Ray Goodlass

Rays peace activism

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 27 July 2017

We did it! Performed the play today, that is. There were a few aspects that worried my purist streak, but it was meant to be poor theatre, even rough theatre anyway, so my purist streak can go park itself somewhere far away.

Which is a long winded way of saying how pleased I was with the work of our cast, and how the importance of their stories stood out. It all really lived up to its title, which is ‘The Nakba is not just a memory, it is ongoing’. It was powerful, moving, with very good performances, and it all ran very smoothly.

The stories really do bear witness to what the Palestinians have been suffering since 1948.

They are accurate testimony, and are told in as very moving way too – and I really mean very.

Now, what was worrying my purist streak? Ahmed, the theatre teacher and my stage manager, lighting and sound guy, and interpreter (now that’s multitasking) was late for this morning’s rehearsal and almost late for the performance this afternoon, the audience space wasn’t set up until the last minute (by my cast), the promised sur-titles for the parts in English never eventuated, the entrance was never opened so the audience came through ‘backstage’, and there were way too many unaccompanied little kids in the audience.

But just to teach me a lesson about not worrying unnecessarily, the young kids were a great audience and its a tribute to the actors that they held the littlies’ attention so well.

So yes, a very good feeling about this project, and a great incentive to us all to make a great movie during the filming tomorrow./

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 26 January 2017

Today being the Alrowwad Centre’s closed day, no report on the verbatim theatre project. I do though have a positive and pleasant item to report. As I’m coming to the end of my time in Palestine I’ve been faced with the problem of having bought far too many books for my luggage’s capacity.

They include two excellent (and very large format and very heavy) atlases, one of Palestine and the other of Jerusalem. Both a new, up-to date, everything carefully GPesed, and politically very aware. Anyway, in previous years I’ve solved this problem by posting my book purchase home to myself from the Israeli post office in Saladin Street, Occupied East Jerusalem. It’s always been a horrible experience as that PO is more like a dirty and scruffy prison, and the staff very aggressive and rude. But this year I’m faced with the problem of posting a large and very heavy box of books back to myself from Bethlehem. However, this time around it turned out to be a very pleasant experience, as the Palestine Post PO in Manger Square, near the Mosque of Omar, is a new, smart and clean place, and the staff were very helpful and very friendly. Top marks, PA!

Being my day off I also popped over to Occupied East Jerusalem to my other favourite hang out in this part of the world, the Educational Bookshop (Books and Coffee) in Saladin Street, where over the past month I’ve bought most of the books I’ve just had to post home.

Though I didn’t go to the Al Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock compound, as I feel I should show solidarity by joining the Palestinians in their boycott, I can’t help but reflect on this sorry mess.  I fear the Israeli government is trying to ethnically cleanse the site of Palestinians so that it will become another Hebron city centre, which has been cleared of its indigenous population to make way for 600 illegal Israeli settlers protected by 2,000 Israeli troops. I hope there’s a resolution before Friday prayers, but somehow I doubt it.

 

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 25 July 2017.

Only two days to performance day! On the whole today was quite encouraging, with every story teller doing either as good as they’ve ever been or far better.

We had all bar two of the students/actors today, with two of the young women being absent. I knew Fatima couldn’t come because of a university commitment, and had okayed that, but why Lara didn’t show I don’t know.

I also initiated ‘George’ into the Camera-person’ role today. That’s an onstage camera operator purely there to create the illusion that the show is supposed to be the taping of a TV interview doco. We won’t be using any of its footage. ‘George’ isn’t his real name, but as he looks so much like George Michael (the slightly older version) I promptly nicknamed him such. He loved it and it struck with everyone. Goodness, that was almost four weeks ago! ‘George’ hasn’t been a very good student, with fluctuating attendance, focus and concentration, but he’s a nice guy and keen to be involved, so this makes him part of the team without giving him a significance he hasn’t earned.

The other innovation today was for me to introduce formal ‘Notes’ from the director after reach run. Of course, there’s been ‘notes’ all the time since the story telling started, but now we are doing several runs each day it’s formal notes after each one. The concept of quietly taking the notes without yelling at other after each one is new to some of them (but by no means all), but even the novices are quickly learning.

I think at this stage we are in as good a place as we could be, given all the constraints, though I wish tomorrow (Wednesday) wasn’t Alrowwad’s day off. The show will certainly will live up to my title, ‘The Nakba is not only a memory, it is ongoing’, as the stories really do bear witness, some of them with a strong emotional punch.

My Daily Advertiser Op Ed column for Tuesday 25 July 2017: New Super-Sized Ministry of Home Affairs moves us closer to becoming a police state.

In what must have been one of the most unsurprising announcements of recent years last week Peter Dutton was named the minister in charge of a new super portfolio that will incorporate immigration, border protection and domestic security agencies.

However, intelligence and security experts are split over the need for such a change, with some questioning whether the plan has been thought through properly.

And those who of us who are aware of how the Liberal/National coalition government uses security fears to hide its agenda of increasing its powers while it keeps wages depressed rightly point out that it is yet another smokescreen, this time one that also appeases the right wing of the coalition.

The head of the Australian National University’s Defence and Strategic Studies Centre, John Blaxland, said the plan would have significant ramifications and he was not sure if it the government had thought through the new tensions it would create between ministers and agencies.

Michael Wesley, Dean of the College of Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University, told Sky News there was no reason to force ASIO, the AFP, and other security agencies to report directly to one minister.

“My question is what’s broken that needs to be fixed?” he said. “I think we’ve got one of the most successful security and policing sectors in the world that has been honed over decades of practice and high operational capability.

“We’ve seen in Australia much fewer terrorist attacks than in the UK or the US that have centralised homeland security departments.

“I think we have a system that works extremely well and playing politics with Australians’ lives and safety potentially is an extremely bad move in my view,” he said.

Peter Jennings, the executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, has warned that for the changes to work properly, the new Home Affairs Minister and Attorney General will have to work “incredibly closely,” so if there’s a clash of personalities it could lead to intelligence operations being paused.

“That would be very serious for intelligence,” he told Sky News.

More to the point, “The creation of a new supersized department of Australia’s security and immigration agencies led by Peter Dutton would move Australia closer to becoming a police state”, Greens Justice spokesperson Nick McKim quite rightly said.

Also, both Labor and the Liberals have spent the last 15 years trying to frighten Australians to justify eroding our fundamental freedoms and liberties. This is another step down that terrifying road.

We should also be concerned about how Super-Sized Minister Dutton will handle his new role. Indeed, if we want to get an idea of how this department will look, all we need to do is look at what has happened on Manus Island and Nauru on Peter Dutton’s watch.

His legacy so far is one of death, torture, illegal detention, forced deportations, secrecy and a complete absence of compassion and decency.

Given the sweeping new powers granted to security and immigration agencies by Labor and the Liberals in recent years, we need to see greater accountability, not less.

Merging these portfolios and giving Peter Dutton the key will mean the ongoing erosion of more of our hard-won freedoms and liberties.

All in all, it strikes me and many other commentators to be more about politics than good policy. And the politics seem to be all about appeasing the right wing of the governing coalition.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 24 July 2017

A good solid rehearsal today, with no backsliding and some solid improvements. Momen (The Israeli Rubber Bullet in the Head Story) was really firing today. That’s very encouraging because though keen he was very shy and hesitant to begin with.

I’m slowly teaching my students/actors that we rehearse aspects such as entrances and exits, blocking and so forth now exactly as they will be on performance night, and we keep rehearsing them until we know them inside out and backwards, rather than ‘wing it ‘on the night. It’s an unusual concept to some, though thankfully not to all.

I also added an encore today – a second Dabka dance. There was discussion about which one of several dances to choose, which I narrowed down to two, and then solved the problem of which one by adding one of them as an encore. The second one really ends on an amazing high, so it will be a great ending.

Now all I need is for all the cast all to turn up on the same day. When it happens it will be a luxury – as well as being very unusual.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem

We ‘graduated’ to the performance space today, and it was great to be there. It’s too echo-ey (all hard surfaces) for my taste, though once the blacks were in place it improved no end.

So being in situ I was finally able to block the beginning properly, i.e. organise the entrance of the story tellers, and then the two hosts. Those of you who have a theatre background will know how good it feels to say “Fade to black …”.

And indeed, we had lights and sound (LX and SFX) today, which was great. Thank you Ahmed!

We had everybody today except two of the boys, Moussa and Mohammed (M&M), and as I haven’t seen them for three days they got the sack. A pity, as both were i) quite good, and ii) nice guys. It will be interesting to see if that news filters through to them and I see two penitent young men tomorrow morning.

Back in  my hang out of the bar/café/restaurant of the Walled Off Hotel this afternoon I typed up all the remaining linking dialogue for the hosts to introduce and thank each speaker, so I prepared two versions, one with M&M and one without them.

We perform in four days time!

Verbatim Theatre project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine

The highlight today was seeing the Dabka dance, the finale I introduced yesterday, in its entirety. The student actors can all do it, and Ismael, the male host, is the lead dancer and he’s superb.

I also like the male-female interaction segment, which seems a bit provocative: cheekily combative is about the best way I can describe, but as I see it more I may find better words.

It was good today to be also able to do some detailed work with Lulu, the female host, as she has missed a lot of rehearsals. She’s on notice that if she is even late tomorrow she loses her host role and will have to content herself with her story, which, though short, is powerful.

We also got Motasem’s story today. He was my original interpreter, but as he works as a nurse in one of the local hospitals I’ve hardly seen him since. But despite that he’s committed and passionate, as well as being smart and articulate, so its good to have him finally locked in.

The others didn’t backslide from their gains yesterday, which is a relief, though one young woman really lacked energy, so I hope we can spark her up over the next couple of days.

 

 

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 21 July 2017

I now have the ending for the play! As the stories describe horrific events suffered by the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli military, and are so relentlessly depressing I was wondering how I could finish it on an up-beat note, and then I remembered the Dabka, a very spirited traditional dance I haver seen danced by young Palestinian men. Young womenm dance it too. It’s certainbly up-beat, and very vigorous! I think the seed was planted in my mind by Ismael, who plays the lead Host and has the final story doing a few steps as he waited for rehearsals to begin one day.

He has a reference towards the end of his story about how we ‘continue to suffer the Nakba (the catastrophe of 1948) every day’, so I’ve given him a new line to finish on: ‘We are resilient people and celebrate our culture’, then the lights change, the music swells, and its on with the dance!

To (mis) quote Paul Keating, ‘Who said I couldn’t throw the switch to vaudeville?’ Seriously though, the Dabka is an important p[art of Palestinian culture, and the particular one we have selected is a celebration of traditional life.

Also today we had several breakthroughs as more of the actors got the hang of acting out their stories rather than just reciting them, which was very encouraging.

I was also relieved today, when I ran into Ribal, the EO, to settle the performance day, next Thursday 27 July, and with Murad, the Centre’s film teacher/director (aka ‘the cameras guy’) the day for filming, which will be Friday 28 July. It’s very good to have a specific date to aim for.

And to conclude today, as I was walking home from rehearsal I stumbled on a peaceful demonstration in solidarity with the people of Occupied East Jerusalem, which was good to witness. Today the Israeli government announced that men under 50 could not enter the Al Aqssa Mosque / Dome of the Rock compound for Friday prayers tomorrow, so it was good to see this street payer service (which blocked the entire Hebron Road) in front of a huge model of the Dome of the Rock taking place. The Israeli ban really worries me as it could really stir up big trouble – which of course is probably what the government wants.

Verbatim Theatre Project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine. 20 July 2017

We did it! Put the whole play together for the first time, that is. It was a bit of a shemozzle, we started an hour late, and not all the student actors were there, but nonetheless we do have a play.

Its pretty much as I envisaged it two weeks ago, though there are changes. The hosts, and the story tellers will stand rather than sit, which gives the storytellers more flexibility to physically act out their stories, convey the through line or arc of the story, the intentions of the characters they are talking about, and to express the emotions buried deep in there.  The stories are horrific, after all.

The hosts too will have more of a presence if they are standing, though when the stories are being told they will sit.

The other big news today was that Murad, our film guy, was there for the duration of today’s rehearsal. He was a great help with the actors, but more than that, he confirmed my original hope, that it will be filmed twice: once with the audience, and once without, to allow for separate set ups and shots and so forth. I’m really stoked about this confirmation.

The other big news is that for the last couple of days I’ve had an Honours graduate from Charles Sturt University’s BA Acting for Screen and Stage (the course I developed and coordinated for umpteen years) with us – Bethany Simons, who has had a very successful career devising her own plays (Green Room awards and all) since graduation. Beth has also been a great help, and I’m very grateful for her input.

Verbatim Theatre project, Alrowwad Centre, Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, Palestine, 19 July 2017

Wednesday is Alrowwad’s closed day of the week, so not a lot to report. I did though take the opportunity to pop over to Occupied East Jerusalem to have breakfast with (Senator) Lee (Rhiannon).

In relation to this project I’m glad I did because we discussed the filming of the play, the booklet I hope to produce of the stories, and ideas for future projects, so it was all very encouraging.

Today I also received by email a couple of stories that didn’t make it through to me on Monday, so I have all now bar one, that being the surprise we got yesterday when an older Alrowwad  student turned up with a story to perform. It was very good too, and will be a real asset to the project, so I hope his word processed version turns up tomorrow.

I also discussed with Lee a couple of other ideas for the future. One is future funding, particularly whether I could overcome the embarrassment of going for crowd funding, given that self-funding for this project has been a real struggle, so funding future projects I am thinking of will need a boost from somewhere. I’m pleased to say that Lee warmly encouraged the idea.

The other idea bears no relation to any of the above at all, but I’m wondering if I could persuade my home city, Wagga Wagga, to become a Sister City of Bethlehem. We have three sister cities already, and though my interest in Bethlehem is as a Palestinian city surrounded by illegal Israeli settlements and its Apartheid Wall I reckon I might be able to persuade Wagga’s city fathers because of the Christian links. Worth a try?