A crew of Palestinian actors and musicians from the Jenin-based Freedom Theatre toured Egypt in April.
The aim of the tour was to conduct a series of “playback theatre” workshops and performances in Cairo and Alexandria. Playback theatre is an interactive theatre approach used as a tool for community building, public dialogue, cultural activism and trauma recovery.
In a playback event, audience members share thoughts, feelings, memories and autobiographical accounts, and watch as a team of actors and musicians instantly transform these experiences into improvised theatre pieces.
The Freedom Theatre normally conducts playback theatre in Jenin and various locations around the West Bank, but the artists decided they wanted to branch out to retell and give life to the many personal stories coming out of Egypt since the revolution that overthrew the Hosni Mubarak dictatorship.
Sarah Tuck, the Freedom Theatre’s photographer who also helped organise the Egyptian tour, told Green Left Weekly: “The performances have been really well received so far. We had several hundred people turn out over the course of the week.
“We heard stories of courage, pain, loss and fear. One actress told the story of a young boy killed during the uprising.
“We also heard stories from several Syrian refugees now living in Cairo. Stories of ordinary people so afraid of even leaving their house in fear of being raped or killed, that they had no choice but to flee the country.
“In a show of solidarity, one Egyptian audience member even offered to vacate his apartment to give it to a Syrian refugee.”
One female audience member recounted her story of how she became involved in the revolution: “During the revolution I didn’t go into the street. I only followed the events from home, via Facebook.
“But then when I heard about the female protester who had her clothes ripped off by the army — I became so angry! I felt like it was me — like it was all women in Egypt who had been violated.
“This event changed me. I went out into the streets to protest what had happened.”
Increasingly, Egyptians are turning to art as a form of resistance and as an outlet to express their concerns and frustrations.
Tuck told GLW: “I see a lot of people who, despite everything they’ve been through, are motivated to use art as a form of resistance. Cairo is alive and buzzing with signs of cultural resistance.”
Playback performances were also accompanied by shows from several famous Arabic musicians and groups, including hip hop act Arabian Knightz, Palestine Street and Ramy Essam.
An audience member told a story about listening to an Arabian Knightz song about the revolution. The song inspired him to go out into the streets.
“Before revolution I had a relatively normal life,” he said. “As a musician I would play in parties, weddings, hotels, etc. During the uprisings though, I went into Tahrir to sing songs of protest with my friends.
“The people in the Square seemed to be moved by our music. It was difficult though because we had no sound system. Then a man came to help us — he was known as ‘Father of the Speakers’. This man had speakers on his back and a wireless microphone.
“The pro-government thugs were surrounding Tahrir Square — beating anyone who tried to enter or leave, but the ‘Father of the Speakers’ would not be deterred.
“He would make his way through the thugs — and they would beat him. And he would do this time and time again so that we could play.
“Each time he returned we could see his injuries from the thug attacks. This man became very well loved by the people in Tahrir.
“After the revolution, I decided never to go back to singing in parties and hotels. From then on my music would only be devoted to the people and the revolution.”
The next big event on the Freedom Theatre’s agenda is the Freedom Bus, which will take people from around the world on a solidarity rise through the West Bank over September 23-October 1.
They will be joined by musicians and artists who will use playback theatre to perform the personal stories of community members throughout the region.
Enactments will be based on autobiographical accounts about home demolitions, land appropriation, political imprisonment, the separation wall and other realities of life under Israeli occupation.
The Freedom Bus has been officially endorsed by several eminent scholars and activists including Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Alice Walker, Ali Abunimah (founder of Electronic Intifada) and Omar Barghouti (co-founder of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement).