CONFRONTING HER COMMUNITY WITH DRAMA: A young playwright puts her work on the street

By Murtada al-Hudud in Dhi Qar

In a garden in Nasiriya, Sumaya al-Barak carefully inspects the scenery in her first theatrical show and checks other details related to sound and lighting.

The young Iraqi playwright had been shocked by tragic scenes coming out of Gaza, where Israel is conducting a devastating and brutal military campaign that has been described as a genocide. Close to 40,000 Palestinians have been killed there over the past nine months. Al-Barak wanted to try to reflect that horrifying reality in a play.

She wrote the script in just one week. Her father, Yasser al-Barak, a well-known academic and theatrical expert, helped her so that the play would be ready to perform in just one week.

The play, named “Shalom” (or “Peace”) was put on in one of the gardens of a local administrative building and tries to show some of the events taking place in the Gaza Strip.

But al-Barak’s play was a little different from a more formal kind of theatre, in that the 23-year-old playwright asked the public to interact with the work.

“The spectators can participate in decisions that affect the story,” al-Barak explained. “They immerse themselves in the imaginative world and in their own reality.  They get to live through the events on stage as if they were the actors or director.”

Al-Barak didn’t actually study theatre. She studied medicine in Russia. But she had already gained a love of the dramatic arts through her father. Yasser al-Barak is a professor of communications at Dhi Qar University and is well known as a playwright and author. He encouraged his daughter to read plays when she was a child and the young woman recounts how she fell in love with the art after reading Shakespeare plays like Hamlet and Much Ado About Nothing, as well experiencing Egyptian theatre productions.

In 1995, her father founded the Nasiriyah Actors’ Group and encouraged local thespians to put on plays on the street, ones that addressed a controversial issue, then invited the community to respond to it. Ever since she was a child, his daughter had accompanied him during these performances and now she was ready to attempt her own similarly produced works.

“I was keen for my children to accompany me to the theatre to attend performances, and I made sure that theatre was an essential part of their cultural lives,” her father said. “Theatre gives each of us room to express ourselves and to contemplate, a space where we can be free to say what we want.”

Al-Barak junior is certainly interested in mounting productions inside theatres, she said, but Iraq’s reality has pushed her to create more interactive productions, also known as street theatre. She wants to get locals more involved with this art form.

“[Street theatre] allows me to come closer to people’s everyday concerns and to present their pains onstage, in way that I hope actually eases them,” explained the young dramatist, who written 10 plays to date.

This story was written as part of a series of articles with the support of the Qarib program, a regional program funded by the French Development Agency (AFD) and implemented by the French Media Development Agency.

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