Washington, D.C. - National New Play Network, the country's alliance of nonprofit theaters that champions the development, production, and continued life of new plays, is supporting two plays that reflect on experiences of the Rwandan genocide through its Rolling World Premieres program. How to Use a Knife by Will Snider and Dogs of Rwanda by Sean Christopher Lewis each offer a look into the intersections of identity, truth-telling, and accountability through stories that ask what it means to be human in a world of deep and pervasive ethnic conflict.
Two of NNPN’s founding Core Members – Phoenix Theatre in Indianapolis and InterAct Theatre Company in Philadelphia, are presenting this pair of plays in close proximity during the first half of 2017. Phoenix Theatre, who’s production of Dogs of Rwanda, closed this Sunday, January 15, will run How to Use a Knife from January 19-February 12. InterAct will present the plays in repertory, with a limited number of performances of Dogs of Rwanda interspersed throughout its run of How to Use a Knife from May 26-June 18.
“You might conclude that we are presenting Dogs of Rwanda and How to Use a Knife to make a statement about the Rwandan genocide following the civil war in the spring of 1994,” says Bryan Fonseca, Producing Director of Phoenix Theatre. “But you’d be mostly wrong. Both plays do share the impact of that genocide as a backdrop to their unique stories. But both plays have a central character grappling with guilt from personal tragedy and loss. The central character from each play must confront the ghosts of his past in the journey towards salvation. And yes, Rwanda is central to the plot. But these plays are about individuals, and not politics.”
Seth Rozin, Producing Artistic Director of InterAct explains, “We jumped at the opportunity to produce the Rolling World Premieres of How to Use a Knife and Dogs of Rwanda in a unique kind of repertory arrangement. Our audiences will have the opportunity to see two terrific new plays that share some common subject matter – themes of guilt and redemption, specifically in relation to the Rwandan genocide – told in completely different ways: …Knife is a hard-driving, realistic play, with a cast of seven, the story of which is shown to us in straightforward chronological order; Dogs… is an intimate, one-man play that is told to us, as it bounces back and forth between past and present. As with all of our productions at InterAct, we will be facilitating talk backs after every performance following the opening night. We expect there to be rich and dynamic conversations about each play, separately, as well as about how the two plays speak to each other.”
Highlighting the urgency and relevance of the themes explored in each play, Mr. Fonseca concludes, “I chose the plays because we (you - the audience) are the central characters in both plays. We are constantly reminded of catastrophic world events and feel powerless to help and yet, we carry the awareness and guilt associated with each new atrocity. Because we are aware and do nothing. Every news report of slaughter reminds us of America’s own treatment of Native and African Americans and it adds to the guilt we carry. We are haunted by our actions or lack thereof. These plays remind us of these events and allow us to accept and forgive ourselves of our inability to act. If the effect of too much violence on TV is a violent society – what is the effect of too much enlightenment?”
The NNPN Rolling World Premiere of Dogs of Rwanda started at 16th Street Theater (Berwyn, IL) in November 2016, where it was hailed as “the gripping tale of a callow, lovesick young man who only went to Africa to be with his crush and got much, much more than he bargained for,” (Jack Helbig, Chicago Reader). After its productions at Phoenix and InterAct, it will complete its Roll at Associate Member Out of Hand Theater (Atlanta) this fall.
How to Use Knife kicked off its NNPN RWP in Sacramento last September at Associate Member Capital Stage, to great audience and critical acclaim. It continues in Indianapolis and will Roll through Core Member Unicorn Theatre (Kansas City, MO) January 25 – February 19 before finishing up in Philadelphia.
NNPN provides production support to the playwright and the partnering theaters, including assistance with the creation and the contracting of the premiere agreement, collaborative interactions between the theaters, and funds for the playwright's residency in each city to further develop the play.
ABOUT DOGS OF RWANDA
At 16 years of age David found himself in Uganda as a church missionary. When he follows the girl of his dreams into the woods to help a Rwandan boy they’ve stumbled upon he enters a world from which he will never fully be able to escape. On the 20th anniversary of the genocide he witnessed firsthand a book David wrote regarding his experiences that Spring arrives with a note from the Rwandan boy he once tried to save. “You didn’t tell them everything,” it says. “You didn’t tell them everything.” A dinner party story for the ages.
ABOUT SEAN CHRISTOPHER LEWIS
Sean Christopher Lewis' plays and solo works have won the Kennedy Center's Rosa Parks Award, the National New Play Network's Smith Prize, the Barrymore Award, two Central Ohio Critic Circle Awards, the NEA Voices in Community Award, the Rick Graf Award from the Iowa Human Rights Commission, the NNPN Playwrights Residency, and the William Inge Fellowship.
His solo pieces include Killadelphia (Institut Del Teatre in Barcelona Spain; Interact Theatre; Baltimore Centerstage; Available Light Theatre; Touchstone Theatre; American Theater Company; Riverside Theatre; upcoming: Next Theatre in Chicago; Imagining America National Conference in Atlanta, GA), Dogs of Rwanda (development: Legion Arts; Available Light Theatre; Horizon Theatre; Ojai Playwrights Conference; upcoming: Redfern Performing Arts Center), Just Kids (Sandglass Theatre; KO Festival of Performance; Available Light Theatre; Revolutions International Theatre Festival), and I Will Make You Orphans (Uno Festival of Solo Performance; Hyde Park Theatre; Riverside Theatre).
His plays include Militant Language (Know Theatre; Halcyon Theatre; Theater for the New City; Playpenn; and HotInk!), The Aperture (Cleveland Public Theatre), and Manning Up (NNPN Rolling World Premiere: Salt Lake Acting Company; Riverside Theatre; Actors Summit; upcoming: Creative Outlet).
He is the Artistic Director of Working Group Theatre where he creates Nationally Touring - Community Based Theatre including Mayberry (Hancher Auditorium; Bucksbaum Performing Arts Center; Iowa West Arts Center; City High School of Iowa City), Finder's Daughter (National Czech Slovak Museum; Omaha Playhouse; Theatre of Western Springs), Broken Chord (Hancher Auditorium), RUST (Actors Theatre of Grand Rapids; Legion Arts; published NY Times Magazine), and Out of Bounds (Hancher Auditorium; upcoming: Lied Center for Performing Arts). In Africa their work has included We Stood Up (Agahazo Shalom; Centre X Centre International Theatre Festival; KINA Festival) and in Spain it has included the Riot Ballet (Institut Del Teatre).
He can be heard on NPR'S This American Life and his first film These Hopeless Savages is playing film festivals around the country.
ABOUT HOW TO USE A KNIFE
In the chaotic hustle and bustle of a Wall Street restaurant kitchen, Chef George is trying to stay sober. In between yelling at a pair of trash-talking line cooks and a pot-smoking busboy, he befriends Steve, an East African immigrant who seems to be a humble yet dignified dishwasher. But Steve played a shocking role in the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide, and immigration authorities are on his trail. Set during busy dinner shifts and filled with a cast of unforgettable New York characters, How to Use A Knife bursts with grinding suspense, energy, and surprise.
ABOUT WILL SNIDER
Will Snider was born and raised in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. His play How to Use a Knife will receive a National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere this season through Capital Stage (Sacramento, CA), Phoenix Theatre (Indianapolis, IN), Unicorn Theatre (Kansas City, MO), and InterAct Theatre (Philadelphia, PA). Other plays include The Big Man (EST’s Marathon of One-Act Plays), Strange Men, and Death of a Driver. His work has been developed at MCC, NNPN National Showcase of New Plays, The Kennedy Center, SPACE on Ryder Farm, Great Plains Theatre Conference, #serials@theflea, the claque, and MAKEHOUSE. He is a member of Youngblood, recipient of an EST/Soan Grant and The Kennedy Center’s Paula Vogel Playwriting Award, and spent three years working in agricultural development in East Africa. He is pursuing an MFA at UCSD under Naomi Iizuka.
ABOUT PHOENIX THEATRE
The Phoenix Theatre is Indiana's only professional contemporary theatre, and has presented productions to challenge and entertain the Indianapolis community for over 32 years. The Phoenix strives to expand the community’s exposure to diverse topics and start conversations that lead to positive change; produce vital, engaging plays that deepen and expand our views of a shared humanity; and stimulate conversation and promote diversity via intimate, engaged, and wide-ranging theater. Additionally, the Phoenix aims to move the political bent of the community from the right to the center via theater, and create intimate theatre so powerful and engaging it sparks and leads Indiana’s cultural conversation.
ABOUT INTERACT THEATRE COMPANY
Founded in 1988, InterAct is dedicated to presenting new and contemporary plays that explore the political, social and cultural issues of our time. The company produces four plays annually, and is actively involved in the development of new plays, workshops, and playwright support, as well as cultivating prize-winning writers, championing world premiere work, and creating community partnerships.
ABOUT NATIONAL NEW PLAY NETWORK
National New Play Network (NNPN) is the country’s alliance of non-profit professional theaters dedicated to the development, production, and continued life of new plays. Since its founding in 1998, NNPN has supported more than 200 productions nationwide through its innovative National New Play Network Rolling World Premiere program, which provides playwright and production support for new works at its Member theaters. Additional programs - its annual National Conference, National Showcase of New Plays, and MFA Playwrights Workshop; the NNPN Annual and Smith Prize commissions; its residencies for playwrights, producers, and directors; and the organization’s member accessed Collaboration, Festival, and Travel banks and online information sessions - have helped cement the Network’s position as a vital force in the new play landscape. NNPN also strives to pioneer, implement, and disseminate ideas and programs that revolutionize the way theaters collaborate to support new plays and playwrights. Its most recent project, the New Play Exchange, is changing the way playwrights share their work and others discover it by providing immediate access to information on more than 9,500 new plays by living writers. NNPN’s 30 Core and more than 75 Associate Members - along with the more than 150 affiliated artists who are its alumni, the thousands of artists and artisans employed annually by its member theaters, and the hundreds of thousands of audience members who see its supported works each year - are creating the new American theater. nnpn.org