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A kind of healing
Published in The Egyptian Gazette on 28 - 04 - 2012

ALEXANDRIA - For about an hour, members of the audience were given the space to tell their own stories, talk about their feelings and share their thoughts with each other.
This technique, known as ‘playback theatre', involves the audience or group members telling stories from their lives and watching them enacted on the spot.
Launched in 1975 by Jonathan Fox and Jo Salas, it has now been used for the first time in Egypt.
A group from actors from The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, Palestine, has got the audience to perform playback theatre during the ‘Hakaya Regional Meeting – Tales of an Arab Spring: Who Writes People's Histories?'
This four-day event is being held in Alexandria by the Arab Education Forum (Jordan), I-Act Institution (Egypt), el-Balad Theatre from Jordan, el-Mawared (Resources) Centre for Popular Arts from Lebanon and el-Warsha Troupe for Storytelling and Theatre from Egypt.
The Hakaya programme, which is funded by the EU, is an Arab/Mediterranean programme that believes in the importance of stories in people's lives.
Playback theatre is performed by a team of actors, an MC or conductor and a musician. As the show begins, the audience respond to questions from the conductor, then watch as the actors and musician create brief theatrical pieces on the spot.
Later, volunteers from the audience get up onstage to tell longer stories, choosing actors to play the main roles.
Although performances often focus on a theme of interest or concern, the performers follow no narrative agenda, but use their dramatic skills and their humanity to act out the concerns and experiences of the audience.
But the Palestinian troupe's message is deeper, because they perform mainly in their homeland.
"Palestinians need somebody to listen to them and care about their problems. That's how our idea started," said Palestinian actor Faisal Abu Heiga.
"We allow people to interact with each other and share their feelings. We are now preparing a new project entitled ‘Freedom Bus' [subtitled ‘A Ride for Justice'].
“This bus will travel all over Palestine, and on board there will be Palestinians, foreigners, artists, thinkers and other people. On the bus, we will listen to people's stories and imitate them in our playback theatre," he explained.
Interactive and spontaneous, playback theatre bases its material on the stories of the community. In theatres, workshops, and a wide range of educational and organisational settings, playback theatre draws people together and allows fresh perspectives.
"The bus will visit cities in Palestine that are being demolished and where the people are really suffering,” Abu Heiga explained.
The Freedom Bus is an initiative of The Freedom Theatre, a theatre and cultural centre in Jenin Refugee Camp.
From September 23 to October 1, people from around the world will take part in a nine-day solidarity ride through the West Bank of occupied Palestine, with Palestinian actors and musicians using playback theatre to perform the personal stories of community members.
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.

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