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Edward Muallem: Theatre Pioneer, Actor, Trainer, and Director
submitted by This Week In Palestine

At the age of 17, Edward Muallem went from his village Mi’ilya, in the Northern part of the Galilee, to study geography and theatre at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Driven by his passion for theatre, his dedication to his people, and his desire to raise the voice of the voiceless on stage, he joined François Abu Salem, Jackie Lubeck, Adnan Tarabsheh, and other peers and friends to found El Hakawati Theatre Company in Jerusalem in 1977.

Upon graduation, he taught geography and theatre at schools in Jerusalem and the Galilee to support his work in the theatre and to proceed with his career in acting, when acting was not yet a bread-winning profession in the West Bank.

When the members of El Hakawati decided to earn their living from theatre work, they transformed an old, fire-damaged cinema into a well-equipped theatre building in Jerusalem-Nuzha El Hakawati Theatre. Edward and his colleagues worked day in and day out to renovate the space to make it a place that would promote contemporary theatre life in Palestine. At El Hakawati, Edward was not only an actor but also an accountant, a stage builder, a tour manager, and much more.

In the course of his work with El Hakawati, Edward played key roles in many productions. People will always remember him best as Ali in “Ali the Galilean.” Ali, a young man from the Galilee, denies his Palestinian identity in order to be able to survive in Tel Aviv. In Mahjoob Mahjoob, Edward played Im Muti’, the unforgettable, archetypal old lady.

After leaving El Hakawati, Edward and his partner, Iman Aoun, established Ashtar for Theatre Productions and Training in Jerusalem in 1991 as a new initiative to set up the first drama training programme in high schools in Jerusalem and Ramallah. The unique programme is a three-year theatre training course designed to create a new generation of young actors and actresses.

Undertaking such a project in the unstable political environment of the first Intifada was a great challenge! But Edward’s belief in the importance of addressing the need for such school activities led Ashtar from one success to another. As programmes were expanded, more schools participated and more students became interested in theatre, which encouraged Edward to continue. In 1995, Edward managed to transform the basement of a new building on Al Irsal Street in Ramallah into a theatre where Ashtar’s team staged its first experimental production, “Martyrs are Coming Back.”

Edward has acted in most of Ashtar’s productions, whether alongside his students or among his colleagues. For him, theatre is a lifestyle, a path, and a tool for social transformation.

In his popular character, “Abu Shaker,” Edward and the Ashtar team introduced the Forum Theatre technique. Since 1997, this technique has been used to deal with “banned” issues and taboos such as incest, early marriage, violence in school, and honour crimes, among others, for such audiences as youth, women, and other marginalized groups. Edward attracted the audience to this type of theatre not only through directing prohibited questions to the public, but also through his distinguished manipulation of the Oppressor role in various forum plays.

Based on the extensive experience of Ashtar Theatre in drama training, Edward designed the first Palestinian public school drama curriculum for grades two to six and created a training programme for teachers to implement this curriculum accordingly.

After moving from acting to drama training and directing, Edward then began to document the experience of Ashtar Theatre in books and DVDs. His significant input can also be seen clearly in his design of Ashtar’s various publications.

As the General Manager of Ashtar Theatre, Edward has created an atmosphere of intimacy and positive interaction among the team members at the theatre.

This Week in Palestine
November 2006

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