Palestinian reality is debated across the globe. However, often by international academics, journalists and politicians. The Danish House in Palestine has invited a number of Palestinians representing different outlooks and areas of expertise to share their perspectives.
Marina Barham, born 1963, is co-founder and general director of Al-Harah Theater, a non-profit organisation based in the town of Beit Jala near Bethlehem on the West Bank. She holds an MA in Teaching English as a second and foreign language from the Warwick University in the United Kingdom.
How did you get into theatre?
“I don’t come from the theatre world. After graduating from university, I taught for a year and then worked seven years for UNRWA, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, in the public information office. In 1996, I left UNRWA and started my own freelance work in organizing events, writing proposals, and so on.
In 1998, the Royal Court Theatre in London asked me to interpret when they came to Bethlehem to do a two-week workshop in playwriting for Palestinian writers. During the workshop, I ended up doing organization, logistics and even acting.
After the workshop, a group of young amateur actors came to me and said, ‘You know, we want to start our own theatre company, and we want you to manage it.’ I said, ‘I don’t know anything about theatre, so I don’t know if I can do that.’ But then I started, from my own office, establishing a theatre company, Inda Theater, and I learned everything through experience. Since then, I’ve been doing this.”
You co-founded Al-Harah Theater in 2005. How did this come about?
“In 2004, we were a group of people at Inda Theater who left that theatre after an internal conflict arose. We then started Al-Harah Theater.
Our aim at Al-Harah Theater was to create a theatre that got its ideas and demands from the community. This is why we chose the name Al-Harah, which means neighbourhood. We all come from different neighbourhoods, and the neighbourhoods have stories, conflicts and ideas that we wanted to be part of the theatre.”
How does this approach play out in reality?
“When we want to do a play, we think of an idea, and then we try to get the target group involved in telling stories, for example by interviewing them. When we have all the stories from the community, we start to develop it into a text and then put it on stage.
In 2013, we did a play about single women over 35 in Palestine who are widowed, divorced or unmarried, and about how Palestinian society views them. For this project, we had a researcher who went all over the West Bank and interviewed women. From their stories, we made a text and created a play.
When the play was touring, we did workshops and discussions with the audience before and after the performances.”
To what extent can theatre influence people’s lives?
“Theatre is a very, very powerful tool. It really can change people’s lives, either by doing theatre or by seeing theatre. We see this all the time, especially with young people.
There’s one particular story I’ll never forget, where we wanted to start a drama-training group in the Dheisheh refugee camp
After three months, we did public presentations to show families in the camp what had been going on. One of the two boys’ father – a very religious and conservative man – came to see the performance. After the performance, he said to me, ‘What did you do to my son?’ I was worried, and I said. ‘I’m sorry, what did I do?’ He said, ‘Before my son started this theatre training, he was very unpredictable, didn’t have any friends and used to come home, go into his room and never speak to us. Now, he comes in, he is so excited, talks about his training, has a lot of friends‚ trains inside the house and acts to show us what he is doing.’ He had really flourished.”
What is it about theatre that creates this change?
“It creates a space where people feel safe enough to speak about difficult issues. This empowers them, gives them more confidence and opens up their minds, their dreams and their views of life. It makes them relate to other people more and gives them tools to become active members of the community.
When your character becomes stronger, then you have more confidence to stand up for what you believe in. Then you start changing not only yourself, but also people around you, and the impact continues.”
Theatre festival for children and youth
From April 1 to 10, 2017, Al-Harah Theater will organize the second edition of “YallaYalla”, an international children and youth theatre festival in Bethlehem. The festival will open with a street performance. Throughout the festival, six international groups and five local groups will perform. Read more here.
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