Afrocentric Theatre, Music, Culture and Business

Our Lady of Kibeho, Interview with Michelle Asante Our Lady of Kibeho, Interview with Michelle Asante
Our Lady of Kibeho, Interview with Michelle Asante

In 1981 at Kibeho College in Rwanda, a young girl claimed to have seen a vision of the Virgin Mary who warned her of the unimaginable: Rwanda becoming hell on Earth. Ebonyonline.net were privileged for Michelle Asante (pic left), who plays the deputy Head of the College do grant us a few moments from her rehearsals to talk about the play and her acting journey.


EOL: Hi Michelle, exciting to talk to you, can you Give us a brief summary of the story and what you drew you to the play?
MS: The story is based on true events and is centered around the 3 teenage girls studying in a Convent school in a small village in southern Rwanda in the early 1980s. These young girls claim to be receiving spiritual visions and messages and their claims cause an extraordinary chain of events that change their community and Rwanda.


I was drawn to this play firstly because of the writing. Katori has written wonderfully complex characters in a country that is rarely ever represented on stage or screen. Also the fact that these were real girls and the impact that their visions had on their community and even beyond Rwanda.



EOL: Tell us a bit about your character and how you approached the role?
MS: My character is Sister Evangelique who is the Deputy Head Nun of the school. She faces what many women in the world face navigating through a man’s world. She greatly cherishes education and what it offers the young girls of her community.


To approach the part really it’s all about the writing. Katori Hall has created a character that goes on a journey of revelation where her beliefs and moral ideals are tested. When a writer gives you so much in the text its like putting on a glove.



EOL: How much did know about the story beforehand and what were some of the surprising things you learned along the way?
MS: I didn’t know anything about the story and so everything was totally new to me. Learning that the village of Kibeho is a place of pilgrimage for almost a million people a year was a big surprise.



EOL: This is year is the 25th anniversary of the Genocide, what are your memories if any of it?
MS: To be honest I don’t have strong memories of the genocide at the time. However over the years I have become acquainted with many Rwandan people some of whom are close friends. They’ve shared their experiences and testimonies with me. What we need to focus on is the determination they have to build a better future for themselves.



EOL: What do you want the audience to take away from this production?
MS: I hope the production will open up conversations about faith, the voice of young people especially young females and perceptions of Africa then and now. There is a lot to be said about how we dismiss certain voices or cut out certain people from important conversations.


These young women lived in a community and country in which tensions were bubbling beneath the surface like hot lava. What if they had been listened to? Not just listened to.  Also I think it’s important that people see Rwanda and not just associate it with the genocide.


This is a play about gender politics, adolescence, patriarchy, community, love and bereavement. I’d like the audience to know and seek to know more about Rwanda, its people and culture its.



EOL: Why do you think very few people know that Our Lady of Kibeho became the first and only Vatican-approved Marian (related to the Virgin Mary) site in Africa?
MS:  I’m not sure how accurate a statement that is because this is relevant to a very particular community- those of the Catholic faith.


For those who do not follow that faith they wouldn’t necessarily know about any of the Vatican approved sites. I don’t have statistics on how many people of Catholic Faith know about Kibeho but there are close to a million people who make pilgrimage there every year from all over the world so obviously someone knows about it.



EOL: How did you get into acting, was it always in your blood?

MS:  I enjoyed reading a lot when I was younger and reading out loud and bringing characters to life. I liked storytelling and using my imagination to create stories. However that was not the path I had planned for so I went to University instead. After Uni I met a woman who was a tutor at one of the top drama schools and she like my teacher in school encouraged me to at least try to get into drama school.


I auditioned for a few schools and Lo and behold I got a place and was given a DADA (Dance and Drama Award Scholarship) with financial assistance (which helped a lot as I would t have been able to afford the fees). I’ve not looked back since.


EOL: Tell us a bit about your journey as an African-Caribbean actress and what nuggets of advice would you have for those entering the profession?

Well in a nutshell the journey has been like any other in life…a learning experience. I’ve been blessed to have worked continuously and to have collaborated creatively with amazing people. Has there been prejudice…yes….casual racism…yup….the old boys club…mmmhhmmnnn….stereotyping…definitely….I have seen it and heard it all but I don’t let those experiences change my goals or character.


My advice to those entering the profession? Remember that ACTING IS NOT YOU! You are a multifaceted being with multiple talents and abilities so do not let yourself be defined by a career. Maintain your integrity.  Enjoy the power of ‘No’ if you are not comfortable with a part or script you have a right to say no. Define the type of performer you want to be and work towards that. Also look at creating your own work. Write, produce, direct. Be a contributor.


Think about using your skills to benefit your community. Don’t wait for the phone to ring. Don’t put your self worth or validation in the hands of someone else. No other performer is your enemy or your competition! If you find yourself feeling negative about others accomplishments, take a step back, switch off the social media and find another focus.


Finally nurture other skills or have a side trade eg marketing, web design, sales. Something else that you enjoy. Learn financial literacy! This is a business and don’t take that for granted. Learn to save and budget. Study the financial reports for actors and entertainers and you will see that most performers are unemployed most of the time.


Have a plan of action to deal with those dry/desert seasons. I think if you look at the profession with clear critical eyes and not the dazzling Hollywood fairy tale image, you will enjoy the journey and the people more and you are less likely to fall into the common cycles. It’s also better for your mental health.


25 Sept-2 Nov, Our Lady of Kibeho, Theatre Royal Stratford,  E15 1BN, Tickets and details: https://www.stratfordeast.com/whats-on/all-shows/our-lady-of-kibeho


Michelle Asante_credit_Manuel Harlan.jpg

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