Syrian lives on stage
May 31, 2017
Actors from a theatrical troupe from Syria have taken part in a festival in Japan. Their performance brought rare insights into the feelings of people in the war-torn country.
In early May, a theatrical troupe of Syrian actors was invited to perform at a theatre festival in Shizuoka Prefecture, central Japan.
Government censorship prevents them from performing in Syria, and members of the troupe live in different countries around the world.
Late last year, they performed in Europe, and now they've come together again for the first time in 6 months.
The troupe's director is Omar Abusaada. He's a native of Damascus, the capital of Syria.
In 2011 Syrians took to the streets to protest the rule of President Bashar Al-Assad.
Civil war broke out, and over the past 6 years, more than 300,000 people have been killed and about 20% of the population has fled Syria.
The country is divided, with the capital, Damascus, under government control.
Omar chose to remain in Damascus.
"I was part of what was happening, of what started in 2011 in a way or other like a lot of Syrians. And I wanted to stay as part of this, so at least by witness what is happening. So this also one of the main reasons why I'm staying."
But Omar says he feels as though he is under constant repression from the authorities.
"My psychological situation in Syria when you go out of Syria, now you have some distance of what is happening, and you realize yourself in different way, and now out of Syria, I realize that I was scared all the time, but because I’m used to it that I did not understand it."
Omar says he still feels uneasy with international media coverage. The media report on the tragedy in Syria, but he thinks they have failed to convey how ordinary Syrians feel. This inspired the original idea for his play.
"I want to share this experience of fright in Damascus under the war with the audience out of Syria that they don’t know how it’s really like. Because everything come from the media and people most of the time they think that there’s nothing except bombing and killing and that’s it," he explains.
The play portrays the everyday lives of Damascus residents in times of war.
The protagonist is a young man named Taym, who remains unconscious after being beaten by an unknown attacker. His character was inspired by an event that happened to a friend of Omar's.
Taym's spirit leaves his body. The spirit is not seen or heard by others and remains as an observer.
Taym's family members and friends come to see him, but are themselves forced to decide whether to remain in the country, or leave.
Half of the cast on stage left Syria following the civil war. And they also feel that they left their true lives behind in their home country -- and can now express those lives through the characters they play.
"Thinking about my character, I think she has really the same depression that I have it when I come back to Syria. And I capture this," says one of the actresses.
Omar staged the drama in an original way. All the characters were directed to sit at the side of the stage when they are not performing. This symbolizes the helplessness of the citizens.
"Somehow in the play you are just witnessing what is happening but without any ability to make any reaction on this. I think this is how we start the whole idea. So this material was very, very powerful and talked a lot about Syrian situation," says Omar.
The spirit of the protagonist, Taym, represents the voices of much of the silent public, who cannot side with either the Assad government or the anti-government groups.
"Allah Akbar! That's what freaked me out. Why were we shouting religious expressions while we tried to start a civil revolution? The others didn't understand my reluctance to use violence," Taym says in the play.
With no end to the civil war in sight, powerless people are pushed and pulled around by destiny. All they can do is wait for a peace that may not come.
"Year by year, I learn to not have expectations because all, everything I expected before, didn't happen. What started in 2011, we find its way to be real in sometime, I don't know when but I'm sure this," says Omar.
Omar thinks that by showing the reality of the situation his play can be a tool of resistance -- resistance against the apathy of the outside world, as well as against falling into despair in Syria.