Theatre Day Productions and Amer Khalil
Contributed by Toine Van Teeffelen on 11.06.2006:
“Who Am I?”
By Sarah Collins and Toine van Teeffelen
“Who am I?” A small boy’s question to his father is the spark that ignites a blaze of storytelling – memories, legends, village tales, what was and what might have been are woven together to create ‘Qandil’s Feast’, a 45-minute show for young people. The one-man show is performed by Amer Khalil and is the result of months of listening and gathering stories from Palestinian life.
Jackie Lubeck, Jan Willems and Amer Khalil from Theater Day Productions, who are behind the show, are among those beginning to see the richness of storytelling as part of the Palestinian cultural heritage. “In the Middle East, storytelling is the closest relative to a theater tradition. In Palestine it is the base of today’s theater,” says Jackie Lubeck, one of the energetic forces of Theater Day and a founding member of Al-Hakawati Theater. “Our audiences, be they young or old, are much more receptive to the telling of epic forms of theater than to dramatic-psychological forms,” she explains.
The storytelling experience of the play is more than Amer Khalil’s 45-minute performance. It is, in fact, the culmination of a whole creative education program for the participating schools. “The students’ work prior to and after the performance is as important as the performance itself,” says Lubeck. Storytelling by the children is the central focus. Teachers are advised, through workshops, how to guide the children in the preparation work. This involves the children finding, recording, and collecting a favorite story from an elderly relative or a friend. After Amer’s performance, the children participate in their own ritual of storytelling about their land, their village or their family.
‘Qandil’s Feast’ is an important step towards a more creative approach to learning in the classroom. The play is designed to be portable, involving only one actor and minimal staging, allowing it to go beyond the school hall and into the classroom itself. The intention is to stimulate personal expression and creativity in the context of the daily learning environment – to add another dimension to an education system that has a tendency to be rather formal.
There are other examples of efforts being made in the name of story telling. In Hebron and Tulkarem, students of Theater Day’s training program are completing a three-year course, involving the students in the production of a play that will run for a minimum of 40 shows.
Helping Palestinian young people to begin answering the question asked of Qandil – Who am I? – is at the root of the company’s work. The idea for ‘Qandil’s Feast’ came from Amer, who is an actor, singer, technician and, importantly, a father. “I want to fill my pockets with songs and stories and take them around the classrooms and school yards of Palestine,” he told Lubeck once, and that was how it began. The play draws upon Amer’s own stories, his being kicked out of school, his relationship with his father, and his dreams for the future with his own son.
What does the show tell students?
Amer Khalil: “The show is about failing and how you can overcome your failures. If you fail, you don’t die, you may be even lucky. You have the chance to start anew, to find a new identity, to build on your experiences. Of course I don’t say that students should leave school but I tell them: What would you do after being kicked out? Do you see yourself as a failure, or do you try to find a new way of living?”
How are the reactions?
“The kids at schools enjoy it. The boys mainly like the jokes. The girls respond more to the subject of the play. It seems that girls are more used to talking about emotions, they are more open to the human issues in the play and discuss them in the workshops. What I didn’t expect was the reaction of the adults, many of whom say that they recognize themselves in the play.
“There are often discussions. For instance, the play shows problems during the Intifada. Once I wasn’t allowed to act because people said at the time that we shouldn’t enjoy ourselves. So the kids discussed some of the negative influences of the Intifada on the cultural climate in Palestine.
“One girl opposed the play because Qandil says to the audience: ‘We have to make a noise so that God knows that we exist.’ She said: ‘But God knows already everything, you present a totally wrong image of God.’ I couldn’t convince her.”
You show problems between the father and the son. How do people react to this?
“In Arab society, and maybe in most societies, the man is reluctant to show his love towards his children. As Qandil says to his father: ‘You never hugged me, it’s only today that I discover that you liked me as a child.’ In one of my shows I went to a club where there were some people who, like me, were kicked out of school. One of them – he was about 40 years old – cried when I told about my difficult relation with my father. He couldn’t stop crying. After the show, I wanted to hear what had moved him. He said: ‘I have another play for you. My father married another woman and my life became hell. Since then I have written about my life every day in my diary. Take my diary and make a play out of it.'”
TJT, 21 November 1997
The Youth Times, May 1998
A TIME OF FRAGMENTATION: PALESTINIAN ARTISTS 1993-2000
Ed. by Toine van Teeffelen
Publication of The Jerusalem Times