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Congolese Actor Toto Kisaku On How Theater Saved His Life

Courtesy of the artist.
Toto Kisaku

The International Festival of Arts and Ideas in New Haven hosts the premiere of a play called Requiem for an Electric Chair. It’s written and performed by Congolese actor Toto Kisaku who was granted asylum in the U.S. earlier this year. He lives now in Connecticut.

The play is based on his escape from execution. 

Toto Kisaku was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo and spent many years touring as a performing artist in countries around the world. He was arrested and incarcerated in 2015, after creating a play about the exploitation of children who live on the streets of Kinshasa.

“I play more than 100 times in Kinshasa,” he said, “so 150,000 people saw that performance.”

Among the audience members was a worker at the prison.

“One of the guards who was supposed to kill me, that guard who saved me,” said Kisaku.

“He put me in a cell. The seventh day it was my turn. I was taken from that space. They have two cars. They put us, two in each trunk. Destination: the place of execution. I hear two shots. And my turn, the guy position his revolver. He took a couple of seconds and he say, ‘I cannot kill you because I know you.’ He just shot in the air.”

“Theater saved my life,” said the actor.

Kisaku has transformed the experience into a theater piece.

“The story happening inside of a little square in the darkness. In that space, I want to bring people in, if they can just cross that line,” he explained.

Requiem for an Electric Chair runs June 22 and 23 at the Iseman Theater in New Haven.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.
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