Last week we published the names of the 18 winning plays of this year’s remote theatre competition. This week we’re publishing this very moving piece by Ana Begovic, one of the 70 judges who had the unenviable task of having to choose her favourite plays.
Two years ago, I was invited to be one of the judges for the Hands Up Project remote theatre competition, and I feel I should share some thoughts on this amazing project. This charity provides English through drama and online sessions to children in Palestine living in refugee and displacement camps across the country, mainly in Gaza. I readily accepted and since then I’ve enjoyed the experience and privilege with each return of the remote theatre competition.
I wouldn’t like to make this post political, as it would be beneath me. I’ve got friends of all faiths and backgrounds and generally avoid crying against one or the other side in any conflict. The reason is quite simple: I was a child in a war-torn country. I shared my room with my refugee grandfather when I was 7. I experienced bombing of my city when I was 13. I remember food and supply shortages, power and water cuts, sitting my first tests in my jacket and gloves as school had no heating at -15 degrees Celsius. I remember holding my mother to comfort her at 3 o’clock in the morning as she screamed watching a report from her home town in Bosnia and Herzegovina on TV: Mostar’s landmark bridge was being blown up, and she had no idea whether her family, still in the town at that point, were alive. The next day I had an important test at school and the only thing I wanted was to get an A to cheer my mum up.
With such experiences in life people mature before their time.
And that is what I see in the eyes of young Palestinian performers each year. That specific sadness and depth may be beyond those who don’t share the pain of growing up in a country forsaken by gods and men alike but commented on heavily by both. After the war, we say in my country, everyone is a general.
These children don’t complain in their sketches – on the contrary. They discuss issues common to all children: parent-child relationships, local culture, school, hopes and dreams for life, health…but unlike their peers from the more privileged countries, you feel that they care. They truly care. Keeping fit or having friends to rely on becomes more pressing an issue when one’s dancing so close to the edge of a precipice. I never felt that children acted, they more likely lived their short plays, thus doing what’s often beyond many involved in professional theatre: to satisfy the original purpose of the dramatic art. Drama was sacred to its inventors, the Ancient Greeks, and its aim was to purge spectators’ souls of feelings and thoughts widely frowned upon. Nowadays we turn to professionals to stir such emotions in us; alas, the best of them tend to keep a dark secret: their best performances are memorable precisely because of their full identification, a merger if you will, with the character – and that transcends the boundaries of their trade. Much like a child’s character development which involves experimenting with many ‘selves’ over time.
Well done to all young performers, and my gratitude to Hands Up Project for another year of supporting children in need of a semblance of a regular childhood. I hope one day they do better with the world they have inherited from us.
When I wrote the post above, the world still hadn’t gone into lockdown over COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, many have now experienced the daily life of children in Palestine with restrictions on movement, closure of schools and financial insecurity of families. Those of us with similar previous experiences have sadly got used to the world’s divisions and injustice. Lockdown anxieties came as nothing, or hardly anything new. People can adjust quite quickly if thrown in at the deep end – even when they have deemed it impossible. Take it from the seasoned survivors. Still, if you look right into our eyes, they might give a rebellious “See what it’s like?” – not out of spite, but out of wish to share in balance for once. We are one fragile branch of the Earth’s core tree that cannot survive without the trunk, nor without other cells. Perhaps it’s poetic justice that we are to learn this lesson with our hearts pounding with the sight of empty streets of our cities. But shall we emerge from this temptation ready for what one of my favourites, William Blake, called the “Brotherhood of Man”? Quite intentionally and well before his time he shared a prophetic idea that the world needed healing through realisation that we all are mere cells of a giant organism. Our task is therefore not to fight, but to grow, learn, support and love – in unison. From my isolation, I pray it finally dawns on those who hold the power of decision-making. Or that we hold them responsible with more zeal. Either way, a change of ways and hearts is not only welcome but necessary.