October 7th, 2015
Behind the Curtains: Warona Setshwaelo (State of Denial)
Next week, opening at the Segal Centre Studio is Teesri Duniya Theatre’s production of State of Denial, written by Rahul Varma. The play links the Turkish-denied Armenian genocide of 1915 with the 1955 genocide in Rwanda, connecting them through the Canadian diaspora experience. I got a chance to speak Warona Setshwaelo, who plays Odette in the play, and we discussed the importance of the subject and the themes that are brought up in the play.
What is the play about?
Warona: The play is a quest or search for identity and what identity means to people. Also it is about what secrets can do to one’s identity; how their secrets can affect their families and other generations of their families. The characters are from various backgrounds, some of them are Armenian, some of them are Turkish, some of them are Canadian and one is Rwandan. It has to do with the Armenian genocide, so the story of identity is told through someone who survived during those times.
What did you learn by doing this play?
Warona: I didn’t know much about Turkey. So I learned a lot about Turkish history and about Turkey today because there is a whole part of the play that takes place in modern Turkey and in 1915 Turkey. That was very interesting to discover.
The Armenian genocide was the first genocide of the 20th century. The enforcers of this war were the Ottoman Turks. This genocide took away half of the Armenian race. Over 1 million Armenians were killed in this tragic event. The term genocide did not exist before the 1930s; the Armenian genocide was the first official genocide. Still today the Turks believe that it wasn’t genocide, but what they called a military necessity, causing much conflict throughout international news.
Is it the first time the play is being done in Montreal?
Warona: Teesri Duniya Theatre produced a workshop production in 2012 at the McCord Museum. Deborah Forde directed it. The cast was different: Davide Chiazzese was in it with Olivier Lamarche and Matthew Kabwe. For this revised production it is a completely new script. As a performer, if I’ve seen a previous production, I try to not bring that in the room because it is a brand new production, a brand new everybody. Here, it is the same characters and story line but with newer dimensions.
Who do you play State of Denial?
I play Odette Xavier Uwera, she is a Rwandan-Canadian who is making a documentary about women’s story of war. She is looking for people to talk to, people who had survived wars in Turkey, to try and find the women’s story in Turkish history.
What are connections that you can find between you and Odette?
Warona: She is an African feminist and so am I. I would also say she is pretty determined, and I think I am a determined person. When I want something I go for it. She’s a documentarian, and an artist like me. And we are both activists.
Having more plays with roles for strong leading women is essential to our community. We need to strive for more parts like Odette’s. We need to equalize it with men’s roles. There are many great actresses out there and a huge disparity.
For any aspiring actors, what tip would you like to share with them?
Warona: I thought of this when I started- if you are interested in this business in any shape or form, then it is your duty to see and be involved in as much as you possibly can. The best way to do that is to volunteer. As actors, we all think we deserve to be on stage, but we all have to pay our dues. So go and volunteer. Be an usher, do whatever you can to get to know people in theatre companies. You also get to see plays and be there with the actors that are in the plays and somehow figure out what it’s all about. When I first moved from Canada I volunteered at Black Theatre Workshop stuffing envelopes, but that also got me the opportunity to meet the general manager. This is not usual, because you usually get to meet the artistic director, but you only get to meet the GM when you start volunteering there. Then, shows will come up where they will be looking for certain character and the general manager will say, “What about that person who volunteered, they said they were an actor and they look like what we are looking for. Maybe we should call them, they were dedicated and they worked hard.”
Don’t miss State of Denial, playing at Segal Centre Studio from 8th-25th October. It is directed by Liz Valdez, assistant directed by Deborah Forde. Making up the talented, multi-ethnic cast is Susan Bain, Victoria Barkoff, Liana Bdéwi, Jimmy Blais, Michaela Di Cesare, Eric Hausknost, Saro Saroyan and Warona Setshwaelo.
Warona Setshwaelo will be performing in Rahul Varma’s State of Denial
Tessri Duniya Theatre
At Segal Center Studio