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Arts and culture

Antigone: An ancient Greek tragedy, bringing Syrian women hope

BEIRUT | - December 08, 2014, 14h10
Photo by Tabitha Ross.
As the cast and crew prepare for the first performance of Aperta productions’ Antigone next week, we discuss the significance of drama therapy on the Syrian refugee women who are the stars of the play.
On December 10-12, a group of Syrian refugee women will perform the Greek tragedy Antigone at Masrah al Madina theatre.

Antigone is the first play by Aperta Productions, recently founded by Itab Azzam and Hal Scardino. Before they started their own company, Itab and Hal were among the co-producers of another play, The Syria Trojan women, that was staged last year in Jordan (this play was later the subject of the ‘Queens of Syria’ documentary‘).

Having learnt from their previous experiences, they started work on the Antigone project in September. Aware that they should expect dropouts, the coproducers started out with around fifty women interested in the project, mainly sourced with the help of Aperta’s partner, Basmeh wa Zeitouneh. Now, they are left with 22 enthusiastic actresses between the ages of 16-58, living in camps in and around Beirut.

The dropout rate is not a surprise given the break from normal life that the project represents for many women. Some were sceptical for their own reasons and others faced opposition from male relatives about their participation in such a project. Some, despite having lived in Lebanon for many years never leave their camps and are very unfamiliar with Beirut. ‘Some of them didn’t even know Hamra’ Hal Scardino tells us. ‘For this reason it was important for us to hold the rehearsals outside of the camp in a private, secure and comfortable setting.’

However, it took time for the women to feel comfortable enough to reveal their personal stories.These real histories are of upmost importance as they will performing an adapted version of Sophocles' Greek tragedy Antigone, from 441 BC, interwoven with their own real tragedies.

Antigone is a philosophical play questioning the relationship between the state and the individual. It tells the tale of two sisters, Antigone and Ismene, who face a dilemma when their two brothers are killed fighting on opposite sides of a civil war; one for the state and one against. The king decrees that the brother who had betrayed him should not be allowed a proper burial, however, the headstrong Antigone decides to bury him anyway.

The script has been completely adapted to befit its actors. “It is about Syria today”, Hal explains, “we took 5/6 women’s stories and embedded them in the text.” In some cases the parallels between Antigone’s and the women’s own stories are so explicit that they are essentially re-enacting events from their own lives. One woman lost two brothers tragically in Syria, just as the fictional Antigone loses hers.

One of the objectives was to help women to come to terms with their stories. “They would hear other women’s stories and say ‘I thought my story was bad’”, Hal explains. Another intention was to recreate a sense of community that had been lost when the women were forced to leave Syria. The project is aimed at women exclusively as they are often overlooked in media coverage of the Syrian crisis. “All we ever hear about to do with Syria is the war and the men fighting in it. We don’t see the consequences and the effects on women who are left to take care of everything and carry the burden.”

For many women the project represents an essential escape from their troubled lives. For that reason, Aperta are looking for ways to keep the project running after the performance, establishing a set up where the women can run their own workshops and in turn train others. The performance will be recorded and shared on the internet in a hope to encourage others to gain empowerment through theatre.

The women are very excited. Seeing the 400-seat capacity theatre for the first time last week was a shock to the system, as many of them had never been in a theatre before, let alone performed on stage. But they won’t let nerves get the better of them.

Antigone will run from Wednesday 10th December through Friday 12th at Masrah al Madina theatre in Hamra (Arabic with English surtitles).

Tickets are on sale at Al Madina Theatre, Mezyan, AltCity (all in Hamra), and Radio Beirut in Mar Mikhael.

Online reservation:

(All photos by Tabitha Ross)
#Syria_Trojan_Women, #Drama_therapy
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