KHF Outreach
Interactive Theater helps Jordanians and Syrians Dialogue about Real Life Issues
27th March 2012
March 25, 2012 Amman Performance of "Paintings on the Wall"
 
"This is a red line…it cannot be crossed," group leader Firas states resolutely, tightly gripping a paintbrush in his right hand. 

 

His friend Dana tries to soften the verbal blow by interjecting, "it's a red carpet that says 'welcome' to strangers".

 

This exchange takes place in front of a group of young people from a far away neighborhood who have been ''camping'' at the edge of Firas' town since a natural disaster forced them to flee their homes without shelter or food six months ago.


Visitors denied entrance to town

 

While the lead character Firas has agreed to provide the refugees with food, water, and a tent for shelter, he refuses further assistance fearing the group's intrusion may wreak havoc on his peaceful town.

 

While the plot line is pure fiction, the theme of the interactive play Paintings on the Wall written and performed by the King Hussein Foundation's National Center for Culture and Arts (NCCA), is designed to address real life issues.

 

Thousands of Syrians have fled to Jordan since the unrest unfolded in their homeland in March of 2011.

 

Chris Rampling, Deputy Head of Mission with the British Embassy which is funding the staging of the interactive play in the cities of Mafraq, Irbid, and Amman addressed the audience that gathered in the theatre of the NCCA for the Sunday evening performance:

 

"We in the United Kingdom are calling, as with many others, for the violence to stop and we are pressing for humanitarian assistance through the United Nations agencies", he said.



Chris Rampling talks about play's importance

 
Following the performance Rampling talked about why funding this type of play is so important.

 

"One of the things that's important in this field is to try to find a space in order to be able to explore these issues in a safe environment, and one of the things that clearly this kind of theater does is to provide that space,so, yes, it's a particularly good project."

 

NCCA Director Lina Attel agrees; the interactive presentation hit the stage in 2010 to address the arrival of Iraqi refugees in Jordan, with 40 performances in the governorates of Amman, Zarqa, and Irbid attended by more than 3,700 audience members.

 

Attel remarks that even though the reasons for Syrians arriving in Jordan differs from that of the Iraqis, the dilemma remains the same:

 

"They are displaced, they leave their homes, they come into a new environment, they are poor, and they are nostalgic.  They want to go back to their country but they cannot," Attel said.

 

She adds that the interactive play offers a "platform" for them to express their views freely and openly discuss issues related to human dignity and tolerance from both perspectives.
 
60-year old audience member Rjaa Khorshid from Amman says that one of the issues facing the host country is sharing already scare resources, like water.  Despite the obstacles, however, she maintains that they must help out their neighbors who are in need right now.

 

"Always our home is open to everybody to help anyone in need," said Khorshid, "but we will [also] help them to go back to their own country."

 

Following the play 25-year old Jordanian architect Hind Jarrai points out that the theme is timely.

 

"It's a humanitarian issue," she explained referring to the Syrian refugees in Jordan, "and it needs more support from all the people living here…we're not doing enough." 

 

Her friend Hala Abu Taha added that in the case of the Syrian people and the Jordanian people "they are still Arabs" and the 'red lines' disappear in regards to traditions, that they share much in common.


 
Dana discovers the two enjoy reading
 
The two men bond over football

33-year old Jordanian attendee Menar Bilbeisi says she was impressed with the way the ideas were presented to the audience who had a chance to interact with the actors on stage:

 

"I found the youth were the most [interested] in interacting in this play," she said, "especially those between 14 and 15 years old…it shows how open minded they are and how much they are aware of what's happening around them."


Audience interaction
 
16-year old audience member Anas says while he welcomes the idea of kids from other nations coming to his school, 15-year old Ahmad notes he didn't make any new friends among the Iraqi youth who came to his school, that he found both their accent and their ideas different from his own.

 

In Mafraq, meanwhile, more than 500 people attended a recent performance of Paintings on the Wall in the Municipality theater.  Of those attending, organizers say more than half the audience members were Syrian.

 

Paintings on the Wall moderator and actor Mohannad Al Nawafleh says questionnaires and the interactive portion of the theater revealed that the Syrian families in attendance expressed surprise at the level of hospitality extended by the Jordanian people.

 

He says, however, one local woman in the audience exhibited the attitude of the fictional lead character 'Firas' during the interactive portion of the play.

 

Nawafleh, who enjoys his role as a neutral facilitator, says the play motivates people to open up and express emotions in a safe space:

 

"This is a strategy of the interactive theater methodology which is built on breaking the barrier between the audience and the actors," he said.


Audience writes about meaning of red line
 
100 audience members, including children and adults participated in the final performance in Mafraq on Tuesday, March 27.  The final performance in Amman will be held in the theater of the Jubilee School on Thursday.

 

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