Saturday, July 28, 2018

Palestine - To Be Continued

There is too much to say about Palestinian theatre that I have left off this blog because I am in the process of writing two articles - one for HowlRound and another for Arab Stages which will speak in detail to the experience. I will be posting links as soon as they are available.

This mural is on the wall at the Freedom Theatre in Jenin. 

Friday, July 27, 2018

Dispatches from Palestine (Part 2)

"You are witnessing our annihilation..." - Bank teller in Ramallah

For most of my life, the only images I ever saw of Palestine were crying women and stone-throwing youth. The US media does a terrible job of portraying Palestine, even the progressive media. I was contemplating whether or not I should post some of the photos below because it reinforces a certain image of Palestine that already saturates the media. This was not the Palestine that I experienced. It was certainly part of it given that it's under a military occupation, but it's really important to portray the joy, resilience and life that was present in every second of the day. However, to not show the occupation is equally problematic. 

The entrance to the Al-Amari Camp. Many of the camps have large keys near the entrance. The key is a symbol of the Nakba - the catastrophe, the final turn of the house key and displacement of 750,000 Palestinianian women, men and children who were thrown out of their homes in 1948. Many of these people still hold on to their house keys. 

 Israeli soldiers outside of the Ibrahami Mosque. To enter the mosque you have to go through several checkpoints (see one below) and show your passport.

Below: Handala on the wall of the Aida Camp in Bethlehem. Handala was first created by Palestinian cartoonist Naji Al-Ali who wrote: “The child Handala is my signature, everyone asks me about him wherever I go. I gave birth to this child in the Gulf and I presented him to the people. His name is Handala and he has promised the people that he will remain true to himself. I drew him as a child who is not beautiful; his hair is like the hair of a hedgehog who uses his thorns as a weapon. Handala is not a fat, happy, relaxed, or pampered child. He is barefooted like the refugee camp children, and he is an icon that protects me from making mistakes. Even though he is rough, he smells of amber. His hands are clasped behind his back as a sign of rejection at a time when solutions are presented to us the American way." Read more here.

A mural on the wall in the Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

The other side of the wall - Jerusalem.

A woman waits for a bus to get from Ramallah to Jerusalem. Distance wise, the trip should be less than thirty minutes but because of security, it took us three hours. We switched vehicles several times. We were fortunate that our American passport allows us to visit Jerusalem. Many of the youth we worked with are not allowed to visit. 

Gernika refers to Guernica, the town that was razed by German soldiers during the Spanish Civil War. The attack specifically targeted civilians and was the topic of the famous painting by Pablo Picasso.


One of the murals in Ramallah asked "These Walls Can Talk - Will You Listen?" and that is the question.

When is the world going to listen?

Dispatches from Palestine (Part 1)

So many more questions than answers.

When I first arrived in Palestine I struggled with how to write about it. What is my responsibility as a westerner, specifically an American in documenting the Palestinian struggle against the occupation? What is my role as someone with an extreme amount of privilege, a US passport holder who can come and go as I please and buy pretty much anything I need while on the ground in talking about life under occupation? How do I speak to "audiences" (which for now consists of the ones I have on social media) who already have a preconceived idea of what Palestine is and is often driven by an extreme religious ideology that commits them to dehumanize an entire population (I'm talking about evangelical Christians more than anyone else)?

These photos don't begin to do anything justice - it's an attempt to start figuring out what questions to ask and where to enter the conversation.

More to come...

A boy selling birds and poultry at a shop in Hebron. 

Glassmaker in Hebron, the largest city in the West Bank. The city is divided into two parts - H1, which is under Palestinian control and H2, which is under Israeli control.

Finding Wifi in Bethlehem. 

Children playing in Hebron. 

Three photos of children and youth in the al-Am'ari Refugee Camp. Established in 1969, the al-Am'ari Refugee Camp is a Palestinian refugee camp in east Ramallah. Al-Am'ari suffers from a water crisis, poor sewerage, unemployment and overcrowding. A large majority of the population is under 18. 


Tattoo in Ramallah. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Greetings from Ramallah!

Marhaba from Ramallah in the West Bank.

Al-Manara Square in Ramallah

I am here to do pre-dissertation research and as a participant in the Ashtar Youth International Theatre Festival which begins on Saturday. I have a fantastic group of artists from New York City (the Co-Op Theatre East youth ensemble) who will be joining me tomorrow.  This week I am beginning to collect interviews with theatre artists working in Palestine. I will be doing that the entire time I’m here but I’ve had an extra week to get everything kick started and get acclimated.

I have been studying Palestinian culture and theatre since I was in undergrad but there is no amount of reading that can prepare you for what is actually happening on the ground here.  In only four days of being here, I have met some of the most remarkable people, artists and activists from around the world.

I have never felt so welcome as a stranger to a new place. For example, I took a shared taxi to Jenin (which is the most northern city in the West Bank) today and was speaking with a young woman named Noor who was sitting next to me in the cab. She was pointing out various sites like olive orchards, villages, checkpoints and Israeli settlements. She invited me to her home for lunch. We spoke about life in Jenin and how her family had moved several times because their home was destroyed by buldozers and then bombed. 

Homemade Palestinian lunch in Jenin. 

I am looking forward to sharing more stories and photos from Palestine in addition to sharing more about Ashtar.

Ashtar aims at making theatre a fundamental need within Palestinian society, through stimulating cultural awareness, awakening perceptions towards aesthetics and arousing artistic sensibility and taste. It also seeks to build and strengthen cultural bridges with the Theatre World through creative works and ideas. Ashtar is actively engaged in researching and experimenting with various artistic elements, tools, and techniques. It aims at creating at theatre that has the scent of Musk, the color of Amber and the taste of Figs. A theatre that is capable of penetrating all walls including that of the audience’s unconscious.

The entrance to the Ashtar Theatre in Ramallah. 

I look forward to sharing more from Palestine and the Ashtar International Youth Theatre Festival. Here are a few more photos from around the neighborhood. 


Rooster on sale at poultry and bird farm

Sunset over Ramallah

Friday, July 13, 2018

Belgrade in Photos

Because this is a photo blog… here are my favorite photos from Belgrade.

Protest outside of the National Museum in Belgrade

After the rain 

The view from my flat

Lido Beach 

Kayaking tour in the Danube 

Graffiti on the wall outside of the University in Belgrade

Lido Beach

Fisherman on the Danube 

Architecture in Belgrade

Another view from the entrance to my flat.

Neigborhood park. 

Red umbrellas outside of Manufaktura 

Swans on the Danube 

This wraps up my time in Belgrade. I look forward to returning to this wonderful city in the near future.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

IFTR Presentation

As expected I have been neglectful in my blogging. I want to wrap up Belgrade before I move on and talk about Palestine, which will be for the remainder of my time abroad. I will wrap up talking about two highlights of the week, the plenary talk by James Thompson and my own presentation.

I will start by saying James Thompson is sort of an academic celebrity in my world. He is a co-author of Performance in Place of War, which was the first book I ever read about people who make theatre in conflict zones and inspired my work today. He spoke on the aesthetics of care and called on academics (who are trained to be critical) to work alongside the communities they are studying/writing about as opposed to positioning themselves as superiors. Academics must offer critiques to help move work forward in addition to discussing downfalls.

This was a very appropriate talk considering my own presentation on best dramaturgical practices in creating autobiographical theatre aimed at youth. I drew upon my own past participation in these types of performances and interviews with staff members/youth in various NYC based not-for-profits and theatre ensembles that have missions to empower youth or promote social justice through their theatre work. We had a lively discussion about the non-profit industrial complex and best practices moving forward.

As this presentation was part of a 20+ page paper and project I worked on last semester, I focused solely on dramaturgy and the role of the dramaturge in this type of work. The conclusions I drew for the role that the dramaturge can/should play in the development of social justice youth theatre include:

1.                    Helping the artists and creative staff develop and maintain a healthy rehearsal structure, including implementing opening and closing rituals and setting strong personal and professional boundaries.
2.                    Reminding the artists and staff that while the work is therapeutic, it is not therapy. Theatre cannot be expected to take the place of mental health services and/or personal therapy. If the cast is particularly young or inexperienced, the dramaturge may offer resources for where to obtain such services.
3.                    Assist in negotiating the space in between personal identity and story by helping participants understand that their identity is not limited to only their stories. (This is particularly important when working with populations that have experienced significant amounts of trauma.)
4.                    Renegotiating and rethinking the power structures in the rehearsal room.
5.                    Considering that most youth theatres engaged in “theatre of the real” have a social justice component to their mission, they must consider utilizing the dramaturge as a mediator between the creative team and community. Make sure that the community understands the intentions of the project and has a legitimate say in how they are being portrayed on stage.
6.                    Create strategies for engaging the community post-performance and maintaining relationships.
7.                    Offer theatrical techniques that separate the actor from their personal story.

I suppose if you work in the field that some of these points are obvious, but as I know from previous experience, it’s not enough to KNOW these things, the effort must be made to implement them fully and to provide the dramaturge with the resources and power within the organization that they need to do this work.

I had a bit of a surreal moment when a scholar that I cited in the paper (and often cite) happened to be in the audience and introduced herself/exchanged contact info following the talk.

As I am still trying to figure out what my dissertation project will be (so much paint is being thrown on the wall and we’re seeing what sticks…) I am certain that the themes in this paper will continue to be tackled in one way or another. I have been very interested in exploring the non-profit industrial complex, and more importantly, seeking out alternatives to the hierarchal non-profit model which dominates theatre in New York. I have some unique experience to offer in this area. Right now it’s a matter of connecting it to the theatre in conflict zones, which is where my heart is. 

Ironically, the first thing my professor said upon reading the paper was, “this paper is going to make a lot of people angry.”