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Arts and culture

Syria Trojan Women: the battle continues

BEIRUT | - May 26, 2014, 10h41
Par Elodie Morel
Photos from Syria Trojan Women project website and
In December 2013, around 40 Syrian women performed Euripides’ Trojan Women on stage in Amman, Jordan. All of the actresses were refugees that had fled their country to escape the war that began three years ago. Euripides wrote the Trojan Women in 415 BC. However, the tragedy could have been written yesterday, for these Syrian refugees. Just like the Trojan Women, they lost everything when they left Syria: their homes, their jobs, their possessions and in many cases, their loved ones. The co-founders of the project now want to portray this experience through a documentary entitled Queens of Syria.
In a large, bright in Amman, Syrian women, all refugees living in the Jordan capital, are playing Musical Chairs. All of them are running and laughing like children. One woman slips and falls on her bottom, trying to sit down, she bursts out laughing with her friends.

This surprising and heart-warming scene was filmed during the Syria Trojan Women project, launched in October 2013, where 40 Syrian refugees participating in drama therapy workshops worked together to perform Euripides’Trojan Women tragedy on stage in December.

Those images are striking and truly moving. They will be used to create a documentary entitled Queens of Syria, dedicated to the two-month long process of the project. This film still needs financing to see the light. You can watch more of the footage in this video, where filmmaker Yasmin Fedaa explains why it is crucial to finalize the production of the documentary:

Journalist and award-winning former foreign correspondent, Charlotte Eagar is one of the co-founders of the Syria Trojan Women project. Months ago, she got the idea of having Syrian refugees perform in Euripides’ tragedy on stage. She had been familiar with this mythical play since reading it during her time at university: And in 1992, while covering the conflict in Bosnia, she heard it on the BBC World Service. The words echoed with the reality she was living at that time. This play is a universal, timeless tale about war and its victims.

Charlotte is also an award-winning filmmaker. The year before the Syria Trojan Women project was born, she co-directed and co-wrote a mini soap in Kenya entitled “Something’s Got to Change”, with young amateur actors, in a Nairobi slum for the NGO ‘Emerging Leaders’.

“I realized that through this project, the children became confident, proud of what they had done,” she said. ‘“When this project was completed, I was looking for another idea. I discussed with Oxfam about useful initiatives to launch. They suggested that we address the situation of the Syrian refugees in different countries neighboring Syria. The story of the Syrian women made me think of Euripides’ tragedy.”

Just like the Trojan Women, the Syrian women lost everything and were forced to flee their country, leaving everything behind.

From Lebanon to Jordan

The project was supposed to take place in Lebanon, the country hosting the largest number of Syrian refugees. There are more than one million officially registered refugees there. “We wanted to do it in Lebanon, but we had to change our plans for security purposes,” Charlotte told us when we contacted her from Beirut. She explained that, as a former war correspondent, she was not really worried about the security situation in Lebanon, but insurance companies most certainly were. “Not a single one accepted to insure the project.” So the organizers decided to do it in Amman, the capital of Jordan, a much more stable country.

The objective of the Syria Trojan Women project was to help refugees through drama-therapy, but also to publicize the crisis and to raise the audience’s awareness about the humanitarian situation in Syria.

The drama-therapy was really effective. Charlotte Eagar explained to us that the play “gave a voice to those women. It gave them a feeling of achievement and dignity; it was also a way for them to escape their daily ‘routine’. They were not living in refugee camps; they had found homes around Amman. They had at one point felt isolated and lonely, but coming to the drama-therapy session was a way to build new relationships. A kindergarten was also set up to take care of the children of the participants. Just like their mothers, the children made new friends as well. This project was great for everyone!”

Two performances took place at the National Centre for Culture and Performing Arts in Amman on December 17 and 18, 2013.

After performing on stage, the women said they felt that people had listened to their story. For once, they were directly speaking to the public, without any media between them and the audience.

The audience was composed of the refugees’ families, and of Jordanian locals and expatriates. “After the play, people said: ‘now I really feel like I understand what it is like to be a refugee’”, stated Georgina Paget, a London-based film producer. Georgina is also a co-founder of the Syria Trojan Women project. She told us, “After watching and listening to these women, the people in the audience understood what life would be like in such a situation. They understood that these refugees were people just like them. One of the women used to work in her town’s administration services, you know. She could be anyone of us.”

Fighting compassion fatigue

This play is also a way to fight compassion fatigue, which is one of the biggest challenges of the project. “People are tired of caring,” Georgina explained. “There is a compassion fatigue in general and especially towards Syria. We feel it every day. For example, the amount of money collected by NGOs for Syria is much smaller than the amount collected after the Philippines’ hurricane.”

The Syria Trojan Women performance in December was also a success from an artistic point of view. They have been invited to perform in places such as the UK, the US and Switzerland. But getting visas for Syrian refugees to certain countries is difficult. So, to reach as many people as possible, the organizers are now trying to finalize the documentary, “Queens of Syria”.

“The objective of the documentary is to reach more people, to let as many people as possible hear the story of these women. We filmed the drama-therapy sessions, the rehearsals and the performances thanks to a grant from the Asfari Foundation and private donations,” Georgina Paget said. “We have 88 hours of footage and we need money to make a documentary out of them”.

A 3’30 trailer for the documentary was released online. It shows the refugees, passionate about what they do, about the play and about being together. It is truly moving. You can watch it here:

To finance the production of the documentary, the Syria Trojan Women Project launched a crowdfounding campaign on Indiegogo, a crowdfounding digital platform.

“We hope that by watching this documentary, just like by watching the performance in Amman, people will begin to understand what is really happening. They will see Syrian refugees as real people and not only as statistics delivered by the media. They will see individuals telling their stories,” Georgina said, while adding that, “to make the people care, we need to give them something personal and beautiful as well. Out of their own tragedy, the women created something beautiful. They created art.”
#Dramatherapy, #Theater, #Syria_crisis, #Syria_Trojan_Women
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