First full day at Jenin’s Freedom Theatre

by ray goodlass

Monday 17 March. An introductory day for the Freedom Ride at the Freedom Theatre. It began with a communal breakfast at the Jenin Cinema Guest House, a great local institution where most of us are staying, followed by introductions and group bonding exercises at the theatre’s classrooms, which are in town. These activities were familiar to me from my drama teaching days at Charles Sturt University.

After lunch at the Theatre we had a tour of Jenin Refugee Camp, and as I experienced at other camps, I felt dispirited because the camps are so built up they have a terrible air of permanence about them. This camp though was unique in that it had some very wide streets, but the bad news is that they are that way because they were bulldozed through by Israeli tanks during the invasion of the camp in 2002, during the second Intifada. I also noted again how welcoming and friendly everyone is here, adults as well as children.

Then to the Freedom Theatre for a demo performance of Playback Theatre, which will be the main drama activity of the Freedom Ride. Essentially it consists of the actors enacting through spontaneous group improvisation, in a stylized and largely movement based way, stories told by us, the audience. To get the ball rolling we were asked if anyone had a story of being badly treated by the Israeli border guards when they entered by the Allenby Bridge crossing, so I told my story, which was, after being translated into Arabic, was enacted by the three actors in the way I’ve just described. I was very impressed by what they did, especially in the way they captured my frustration, (unspoken) anger, and the very real fear I was fearing.

I should also add that there is music to accompany the enactment (largely percussion), and that the whole process is very stylized and even ritualistic, which actually adds greatly to the communication of meaning.

I should also note that the Playback Theatre process is similar to an actors’ improvisation exercise I used to teach at Charles Sturt University when one actor starts an action and then the rest of the group gradually join in one by one as they see a way of adding to the story, which made me feel a little less of a babe in the woods as far as this project goes.