A Dream of the Sea: Bread and Puppet Theater and Ashtar Theatre Stage a Parade on the Ramallah Side of the Israeli Wall

By Schlesinger, Lisa | American Theatre, September 2010 | Go to article overview
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A Dream of the Sea: Bread and Puppet Theater and Ashtar Theatre Stage a Parade on the Ramallah Side of the Israeli Wall


Schlesinger, Lisa, American Theatre


FIRST ITEM OF BUSINESS: WHO WILL BE ON the Jerusalem side of the wall, and who will be on the Ramallah side?

Iman Aoun, artistic director of Palestine's Ashtar Theatre, and I are collaborating on a performance that we know from the outset will be difficult, if not impossible. It is slated in October 2009 as part of El-Hakawati Company of East Jerusalem's first international street-theatre festival, called the Jerusalem Every Which Way Festival. (In Arabic and French, the festival is also known as Al Quds Al Saba Tatajalla and ferusalem dans tous ses etats!) The hosting organization, founded in 1977 (by a group of theatre artists, including current member Francois Abu Salem and Edward Muallem, Aoun's partner and Ashtar's managing director), is the home of the Palestinian National Theatre. Aoun and I are imagining a well-known play adapted and performed on both sides of the nine-meter-high wall between Jerusalem and Ramallah.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

The two cities, about seven miles apart, are separated by the Qalandia checkpoint as well as a stretch of Israel's 220-mile-long concrete, razor-wire and electric security fence. We envision some characters in our performance on the Jerusalem side and others on the Ramallah side. We will transcend the wall however we can, we decide, maybe with live-feed video.

We discuss the possibility of inviting Peter Schumann and his Vermont-based Bread and Puppet Theater to be part of the performance. If they agree to participate, there maybe other ways to make it visible to all. I remember photos of the bearded Schumann and his enormous puppets on towering stilts. Ashtar Theatre has hosted the well-traveled troupe once, and my collaborator Aoun wants to bring them back to work with students of the International Academy of Art Palestine. Most of the academy students have West Bank I.D.s, because they are citizens of the Palestinian Occupied Territories--thus they cannot go to Jerusalem, so we know our entry into the festival will have to be performed in Ramallah.

Flash forward: A couple of months later at the Arts in the One World Conference at the California Institute of the Arts just outside Los Angeles, I watch Peter Schumann perform The University of Majd, a cantastoria based on e-mails from playwright and activist Ed Mast about the case of a young Palestinian man arrested and detained in an Israeli military prison. In a cantastoria, the performer tells or sings a story while interacting with a series of images. Here Schumann plays the fiddle and recites text (Mast's e-mails) inscribed on 7 large and 80 small flower paintings. After the performance, Mast and Schumann suggest that Clare Dolan and Genevieve Yeuillaz, two longtime Bread and Puppet company members, might want to return to Ramallah to perform and lead a workshop.

We move on to Glover, Vt., for a weekend of Bread and Puppet performances and one by children visiting from the Bethlehem's Aida Refugee camp. Five of us--performers Dolan and Yeuillaz, Schumann, Mast and I--sit down over a meal to discuss the upcoming festival project. We decide a performance along the wall or at the checkpoint is too dangerous. Dolan suggests a parade. By telephone, Aoun agrees. Two months later the actors and I fly to Ramallah.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

On the flight, I read an article in the Herald Tribune about the Goldstone Report, commissioned by the United Nations, which accuses both Israel and Hamas of war crimes in Gaza in January '09 and demands investigations. The Israeli government threatens to halt the peace process if the U.N. forces them to investigate.

DOLAN AND YEUILLAZ MEET WITH 15 students in the courtyard of the International Academy of Art Palestine and show them, using DVDs, how Bread and Puppet parades juxtapose images to create a story. The students collectively decide what they want their parade to be about: a trip to the sea. Although it is less than an hour's drive from Ramallah to the sea, most of them have never been there.

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