Leslie Lewis-Sword, Actress, Producer
Leslie Lewis Sword is currently at work on a new performance piece about an inspirational survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Imaculee Ilibagiza.
Leslie co-starred with Billy Zane in the short film Starving Hysterical Naked, a biopic about the Beat Generation Writers. She attended Harvard University for her BA, and UCLA's Department of Theater for a Masters of Fine Arts in acting.
In 2005, Leslie's performance as Dorothy Dandridge in Jamal William's one-woman show Yesterday Came Too Soon sold out for all performances at the National Black Theatre Off-Broadway in Harlem, New York, under the creative direction of Dr. Barbara Ann Teer.
A Harvard University graduate, Leslie received her MFA in acting from University of California, Los Angeles.
Leslie currently lives between Naples, Florida and New York City with her husband and their two children, adopted from a Rwandan Orphanage last year.
An Open Heart
by Leslie Lewis-Sword as told to Dana Roc
With her 15 month daughter in her arms, Leslie entered the room and we settled in for a talk.
Leslie is a genuinely curious person and as a result I found it was easy for me to get lost in one of my own life altering stories. She is easy to talk to. She listens well. I think that is what makes her so good at what she does; she is so able to connect with the experience of another.
Leslie Lewis Sword is a beautiful woman with a beautiful spirit telling the story of another beautiful woman with a tremendously beautiful spirit.
Well, they do say that --
"It takes one to know one..."
Eight women in a
locked box with a
(never flush it!
make no noise!
his children don't even know
you are here)
menstrual periods stopped after
she lost 47 ponds
down to 68
(I didn't know my thigh had two bones,
Didn't it smell in there?
She doesn't remember the smell at al.
- Leslie Lewis-Sword
Our generation's Anne Frank, Imaculee Ilibagiza, miraculously survived the bloody Rwandan Tutsi genocide of 1994. She and seven other women holed up in the 3x5 ft bathroom of a sympathetic Hutu pastor for ninety-one days.
Meanwhile, her family and 800,000 other Tutsis were being ruthlessly slaughtered by hand with machetes and machine guns by their neighbors and former friends.
Daily, as troops of killers stormed through the pastor's modest three-bedroom home looking for Imaculee and her companions to murder them, twenty four year old Imaculee turned to her faith in God for strength. Clutching the rosary her father gave her before he was killed, she transcended the brutal circumstances of those three months and soared to a level of love and forgiveness that is Christ-like and awe-inspiring.
I heard Imaculee speak in October of 2005.
I heard her say this:
While I was in that bathroom I decided to pray every moment of the day because when the killers would come to try to find us my mind would attack me.
I felt as if the knives were already cutting into my body. I did not know that my mind, my thoughts, could make pain in my body. So I thought that I must make sure that my thoughts are all good thoughts. So I prayed. I prayed the rosary.
You know you say the Our Father and you say 'Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us'. I did not like that part. I could not say that part. How could I forgive these men? They were evil. They were killing. So, I decided to go fast to skip over that part.
Yet, in the rosary you also meditate on the life of Jesus.
Jesus, when he was on the cross, said 'Forgive them for they know not what they do'. I realized that these men could not know the evil that they are doing. They are in hell already and I could not give my hatred to them. They are already in pain. So, I forgive them and I felt so much lighter and so much better.
I think that is what saved me.
When I heard Imaculee say these words it took my breath away and I thought -
"I have to be part of telling her story".
Piercing words... Her words went straight to my heart.
Miracle in Rwanda
Performed and Created by Leslie Lewis Sword
Directed & Co-Created by Edward Vilga
NYC Premiere April 5, 2007
The Incredible Story of a Real-Life Messenger of Hope
New York, NY, March 23 –Leslie Lewis Sword brilliantly transforms herself into a host of characters to tell the incredible story of Rwandan Genocide Survivor Immaculée Ilibagiza, a real life messenger of hope, during her one woman show MIRACLE IN RWANDA at the Ohio Theater (66 Wooster Street, SoHo, NYC) beginning April 5th and running through April 29th.
Immaculée was the subject of a CBS 60 MINUTES feature this December,bringing international attention to her story through her New York Times' best seller LEFT TO TELL, the basis of the drama MIRACLE IN RWANDA performed and created by Leslie Lewis Sword and directed and co-created by Edward Vilga.
MIRACLE IN RWANDA's world premiere was in February, 2007 in Naples, Florida, produced by TheaterZone (Mark Dani, artistic director). The NYC Premiere is produced by Carl Nelson in association with Faison Firehouse.
Tickets: www.SmartTix.com or 212-868-4444
Prices: $35 for all performances (Same day Student Rush $10 with ID)
Time: Thursday—Saturday, 8pm. Sunday—3pm
Ohio Theater * 66 Wooster Street, SOHO (between Spring & Broome St)
April 6th - 13th Anniversary of the Genocide (Ticket $150)
April 11th - Gala Benefit (Ticket $250)
Immaculée Ilibagiza will attend both events
A portion of all ticket proceeds will go to the Left to Tell Foundation to benefit Rwandan orphans.
I met her at a conference two weeks later. I knew that she would be at this conference. She told me she was going to Rwanda at the end of the month and I invited myself along. I just hopped on a plane and I asked her where she would be. She said at the Intercontinental Hotel in Uganda. So, I just showed up there. Then there was a documentary crew that was researching her.
It was amazing to go there with Imaculee and now she is like a sister. She is a wonderful friend. We pray the rosary together.
It has been really easy. I believe that is because Imaculee is a Saint. Anything connected with her goes easily and well.
I had been talking with Imaculee and meeting with her and I had it all in my head...letting it all cook, it's been like a pot on a back burner where I have been putting in meetings with her in East Hampton, meetings with her in New York, hearing her speak in Scottsdale and just putting that all in the pot on the back burner.
Then I met with Edward Vilga. He is my director. He is fabulous. He is a genius.
I met him in his living room and just improvised with him. Together we created a structure. We pulled out a dramatic structure and figured out end cues so that the lighting guy knows when to turn out the lights. Within that I improvise the dialogue so it is new and fresh every time.
We wanted to do it in April because April 6 was the beginning of the genocide. Imaculee wanted to do something that day. The perfect space opened up, a ninety nine seat theater in SoHo, that is really well regarded and a fabulous theatre company came on board, Faison Firehouse with Tony award winning choreographer George Faison.
It has been this wonderful organic process.
We are meant to be joyful and we can be joyful under any circumstances, even in the midst of genocide.
I really think that Imaculee's faith is what saved her and brought her to this place and now she has a happy life. She has a happy life this woman who has been through such a holocaust. Her mission is to go around the world talking about forgiveness; forgiving the unforgivable. She does that.
Imaculee was able to find a corner of her heart where she would just communicate with her divine self. So, to know that you can go through the worse thing that a person can go through and still be happy has led me to believe that -
We were meant to be happy and this world was meant to be good to us.
I want people to come away from this experience with a sense that they can forgive; that we can all forgive.
Forgiveness is not for the other person it is for us ourselves. The world is a safe place if we can do that.
I want to keep finding more and more ways to delight in this world that we live in. I believe that life is meant to be fun and that ultimately -
all is well.
When no one wants forgiveness
And denial flows like the river.
- Leslie Lewis-Sword