Stepping Out of the River at Dawn

 

"You cannot live in both worlds, Alyze. Someday you must choose."

 

Synopsis

ALYZE and MARTIN are Rwandan immigrants living in Queens, NYC. Martin drives a taxi and Alyze cleans office buildings at night to get by. When Martin proposes marriage, Alyze happily accepts. But in this new country - without family, without money, without traditions - they must forge a new path to make their marriage their own. Alyze has always dreamed of the traditional Rwandan ceremonies, but Martin says that a contemporary Justice of the Peace is all they can afford. Alyze finds herself stuck between two worlds.

That evening, Alyze's brother, EDMOND, an Anglican priest in Rwanda, arrives for a visit. Edmond's beliefs challenge Alyze, and he encourages her to follow the traditional path. But as Alyze confronts her past, she is unable to accept the conservative values that lead to the present state of Rwanda, and she kicks Edmond out. Martin tries to console her, but his suggestions to postpone the wedding date drive Alyze deeper into doubt.

Finally, Alyze makes Martin an ultimatum - they will be married this weekend, or not at all - and she goes to find a wedding dress. At the wedding dress shop, she must make a hard choice to get the perfect dress. In the end what she discovers - in the dress, and in herself - is more beautiful than she ever could have imagined.

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Cast: 2m, 2f, Plus Dancer(s)
Unit Set
Running Time: Approx. 100 min (possible intermissions)

 

Background

This play embraces voices and perspectives that are not often heard on the American stage. It shines a spotlight on the daily struggles of a small population of African immigrants living and working in the United States, as they seek to harmonize the demands of their own culture and traditions, with a new life far from home. It tries to look at universal human themes through the eyes of someone struggling to find her own identity, amidst shifting cultural influences. Instead of being flushed downstream, I hope that this play shows someone making a unique and powerful stand.

STEPPING OUT OF THE RIVER AT DAWN grew out of a personal desire to explore a new culture and answer a difficult question: what good is a wedding in the world today? I began my journey a few years ago when I saw a blurb in a church bulletin in South Carolina asking parishioners to donate their used wedding dresses. The dresses were sent to a sister church in Rwanda where they would be recycled in a wedding dress rental business. I was curious, troubled, and intrigued. Why send American wedding dresses to Rwanda? Shouldn't we send food instead? And why do they want them anyway? After much research, I had the opportunity to travel to Rwanda this past spring, and my ignorance and curiosity became a starting point for a process of learning and, ultimately, self-discovery. This play is a result of that journey. Through Rwandan wedding traditions, I found a powerful metaphor for my own understanding of marriage, and the ways that our past will always conflict with (and shape) our daily lives.

Contemporary Rwandan culture is shaped by a series of catastrophic upheavals over the past 100 years. Even as the country finds new wealth and prosperity in the 21st century, Rwandans must bridge the gap between their ancient traditions and the modern age. I found weddings - particularly the complicated and theatrical nature of Rwandan marriage ceremonies - to be particularly insightful in illuminating key social constructs like tribe-nation, family, gender roles, individual responsibility, and personal identity. In the end, however, this play is a simple love story, where characters struggle to express the best parts of themselves, and they come out victorious because of a single act of human bravery.

In creating the play, I have pulled from the traditional Rwandan wedding ceremonies, broadly emphasizing the style and presentational elements including dance, music, and heightened theatrical moments. The play is structured around the various cultural ceremonies, but I believe any audience can enjoy it. I trust that in the right hands this story will be human, moving, and encourage us all to face our future bravely.

 

Development and Production History

   Workshop Production with Mixed Blood Theatre (Minneapolis, MN) "55454" Series

   Production with Centre Stage (Greenville, SC) "On the Fringe" Series

  Published in the anthology Great Plains Theatre Conference Reader: 2013 Mainstage

  Main Stage Reading Series at the 2013 Great Plains Theatre Conference

  Winner of the Holland New Voices Playwright Award

  Winner of the 2013 Centre Stage New Play Festival, Greenville, SC

  Selected for the 2013 D.C. Black Theatre Festival, Washington, D.C.

  Reading at The Dramatists Guild (NYC)

  Finalist for The LARK Playwrights Week, NYC

  Semi-Finalist for the Cutting Ball Theatre Risk is This Festival, San Francisco, CA

  Semi-Finalist for the North American Actors Association Reading Festival (London)

 

Click here to view the latest news and posts about STEPPING OUT OF THE RIVER AT DAWN (formerly titled YOUNG NEGRESS STEPPING OUT OF THE RIVER AT DAWN). For more information, please contact Dean directly.

 

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