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> Rafat Al Aydeh, actor and drama teacher
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Rafat Al Aydeh, actor and drama teacher
submitted by This Week In Palestine

By Jackie Lubeck

He came to us more than ten years ago having just taken off his mask from the first Intifada. “What do I do?” he asked. Then he took a broom and started to sweep the “stage” of the small hall in the Khan Yunis Refugee Camp where we were performing. Today Rafat Al Aydeh is in an altogether different place. Between then and now much has happened to the boy/man who works with a furious smile from the seats of the new theatre of Theatre Day Productions (TDP) in Gaza.

Starting as a stagehand, he soon joined the technical team. It took two years before he stood on the stage as an actor and another three before he completed TDP’s curriculum, becoming a sensitive actor and a dynamic drama teacher. The Medium was his graduation project, for which he made the bold decision to write and direct an original text that included five teenagers, three musicians, and an intriguing set and light design. TDP Artistic Director Jan Willems falls for passionate people, and Rafat was immediately hired as one of two full-time actors/drama teachers. With a natural ability to teach, direct, and turn groups of kids into companies of artists, he began to write a next play for the same group of boys he worked with in The Medium. Taking Ghassan Kanafani’s Men in the Sun, his adaptation, Boys in the Sun, focuses on a group of kids from Khan Yunis who are trying to reach the Gaza beaches.

Faithful to Ghassan and to the situation in Gaza at the time (2003), the boys meet the same fate as the men in the story. A year later, with madness in the air, Rafat wrote and directed War Yanni War, a play about an imaginary insane asylum in Rafah, in which “the patients” watch the destruction of Rafah through the peepholes of their hospital. Both these plays made artistic noise for the audiences - young and old - in Gaza and were shown throughout the Gaza Strip. Rafat became the artistic eyes and ears of TDP in Gaza. When a new group of trainees was being formed he took over their first-year curriculum training. He gobbled up the advanced training courses in acting and directing that took him to Holland, Poland, Austria, and Germany. He himself went back to school to get his tawjihi, which had fallen through the cracks during the first Intifada years.

As TDP grew in Gaza, and as requests for theatre and drama increased at an unexpected pace, Rafat began to develop an alternative curriculum. The new one-year programme is made for adults who want to use theatre and drama as an artistic tool but who do not want to become stage performers. This curriculum is now being tested. Gaza is not easy. Art is not easy. To make art in Gaza takes some magic words: talent, commitment, passion, patience, and belief. For TDP, Rafat is not only the artist of the month, he is our artist of the decade, a boy who came from the camps of Khan Yunis and who today oversees a small paradise of theatre for young people. In January 2008, Rafat was promoted to artistic director at TDP Gaza. He teaches the magic words, he continues to act, write, direct, and help develop the role of theatre, art, and expression in Gaza … despite all the odds.

Jackie Lubeck is co-director of Theatre Day Productions.

This Week in Palestine
June 2008

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