  

Today she is popular for her creativity and more so known as the curator of  the ‘Ubumuntu Arts Festival’ that attracts theatre performances from over 13 countries across the globe. 

Also a gifted playwright, Azeda says she likes ‘playing with words.’ This points to the direction that she has taken to develop ideas into business ventures for Mashirika. This dawned on her when she combined her business skills with her role as an actress in one of the leading theatre companies in Uganda, ‘Impact International’ founded by Alex Mukulu. She says she derived her inspiration from being a part of a company that won awards and sold out shows at the national theatre. 

A group of Mashirika artists engaged in a devised theatre workshop

While the artists’ arena is one of brilliance and success, it comes with a fair share of challenges that are not specific to women entrepreneurs but cut across gender. These are mostly related to, ‘a limited pool of professional artists’ according to Azeda.

“We hire artists that need polishing so you find yourself training them on how to do their job. It goes back to an industry that is still young and growing at the same time and whose art and skills have just been introduced in schools,” she says.

Rwanda’s cultural mindset towards art is another struggle. This according to Azeda is in the sense that, “art is still seen in the lens of just a talent and entertainment and not a career or profession that calls for the sleepless nights of hard-work in school,” she says.

“It is one profession that is highly trespassed by everybody unlike other professions,” Azeda said, “…and we need a cultural policy on the ground and a creative arts council that creates structures with the aims and goals for the Arts.”

Community theatre is a common entertainment source

On why creatives are a vital component of any society, specifically in Rwanda, Azeda asserts that “creatives are vital in Rwanda because, we as a society need to join the global trend of creative industries. This is one much needed heartbeat in boosting Rwanda's economy.”

Azeda believes that the arts in Rwanda must be adequately valued as the sector constitutes a pillar of society, strengthening the Rwandan economy and identity.

“We need to value the Arts, it all starts with us. We need to give value to our work, inject professionalism and dignity into what we do, so that we earn respect and the much needed value we deserve from home. If we treat our work like trash, then our work will be treated like trash,” said Hope Azeda.

All Photos are courtesy of @HopeAzeda

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