Monday, December 13, 2010

RASH comes to its first high school - Trinity School

I left the house at 6:30 am this morning to go from Brooklyn to the Upper West Side to perform an extract of RASH to the students and faculty of Trinity School. When I left home, it was dark and all the cafes were still closed.  I never imagined I would be performing RASH at 8am before my first cup of coffee!  But there I was on stage in a lovely theatre in front of 550 students aged 15-18 years and the faculty. 

I only discovered after the performance (thankfully!) that the Trinity crowd is a tough one, but the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive.  I was fortunate to have pleased both the students and the teachers.  Having gone to a pretty rubbish local high school, I was amazed and inspired to see a school like Trinity, both in terms of the students themselves, the faculty and the school program.  Just an example, almost every day of the year, there is a speaker or performer that addresses the morning assembly.  When I asked the Dean of Co-Curricular Learning if the students realize how privileged they are, I was pleased to hear a resounding yes. 

After my performance, I shared some personal anecdotes about my life in the field and the transition to WITNESS.  I showed a short video and talked about WITNESS, as well as my belief in the power of arts and human rights, whether it be theatre, video, photography etc to raise awareness and mobilize people to action.  There was only time for one question.  "Who are the most unlikely human rights abusers you have come across?"  I talked about some of the abuses that WITNESS is confronting right here in the US, abuse against the elderly, the existence of child trafficking and treatment of child prostitutes. 

I hope this is the first of many performances at schools.  This confirmed my strong belief that high schools are an ideal setting for RASH performances.  If any of you Trinity folks come across this blog post, please do let me know what you thought of the play.  And thanks for being such a wonderful audience.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What's next for RASH?

My 6th and last performance of RASH was only three days ago but already there are plans underway for future performances.  We are in discussions with a theatre festival in NY, with universities in the US and the UK and with Microsoft HQ in Seattle.  Over the next few months I will be contacting schools, colleges and universities in particular, to guage their interest in having RASH performed on their campuses followed by Q&A with the students.  I have also decided that I will try and get RASH published as a play so I'll keep you posted on that front.  I'll continue to update the blog and encourage you to "like" our Facebook page for faster updates too.

For now, and this will resonate more with those of you who have seen the show, I'm going to cycle in the park, go to outdoor musical concerts, spend more time with my family ....

Friday, August 27, 2010

The RASH audience - who are you?

One of the most amazing personal aspects for me performing RASH at the NY Fringe has been the audience. The word seems to have spread amongst human rights and humanitarian workers and many of them have been coming to the show.  I have received wonderful feedback from this group who are seeing a part of their lives and their stories on stage, and they are overjoyed that I am giving others a glimpse into our world.

Friends and colleagues have also been enormously supportive. It's wonderful to walk outside after the show and see my acting teacher; my doula; colleagues from WITNESS and other NGOs (thanks HRW!); the UN & UNICEF staff, even those with whom I worked in Rwanda and Haiti; neighbours; journalists; friends who were in my writing and acting classes; friends from my birthing and mum groups; friends of friends; other Fringe companies and of course the great Fringe audience.  I think that even my dentist came to see the show. And a training dog. Thank you to all of you who have been so incredibly supportive.

There were several people who came to see RASH who have lost their loved ones to human rights and humanitarian tragedies, and I was humbled that they came, and relieved to hear from them how much they loved the show. 

Who am I missing?

Thursday, August 19, 2010

RASH named "Best Bet" and one of Fringe favourites by Theatre is Easy

The latest RASH review is out from Theatre is Easy. The have named it one of their "Best Bets" and highlighted it as one of the best 6 shows to see at the Fringe. Their BOTTOM LINE: "A not-to-be-missed, riveting first-person account of a UN worker's three years in Rwanda."

"Jenni Wolfson isn't a professional actor. Not that I could tell. She has such a mix of natural intelligence and charisma that you can't help but hang on to every word she says. Wolfson's monologues are supported by an emotional depth that only real experiences can provide, and she delivers such a multilayered performance that any trained method actor would be jealous. Nor is she a professional playwright. Not that I could tell. Her writing is crisp, clean and nuanced. She manages to pack more meaning into a single line than most writers fit into entire scenes.

Jenni Wolfson is in fact the real deal. Born and raised in Scotland, she likes to drink tea and knit, and has worked for twelve years in the most extreme conditions imaginable as a human rights worker for the UN. Most notably, she spent three years in Rwanda in the mid-nineties during the height of the genocidal conflict and survived to tell of it, if just barely.

But Rash, playing at the HERE Arts Center as part of the NY Fringe Festival, isn't a story of murder, pain and despair. Sure, these aspects make an appearance, either as documentary photos, or as facts stated with a jaded coolness so that they seem surreal. You can tell that Wolfson has been witness to things most of us could only imagine, yet she decided to tell the story by instead focusing on life. Maybe that's the only way to approach the potentially soul-depriving subject of genocide. Wolfson talks of love the way a teenager talks of crushes, and of family conflicts as if they could be summarized by witty one-liners. Or kidnapping and threats of death as if they are something she saw on television instead of experiencing firsthand.

Rash, a show whose title refers to a reoccurring stress-induced skin affliction that acts as a barometer of a current situation, is not depressing. Although it has its moments. Nor is it ultimately uplifting, although it has those moments too. In the end it's essentially a story about life and how it unfolds mostly out of our control.

I urge everyone to see Rash before it is too late. The still young Wolfson is far from retired and is currently the managing director of WITNESS, a human rights organization that promotes the use of video to document and eradicate human rights abuses. There is a small window of opportunity to witness an authenticity that is unparalleled."

World Humanitarian Day

Today is World Humanitarian Day. What does that mean?
It's a day to raise awareness of what it means to be a humanitarian aid worker and provide a window into that world.  What better way to celebrate than to come and see RASH which is my autobiographical solo play about my experiences working in post-genocide Rwanda.

World Humanitarian Day also honours those who have been injured or killed in their work.  Today I think about all the colleagues I have lost in the field. A portion of proceeds of RASH are being donated to Kenba La Foundation set up in memory of my friend Emmanuel Rejouis and his two young daughters Kofie & Zenzie who died in the Haiti Earthquake.

Watch this video and if you know a humanitarian aid worker, today is the day to give them a special hug.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

RASH recommended as one of the great solo shows to see at Fringe

The NY Theatre review says "If any theme has emerged so far, it’s this: there are some amazing solo performers in this year’s festival. Don’t let any preconceived notions about one-person plays keep you from sampling some of this unusual, enriching fare":
  • Bagabones (contortionist Jonathan Nosan)
  • Amsterdam Abortion Survivor (Dutch comic Micha Wertheim)
  • Daddy Day (unique site-specific work by Bert Hana)
  • The Height of the Eiffel Tower (New Zealander Morgana O’Reilly)
  • Headscarf and the Angry Bitch (Pakistani American Zehra Fazal)
  • William and the Tradesmen (Eli James channels a wannabe rock star and 3 real rock stars)
  • Rites of Privacy (chameleon David Rhodes as 6 different characters plus himself)
  • Rash (Jenni Wolfson on her work as a humanitarian aid worker)
  • Questions My Mother Can’t Answer (Andrea Caban interviews older women)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Hot off the Press

Here's what the NYTheatre review has to say about RASH

"Jenni Wolfson spent three years in Rwanda during the Hutu-Tutsi genocide as a Humanitarian Aid worker for the UN. I didn't. Neither did anyone I know. This makes Jenni Wolfson worth listening to in almost any circumstance. It gives her strange, fascinating stories... Rash feels like I'm across a coffee table from an acquaintance who just returned from a long journey. She's casual and still confused about everything. One story moves to the next without logic as she continues to makes sense of it all. Her memories are vivid and random. Her body makes accidental gestures that indicate an entire life. If you've ever sat with someone in this unique state—when they're still processing their experience but haven't yet polished it into an "inspiring" memoir—then you may know that it can be magical. It's so unplanned. You get to watch the odd bits of life collect around them as they talk.  This remembering in Rash is thrilling."

Saturday, August 14, 2010


Last night was the opening of RASH at the NY International Fringe Festival and my first performance in 2 1/2 years.  Had a good turn out.  Thanks to everyone who came. It was so wonderful to see so many people I hadn't seen in so long.  Please do share your thoughts about the show.

Here's a quote from my first review from New York Theatre Review
"Telling her own true story about being a human rights and humanitarian worker in Rwanda after the genocide, Wolfson primarily focuses on the relationships that defined her time with the United Nations. Her style is personal and direct, and director Jen Nails helps to create a confessional atmosphere.  Wolfson’s performance is engaging and personal".

Five more performances. Get your tickets HERE

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Before and after HERE - noshing and boozing

If you're coming to see RASH in the next couple of weeks at the HERE Arts Center in Soho I thought you might like to have a few recommendations of where to meet friends before and after the show. Remember that the entrance to HERE Arts Center is on Dominick St (between 6th Avenue and Varick st), one block south of Spring st.  The closest train is C/E to Spring St.

Cafe Noir - Spanish tapas, good for drinks and food, Cafe Noir
32 Grand St, (bet. Ave of the Americas & Thompson St)

Félix Restaurant - French bistro (probably quite crowded on weekends), Felix
340 West Broadway (Grande St)

Lucky Strike, French, Lucky Strike
59 Grand St (bet. W. B'way & Wooster St)

Novocento, Argentinean steakhouse, Novecentro
343 W. Broadway (bet. Broome & Grand Sts)

Ear Inn - Good for drinks, casual, Ear Inn
326 Spring Street between Greenwich and Washington St

Red Bench - Casual and moderately hip place for drinks
107 Sullivan St (bet. Prince & Spring Sts)

Blue ribbon Downing Street Bar, small and open late, Blue Ribbon
34 Downing St (bet. Bedford & Varick Sts)

Thom bar, inside Thompson Hotel - Posh place for drinks, Thompson Hotels
60 Thomson St, 2nd Fl (bet. Broome & Spring)

Grande bar - Another posh place for drinks, Soho Grand
Soho Grand Hotel, 310 W.Broadway, 2nd Floor (bet. Canal & Grand Sts)

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Venue prep for RASH at HERE Arts Center

Yesterday we spent 8 hours with all the other productions preparing our venue - the Dorothy B Williams performance space - at the HERE Arts Center for the New York International Fringe Festival that opens this week.  It was no surprise to me that I'm quite hopeless at climbing ladders and hanging lights but fortunately Taylor our stage manager and board operator was on hand with her tools!  I would have happily skipped the day and just turned up for tech rehearsal, but it has give me a newfound admiration for all that goes into preparing a theatre space - I had no idea.  Here's a photo of Taylor in action! 

Friday, August 6, 2010

RASH opens in one week

RASH opens one week today!  And we're in full swing, well kind of!  That is, in between our full time jobs, families and other commitments.  The logistics and tech side of things are pretty time consuming.  We had a set back this week when we discovered our key prop - a comfortable armchair - didn't pass the flameproofing requirements.  I'll spare you the details!  But we found a lighting designer - yay for Mike Inwood. We've designed the PlayBill - yay for Antony!.  I've got my new costume. We've improved the blog and got the show working on my laptop - yay for Mari! We began distributing postcards and doing some online marketing. Now we just have to sell out. Oh yeah, and I have to perform too!  We can't wait to hear what you think of the show.  Share your comments if you've already seen it.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

RASH proceeds donated to Kenbe La Foundation

As we all know, there was a terrible earthquake in Haiti in January 2010 where around 220,000 people were killed and there are still 1.5 million people homeless. These numbers are hard to comprehend. On a personal note, what was so hard for me to comprehend was the loss of my friend Emmanuel Rejouis and his two young girls Kofie-Jade (5) and Zenzie (3). His wife Emily and their daughter Alyahna (2) survived. Emmanuel and I worked together with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Rwanda. Emily has since created Kenbe La Foundation "to realise Emmanuel’s aspiration of providing inspirational educational opportunities for disadvantaged children of his birth-country Haiti, with an emphasis on sports, music, leadership and entrepreneurship".

RASH is largely based on the 3 years I lived and worked in Rwanda and so it seems fitting to donate all proceeds from the NY Fringe performances to the Foundation in memory of Emmanuel and his girls. Here is a beautiful obituary of Emmanuel that describes him so poignantly. As a writer, I confess I still find it hard to put words to paper on this one. And recently, Emily spoke out about the tragedy and the Foundation for the first time on New Zealand television. She is very inspirational and I think of her and Alyahna so often.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Preparing for RASH

Tick tock, tick tock. The New York Fringe Festival is fast approaching. As usual, I always underestimate how much work it is to get the play up and running again. The rare moments when I have the apartment to myself, it quickly gets rearranged into my performance space and I trip over lego and train tracks as I speed through rehearsing. I only have a few rehearsals with Jen Nails, the RASH director before she goes off on vacation so we're using that time wisely. Ashley, the play manager is amazing helping to organize all the details from marketing, press to tech. Huge thanks to Zach and Mari who have been helping us design the marketing materials and the blog. And we're thrilled that Taylor has joined our team as our stage manager/board operator. I'm still trying to find our lighting designer as well as a new costume. Fortunately I have some time off work this week to prepare. Last week we visited the HERE Arts Center with all the other productions performing in that space. It looks great and is an ideal intimate venue for RASH. Forthcoming we have venue prep (hours and hours of setting up the theatre for all the shows) and then our tech rehearsal. But there's still time, thank goodness. Although I can feel it ticking ...

Friday, July 16, 2010

RASH at the HERE Arts Center in August

We recently learned that RASH will be performed at the HERE Arts Center - Dorothy B. Williams in Soho. We visited the space this week and we're thrilled that it's our venue. It's a great intimate space that is perfect for a play like RASH. The New York Times has called HERE “one of the most unusual arts spaces in New York and possibly the model for the cutting-edge arts spaces of tomorrow.” It's also where the Vagina Monologues was developed by Eve Ensler. We also got confirmation of the dates of the performances. There will be six performances between 13th & 28th August. Check out the Fringe Festival Website for details. Tickets go on sale on July 23rd and we're expecting to sell out! And it's $15 if you buy a ticket in advance and $18 at the door. There will also be a short talkback with the audience after the Friday August 27th show if you want to hear more about the story behind RASH.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

RASH accepted into the New York International Fringe Festival

I'm going to be performing RASH at the New York International Fringe Festival this August. I'm so happy. I think! When I told my mum, she said "you're a glutton for punishment". She knows that going on stage for me is much scarier than being locked in a prison cell with 500 detainees accused of genocide (yes, that's another story). She knows that I have a full-time job as Managing Director at WITNESS and that I'm a sleep deprived mum. But she also knows that we human rights activists and humanitarians have an adrenalin seeking streak to us. I'll let you know as soon as I do what the dates and exact location will be for the performances. In the meantime, become a fan of our Facebook page and get regular updates. And I will feel great to have so many friends and supporters!