Interview: Juliet from Speakeasy Kigali

Juliet Hutchings has been living and working in Kigali since November of 2011 as both a freelance photographer and a live storyteller.  Her work includes running story hour at the new Rwanda Library, teaching and performing adult live storytelling and, finally, working as a freelance photographer and helping run the RwandEye Photography Consortium. You can reach Juliet at julierue@gmail.com or find her on Twitter at @julierue.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

I’ve always been a storyteller – whether it was with homemade puppets as a kid or with my little Kodak Disc Camera, I’ve always loved documenting and sharing my world with others. That translated, over the years, into film school and a career as an associate producer in Washington DC for various media outlets like The Discovery Channel and PBS. However, I always did photography for myself and family, and finally started to do photography professionally in Ethiopia in 2007. Whilst working that gig, I realized that not only is my passion in photography, that is also where my strongest skills lay.

What about storytelling?

Well, in addition to telling stories with photos, I discovered, a few years ago, that I also love to tell live, true adult stories. There has been a trend over the past 15 or so years in the US for live story performances in all of the big cities there: Boston, DC, New York, Chicago, LA, you name it, there is probably a live, true storytelling organization in an American city near you. I got my start with SpeakeasyDC in Washington, DC.

How did you end up in Kigali?

After having worked in Ethiopia in 2007, I was hooked on East Africa. The following year, I moved to Kampala, Uganda to teach some folks at a non-profit the basics of videography. Fast-forward a few years, and my then-boyfriend, now-husband was offered a job that would take him to Rwanda. We agreed that this was the “real thing” and that we wanted to be married AND move to Rwanda. So we did! Since November of 2011, I’ve been getting myself networked and settled into a nice rhythm of teaching and performing live, stand-up storytelling, running the story hour at the new public library for children under 5 years old and freelance photography for the Rwandan Government, private companies and various NGOs.

What is live, true, adult strytelling?

It’s not “adult” in the racy sense! It just means that I teach and work with adults to craft their own true stories for the stage. It results in a nicely polished, rehearsed (but not memorized) true story about the teller. We hold live storytelling events in conjunction with Spoken Word Rwanda and The Office in Kiyovu.

How did you get started in live storytelling?

My then-boyfriend (now husband) knew that I had always wanted to take some live storytelling classes with SpeakeasyDC in Washington, DC. I had been scrimping and pinching but hadn’t gotten around to saving enough money to take the class. One random Wednesday, he called me at work and said, “Do you think you could have the next 6 Wednesday nights free?” He had signed me up for my first class with them! It’s been almost 3 years since that fated class, and I have to say, I took to live storytelling like a fish to water! It turns out, I really love to talk about myself. A lot. (This interview, for example, is a ton of fun for me!).

What is Speakeasy Kigali?

Before I left Washington, DC in November of 2011, I met with the executive director of SpeakeasyDC, Amy Saidman. I told her I wanted to share their curriculum and message in Rwanda; she got behind it, 100%, and has even had a few Skype coaching sessions with me, since I moved to Rwanda. Since April of 2012, I’ve been teaching adults (and a couple of kids) the craft of live, true storytelling. The cost for a 5-session class is pretty accessible (Rwf 20,000 for adults and Rwf 12,000 for kids). I’ve had a mixture of both expats and Rwandans.

I recently performed at The Office Unlaunch party as well as when I went back, this past June, to the States, I performed for the Speakeasy audiences in DC, once again. Our first official SpeakeasyKigali event should take place the first or second week of October. Stay tuned!

What is the state of storytelling, as you see it, in Rwanda right now?

As an outsider, I can’t say with a whole lot of authority how storytelling has survived the past century or so, but what I have heard, anecdotally, from Rwandans I know, is that the art of storytelling – once strong – is pretty weak at the moment. Spoken Word Rwanda has done a lot to mainstream the idea of sharing our innermost feelings, and now SpeakeasyKigali will, hopefully, extend that mission and reignite the storytelling traditions of some eager Rwandans.

Ok, so, gear change: What kind of photography do you do?

I’m pretty flexible with my photography when it comes to clients – event photography, photojournalism, and documentary photography.  For personal expression, I gravitate to abstract photography and optical illusion. I also have a personal Photo of the Day website that, currently, focuses almost exclusively on Rwanda.

What is the Rwandeye Photography Consortium?

I visited kLab in January of this year and met the manager, Claude Migisha Kalisa. He saw my camera and told me he was interested in starting a photography group for anyone who was interested in collaborating – from amateurs to professionals.  We had our first meeting in early April, and since then, we have done a few outings, and 17 of us were the official event photographers for KigaliUP! Music Festival in July. We’re looking into becoming a business cooperative and, in the mean time, we meet up at least once a month to share photos and work on fun photo activities together. Any and all who love photography are welcome to join the group!

What has it been like to run a business in Rwanda?

I’m a freelancer and so I don’t have any employees or any boss. It’s been a challenge, but I’m not sure that it has been a uniquely different challenge than it had been back in the US. Bottom line: I have to network. Of course, culturally, I bump up against norms and paradigms that are new to me, but I really have found that the best way to run a business here in Kigali is to know people and, of course, to produce quality results for my clients.

What does the future hold for Speakeasy Kigali, RwandEye and Story Hour?

Our plans for Speakeasy Kigali are to grow within the Spoken Word Rwanda community and then flourish into a unique community of contemporary and traditional storytellers. I’ll be teaching a class that begins September 10, from 7 to 8:30pm every Tuesday evening through October 1. The class will be held at The Office in Kiyovu. There are just a few spots still open in the class.  If anyone would like to sign up, they can email me at julierue@gmail.com. Once the class is finished, we will have a performance in mid-October!

RwandEye will be heading out on a photo excursion in September, likely to the Eastern or Northern Province. Anyone interested in joining us should contact me at the email above.

Finally, Story Hour is so popular at the library on Monday mornings from 10 to 10:45 am, that I’ll be adding a second hour on Wednesday afternoons from 3:45 to 4:30 pm. Mondays are for kids, ages 0 to 5 and Wednesdays will be for kids 3 to 5.5 years of age. Wednesday story hours will begin on September 11!

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.