It’s taken me three days to figure out how to write this blog post, so knowing there is no way to articulate how much Witness Uganda meant to me, I think it’s time to just go for it.
On Wednesday Griffin Matthews and Matt Gould (an alumni of BU) came to BU to share some of and talk about their new musical Witness Uganda. I am so blessed to have had the privilege of being exposed to this musical (coming to the A.R.T. in February!)
I haven’t in a room with that kind of passion in a long time. I left crying and thinking and crying and thanking the theatre gods that artists like Griffin and Matthews exist.
In 2005 Griffin went to Uganda on a service trip and his life shifted tracks. He can explain the journey much better on their website, but to summarize: Griffin realized that what these kids wanted more than anything was education. He and Matt began raising money to help a group of kids go to school, returning each year to continue fostering this relationship. They struggled with the realities of service work and whether or not what they were doing meant anything at all. It was in this self-doubt that Witness Uganda was born. Check out the website and watch the Ted Talk posted at the bottom of this post.
When Griffin and Matt got up on stage to start talking about their project I was immediately captivated. They way the spoke and the poise and connection they held was unbelievable. These two articulate men had a presence and a passion that was so fresh and palpable. They used their words and their songs to share with us their story.
They shared four of the songs in the musical that is usually written for a large cast and full instrumental section with just the two of them, a mic stand, and a questionable tuned piano. And it blew me away. I was weeping before they even said a word. The music came from such an original and passionate place. I felt the need that they had to sing these songs. I felt the joy that came from writing them. I felt the messages about change and hope and hardship through their voices. To me, that music was the embodiment of the fire burning in ones belly. Man, what talent.
Speaking to a specifically theater based audience, Matt and Griffin went into detail about the struggles they faced in trying to get this musical noticed and funded. It was so fascinating to hear them talk about the long journey they went on, the moments they were going to give up and the times people did not respect what they were trying to do. But they kept going. Because they knew that what they had to say was worth it. This musical is worth it.
The lyrics of this song below were taken verbatim from a rant Griffin was having that Matt secretly recorded on his computer before Witness Uganda had begun.
The questions this musical asks are completely worth it. I grew up in a country with a large disparity of wealth. Where the rich were rich and the poor had nothing. I was a part of a non-profit theatre organization that brought circus and education to a group poor children. I left to go to school knowing I wanted to use theater to make a difference. Some of that drive had begun to fade and Witness Uganda revitalized me. Many of my best friends are studying to work in International Development and often call me crying about how hard it is to do something. “Why can’t we just go be there and learn with them? Why can’t everyone just give a little effort? Why does it seem like I am the only one who cares? Why does it have to be so damn hard?”
Art is powerful. Matt told an anecdote about the time he had come to the realization that theatre isn’t nothing. It is it’s own form of brain surgery. It is the hardest task, the most precise, and has the strongest capacity to heal.
Thank you for this musical. Thanks for taking the time to use art to educate others about the importance to being a compassionate human being in the face of difficulties.
I sincerely wish Witness Uganda all the best.