Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Jeninís Fragments Theatre in rehearsal for first performance abroad


By Tessa Fox - October 10, 2017
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Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [culture]

Running in from the rehearsal space of Fragments Theatre, fourteen-year-old Aws Sameer exclaims; “I’m going to be famous!” He’s showing off a recent copy of a magazine he has a full-page photo in. “I have the best time when I’m acting, I love it,” Sameer states with glee.

Sameer is one of four boys who perform in Fragments Theatre, a company based in the city of Jenin in the north of the West Bank. They are currently rehearsing for a performance in Casablanca, Morocco.

“I’m dreaming of Chefchaouen, I want to go there, it’s beautiful,” Sameer talks of the northern Moroccan city, famous for its blue washed medina. None of the boys have been outside of Palestine. “I’ll be the first person in my family to go to Morocco,” Sameer continues, barely able to contain his energy.
 
Like most of the group, sixteen-year-old Anjad Ajawi has been with Fragments for only five months. “Acting is fun and expressive,” Anjad Ajawi explains. “I like to be able to express my life, and see the reactions of people when I talk about Palestine.” Naturally he is also looking forward to performing in another country. “I want to be in new places and new cultures,” Anjad Ajawi said.
 
 
    
                                               Aws Sameer, 14, copies dance moves for his performance in 'Mad Man.’ Credit: Tessa Fox
 
 
Fragments are looking to travel to Morocco at the end of October, provided their visa process runs smoothly. Fragments Theatre Administrative Manager, Rawand Arqawi said they have been trying for the last two weeks with their Moroccan partner,Théâtre de l'opprimé Casablanca, to obtain a visa. “Morocco is very complicated for visas, even though we are from another Arab country,” Arqawi explains. “We are not sure when we will get it, we need to fill in some extra paperwork.”

The production Fragments will take to Morocco is called Mad Man. Artistic Director, Mustafa Staiti described the play as a discussion on the education system in Palestine. “Though the school is a metaphor for life and history,” Staiti elaborates.

The story depicts a range of different teachers, seen as masters who people should follow. “It’s not necessarily in Palestine, it could be any place or time,” Staiti said. “A new student joins the class from the modern world. The existing children play a game to explain to him what they have seen, during their learnings from the school, country or regime.”
 
     
     Fragments Theatre rehearses 'Man Man’ in their Jenin space. Credit: Tessa Fox
 

The students of the school present three different teachers; one being conservative, another communist and the last a capitalist teacher, each representing different ideologies. On witnessing this, “the new student brings fresh energy and shows the real meaning of learning is how to break free; there should be a freedom in learning,” Staiti describes.

Mustafa Staiti co- wrote the play with Ahmad Alroke, who now lives and works in Australia. Their aim was to show the poor aspects of the education system in Palestine. “As we analysed these three teachers we found they each deal differently [in a classroom] according to their ideologies.”

While the boys acting out these characters may not truly understand the political underbelly of them, they all agree there is something missing in Palestinian schools. “The way the education is in Palestine, we don’t like it,” Ahmad Ajawi admitted. Twenty-year-old Momin Sadi adds; “I didn’t learn anything, we learn everything from living.”

Fragments Theatre first performed Mad Man in August at a local school in Jenin, the same school Staiti was educated in. He had ADHD while growing up and found great difficulty concentrating in class. “I hated school. I knew I could solve problems easily, I just couldn’t focus,” Staiti remembers. He is proud to now take this play back to the place he resented and “explain all the issues” he had with authority. “This was a big victory, to go back now as a director as an organisation.”
 
  Ahmad Ajawi, 16, front stage. Fragments is a place where people can express their inner conflict. Credit: Tessa Fox 
 
From the 200 people who attended the performance in Jenin, there was a mixed response from the community. While most had fun and enjoyed the entertainment, some questioned the critiques made in the plot. “People asked, 'Why are you only saying bad things?’ Theatre is about saying what is bad. If you know something that is good, there’s no need to talk about it,” Staiti defended.

The young actors also meet different attitudes to their work. “My family likes my performance so they encourage me. Others tell me that I shouldn’t continue because there is no benefit in it, you can’t make money,” Ahmad Ajawi said. Sameer, as vibrant as always, recalls; “When I walk down the street people yell out 'actor! actor! actor!’” Anjad Ajawi puts it simply; “Some encourage it, some don’t.”

In taking Mad Man to Morocco, Fragments Theatre believes the kids will be placed in an inspirational and supportive environment. “The art is so good in Morocco, we used to watch it on TV. We want to take our students to perform in front of the strongest,” Arqawi said.

Staiti boasts about his students being amazing. “I always push them to give me more. Yes we are Palestinian, yes we have a terrible situation, but this doesn’t give you a reason to not be good.” “We want to show the Moroccan audience that there are plenty of talented people here in Palestine as well,” Anjad Ajawi added.

The trip is funded through the European Union South Med CV grant, which aims to build connection with Arab countries. Fragments will also host their Moroccan partner in Jenin on an exchange project in order to work with the local community. “This city [Jenin] has never hosted anyone before,” Arqawi explains.

She goes on to say cities like Ramallah and Bethlehem have greater cultural opportunities, while Jenin is neglected. “We want overseas artists to come here in order to open the minds of Jenin city.” “If you work on culture you will advance the community,” Staiti believes.

Through culture and theatre, Fragments understand people can still have freedom, even if under occupation. The company looks to encourage young people to be what they want. At this the boys chime in,“we always want to be actors.”   

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