Artists are Powerful! My understanding of my power and coming into my role as a leader in this community of theatre has come full circle when I was cast in “Children of Killers” by Katori Hall.  I’ve always considered myself an artist activist of sorts and hope to continue to dig deeper on how to have an impact on others, however the environment that this play has created, has been profoundly moving for me and I like to say the entire cast.

On stage as one of the Guhahamuka

Theater profoundly affects and moves people — it has since its inception, yet my parents, activists in their own right could not grasp why I chose a career of little promise and hardship.  I thank Castillo Theatre first and foremost for igniting and helping me truly understand at the age of 16 how, as an artist I could help CHANGE THE WORLD!  Innocence and youth gives us huge hopes for the future  and the world. As we get older the world tries to tell us otherwise. On Sunday, November 4th, as we performed our last show I was reminded! Almost a decade later, out college and broke I am happier than I have ever been!

I began the journey of Children of Killers in July.  Auditions were nerve racking for me. Auditioning in front of Katori Hall , whom I met in 2010 during a Youth Onstage workshop of this exact piece had my palms sweating and hands shaking. I have so much respect for this woman and look up to her so much! Needless to say I felt I bombed the audition.  I didn’t get the part I auditioned for but was called for a callback for the ensemble. In a profession that is so ego-driven, this could be a blow to Mr.Ego big time but I checked him at the door.  A play, not only written by Katori Hall but with such  political and profound context–THIS type of work is far too important to pass up the opportunity to be a part of it.

Left: Emily Mendelsohn & I Right: Katori Hall and I

Children of Killers, set in Rwanda, 15 years after the Genocide, was birthed from Katori’s Trip to Rwanda in 2009. After seeing a country that was trying to push forward towards the good, it was something she felt she really needed to write about because she felt like every country in this world, its at different points of truth and reconciliation in history. Rwanda was full of contradictions, and the trauma was so present. She wanted to articulate the experience of young people and also young people whose parents were perpetrators in the war. “Oftentimes, we focus on the survivor narrative which totally makes sense, but we all know in history there are different narratives. I wanted to start weaving in this story.” ( –From Theatre Mania Interview)

On day one, we had a cast meeting and our playwright, Katori Hall and director, Emily Mendelsohn expounded upon  how they met in Rwanda, their work & time there and how Children of Killers came to fruition. Emily Mendelsohn is a Full Bright Fellow, a program that allows an artist to travel to another country for 10 months. Emily went to Rwanda and directed a play called Cooking Oil.  She told us that day that she was  “A facilitator of the impulses in the room.” Two women, from very quite different places, meet on a hill in Rwanda, Africa to now being in a room together on 42nd st. embarking on the US Premiere of this play! It was quite amazing how giving they both were throughout the entire process–sharing stories, pictures and just having round table discussions with all of us about how we felt about the world, the state of family, and where young people are today socially and politically.

It was  a very special environment that was created during our rehearsal process. We worked hard at finding the voice of the Guhahamuka- a Rwandan term for the point of speaking where words cease to exist. It is where breath refuses to make syllables amounting to silence and emotion instead. Being a part of this ensemble changed my life! In a career that can be star driven, I was so humbled by how giving we all were to each other.  To walk into a room full of actors and a crew that genuinely cared about how your day went, why your upset, or how they could help made the long rehearsals, and 3 1/2 months of sacrifice, sweat and tears worth it all.

For those who were unable to check out this show, you missed out.  Katori wrote such a compelling piece and when we first came together we weren’t sure what we were embarking on or what it would become but as a cohesive unit we created a beautifully woven story which we were all lucky to go out each night and tell. Each show we dedicated to those lives that were lost during the Genocide.  Before every show we would warm up and are favorite ritual was to come together and sing a traditional Rwandan Song that Emily taught us.  (See the video below)

I learned so much about the Rwandan culture, about myself and mostly that this play was filling a void in the American Theatre. We were representing the voiceless. It wasn’t a play about monsters but about people and children and I assure you the presence of our ancestors were definitely felt by us throughout the course of the production.  

From opening night September 21st, what a ride Children of Killers had!  The show was quite a hit and we had sold out the entire run of the show by the second week! Luckily for us we were extended. We received wonderful reviews from  several New York periodicals and were featured on ABC’s Here & Now. (See all the links at the bottom of the article) Besides the success of the show onstage, offstage we were having outings, potlucks, train-ride chats, and most of all building personal relationships with one another.  Working with actors from age 8 to 60, I was able to receive so much love, guidance & support and in return was able to provide leadership to my younger counterparts.  Children of Killers has been produced 5 times in the UK and 30 times in Portugal. Katori told us, this is the best version of the show she’s ever seen! 🙂 

Top Left: Sidiki Fofana Top Center: Latonia Phipps Top Right: Naja Jack Center Right: Mariel Reyes & Niara Nyabingi Bottom Left: Suzanne Darrell Bottom Center: Lauryn Simone Bottom Right: Lorenzo Jackson

After New York City was hit with Hurricane Sandy, we were sure what the fate of the remaining shows would be. 2 of our closing weekend shows had to be cancelled. Our creative team decided that we owed it to our patron to make sure that the Show must go on! It was such a testament to who we are and the story we are telling! After such tragedy we survived and show how the people of Rwanda go on. When the show came to a close November 4th, needless to say it was a very emotional day. We had become such a tight knit family and it was amazing to have Katori there with us. During our prayer circle before the show, we went around and gave such heartfelt praises, and thanks for the journey that we have had together. For the most part, there was a room full of tears. I almost couldn’t get it together. Shows like these are so special you almost want to hold on to the experience forever. I am so thankful for the beautiful words Katori has shared with me. At times we don’t see how others see us, but when someone like Katori Hall tells you how inspiring you are to HER, you want to just pinch yourself and ask if its real.  During our closing reception, Katori was moved to tears as well, as she expressed to us how thankful she is for watching us create this show. She says it is the reason she WRITES and thanks to us, on the days she wakes up and questions if she should continue, she is reminded, how dare she not write! She has a responsibility to this community to push forward and keep creating these types of stories. 

THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! Katori Hall, Emily, John Rankin, Diane Stiles, Ben Rodman, (funniest SM ever!) Bernie, Choreographer: Paloma McGregor, Music: David Belmont, Joe Spirito, Rosalynn Evans, our wardrobe assistants and the whole crew of COK, the show with not be the same with out you!


Suzanne Darrell- My theater mom! For all your encouragement and for just being you! You are truly amazing!

Terrell Wheeler- The Jolly Giant! So talented and humble. I know you will go far! 

Sidiki Fofana- Adenkele Peh! My African Brother! So proud of the man that you are! Continue to soar!

Melech Henry- Such an intelligent brother with much to give. You shall overcome & I know the man you shall become will be of greatness!

Raphal Agbune-  You’ve shown me so much the true meaning of appreciating any role and making the most of it!

Khadim Diop- Hollywood better get ready! The stars are your destiny!

Naja Jack- 11 going on 31.. an old soul with a silly heart.  Keep flying!

Latonia Phipps- my soul sister! I am forever grateful that God has placed you in my life!

Edgar Cancinos- a beautiful spirit with a chest for opera & a tongue made for the Shakespeare language!

Kimarra Canonnier- Her laugh is infectious & her compassion for others so remarkable! Thanks for all the cupcakes.

Rain Jack- So beautiful! Stay focused and never forget how important you are!

Lorenzo Jackson- Another Shakespeare Guru! You make me proud! You already know how I feel! 😉 

Lauryn Simone Jones- Sacrifice is an understatement! You are an amazing teen! I want to be like you when I grow up! Continued blessings sis

Niara Nyabingi- Beautiful Locks with a matching heart! You will be great in anything you do! and dont forget it!

Andrea Rachel- I wont forget you, I promise! and I will be there for your wedding to your tall dream! 😉 

Mariel Reyes- My Dominican sister! Strong-willed with a knack for Shakespeare that will blow folks away! I will always be here for you

Starshima Trent- ROCKSTAR! Shall I say more? lol








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6 responses »

  1. FROM EMILY M- “Beautiful – and congratulations – this was truly your journey and you filled it with the life and light that you carry… beautiful work on stage, and so astutely articulated…”

  2. Hollyhood says:

    Congratulations Ms. Chapman and I so look forward to working with you on MofR!! Keep shining Superstar!!

  3. Bernard Tarver says:

    As you know Franceli, at the All Stars Project, corporate home to the Castillo Theatre, youth development is the larger mission. But in reality it is “human development” that takes place, because everyone who comes through those doors on W. 42nd Street and engages and participates, is transformed in some way, and allowed to grow in ways we may not have even realized were possible. I know I did.

    As assistant producer on this project, and a volunteer, I confess I came to the production for many of the same reasons you did, to be a part of something special but also to work on an Off Broadway play written by one of the theatre’s brightest new stars, Katori Hall. I’ve been in the business a quarter century now, mostly as an actor, but at this point in my life pretty much over my need to perform on stage. Play writing and producing is where I’m headed now. Coming in, I wasn’t entirely sure of what I was getting myself into or really where I could play a meaningful role. At Castillo you just kinda roll up your sleeves and pitch in, so I did.

    It turned out to be the most personally rewarding theatrical experience of my entire career. I mean that sincerely. WE all grew into the most amazingly supportive and giving family I’ve ever been around in a professional setting. Producing is about setting the right creative environment for others to do their best work and I learned the many ways in which I could do that, from supporting John with administrative tasks, to backing up Ben like an ASM, coaching actors in scene work in support of Emily, sweeping the floor before fight call, setting props before the show, running video or lights during a show, or blasting Facebook and Twitter with show promotions. It was all part of the ensemble we all helped to create that made this show not only the critical success that it was, but the life-changing experience it was for all of us.

    And I’ve said this many times too: You guys are some of the smartest actors I’ve ever been around. I’ve been around quite a few actors who only learn their lines, show up right at half hour, and put only as much into it as is needed for that night’s performance. In the early rehearsal process, when we were still exploring the characters and understanding the world we were creating, the questions and comments shared by everyone, from our youngest to our oldest, were profound, reflective and engaged. Everyone demonstrated a willingness to take chances and just try things, even if they didn’t always understand how that experimentation fit into the play.

    We’ve all gone our separate ways now but I know we’ll keep in touch. I hope everyone understands and appreciates how special these past few months have been. Cherish the memories.

    To quote something you said one day in rehearsal, “You guys are the best guhahamuka I’ve ever been around.”

  4. Terrell says:

    This was beautiful. Thanks for the kind words. This was a project that I think we all will take valuable experiences from, spiritually and professionally. Thank you all for that.

  5. Guhahamuka 3 says:

    I respect the time you put in to this, it is always great to look back on our achievements and times together. I took a lot from this production and met a lot of great people. I wish everyone the best and to keep this quote in mind……”The true meaning of success is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”

  6. This was beyond amazing sis. You are so needed in MY LIFE. God has blessed you with a grace that’s infectious… you truly have the heart of a servant… the heart of the Lord. This journey was worth it because of the relationships that were birthed. I thank you for your words and I know this will not be the last time we will work together. Love you diva.

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