While other theatre and drama students are busying themselves at this time of year with Edinburgh in mind, Essex University’s Grace Durbin has set her sights on another festival.

That’s the Ubumuntu Arts Festival in Rwanda, where she and fellow student Francesca Gray are currently after developing Grace’s debut show, 13 Reasons Why Not, at the Lakeside Theatre on the Wivenhoe Park campus.

Both Grace and Francesca flew out on Monday and will be in the capital of Kigali, appearing at the city’s Genocide Memorial Amphitheatre, as part of the international festival which starts today and runs until Sunday, July 13 to 15.

Grace says: “This time last year I took part in an international woman’s festival at the Mercury Theatre and got to work with a director from Rwanda called Hope Azeda.

“Over those three days I got really close to her and we just talked and talked about theatre. She told me about this festival in her home country and how it’s all about humanity, and said I should come out.

“She’s interested in the topic of mental health in young people, and asked me to explore the theme from a UK perspective and showcase the play at the festival.”

After discussing the possibility with her supervisor, it was agreed Grace could work on a new piece of theatre as part of her Masters degree, which she would then take out to the African country.

Brought up in Norfolk, Grace arrived at Essex back in 2014 to study drama after performing for many years in and around Norwich when she was growing up.

And while at Essex, Grace has been working as a Youth Theatre assistant at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester and at the Pauline Quirke Academy at The Philip Morant School.

Her show ‘13 Reasons Why Not’ came out of a period of research in which Grace interviewed several people with mental health problems.

“I wanted to use the verbatim accounts as part of the piece,” she tells me, “and that’s what the character in the show responds to when she lists the 13 things that she says makes her happy so can’t be suffering from depression.

“It’s been a long and difficult process which we started back in November. Most recently we tested it out in front of an audience at Lakeside Theatre, using that audience feedback to fine tune it for the international festival.

“Francesca is my best friend who I’ve known since starting here at Essex so it’s great we’re going on this journey together.”