This is a project where humanitarian and cultural efforts walked hand in hand – where the arts can help people directly, and through that affect others. This was first and foremost a cultural endeavour, but it was also a humanitarian one.
COMPELLING CROSS CULTURAL THEATRE:
Our primary aim was to produce a piece of theatre that speaks to the world on behalf of Syrian women that can translate to refugees and deprived communities around the world. We wanted to give these women the opportunity to speak their mind and express themselves in a way they never thought possible.
We also saw this as part of a long term project to build bridges internationally between artists from the West and the Middle East. Ancient Greek drama, a shared inheritance of both cultures, was an ideal vehicle for this.
PRESERVATION OF MEMORY:
The play will survive as a film, preserving for posterity the memory of what is happening to women during the current Syrian conflict – an important cultural and historical artefact. The women were also part of a participatory photography program that we ran. This is yet another way in which we explored and documented these women’s trials and tribulations, while it was a further opportunity for them to express themselves, artistically and otherwise.
The process aimed at allowing the women the opportunity to empower themselves intellectually and psychologically. This is one of the reasons why we chose Antigone, a seminal work for both drama and literature in general. Fundamental themes such as pride and civil rebellion are found in the play and they are as important in today’s world as they were 2,500 years ago. The idea is that this allowed these women to empower themselves in the workshop directly, and this experience showed them that they could be a part of something beyond the one square kilometre of the camp in which they now live. Apart from these 30 women, we hope that anyone, anywhere in the world who sees, hears, or reads about this project, will gain a sense of empowerment as well. What these women achieved can inspire countless numbers long after they have left the stage.
We intended and managed to build community and support networks for those taking part. By socialising and working with the same group of women every day, the participants gained a sense of community in the midst of dislocation. Many are still in a foreign place with little opportunity to integrate into society. The same is true for their children. This project offered the women and their children a sense of belonging.
This was a community project in the broadest sense; yes, we were directly working with Syrian refugees from the camps, but by performing in the biggest and most popular theatre in Beirut we invited the Lebanese community to be a part of the experience. The idea here is that, by exposing locals and expatriates to the plight of these women, we are attempting to integrate worlds that have until now been divided.
CAPACITY AND SKILLS BUILDING:
We wanted to leave behind a legacy of artistic development in the women we worked with. In the long-term, we aspire to the creation of a self-sustaining theatre project in which women involved can go on to lead their own workshops. In the short-term, we hoped to have equipped the women with the skills to express and deal with trauma, as well as expand their horizons in the broadest sense.
We aimed for this project and the performances to draw attention in mainstream international media to the reality of life for Syrian women refugees. With our contacts in this field, we drew attention to the lives of Arab women, particularly Syrians, and also to the power and talent of Arab artists. Beyond that, we wanted to reach out to the deprived and oppressed across the globe. We will do this by making the final performance available to view online for free. It is not necessary for you to be in the room, rehearsing Antigone, to be affected by this project.