For the first nine days here in Herat, we have been doing workshops with Simorgh’s young company members and students, mostly girls age 12-20 and also some boys. They are so amazing! I am really impressed with their level of imagination and creativity and expressiveness. These are kids who have not had much exposure to theater as a medium in their culture (indeed such activity is generally frowned upon, and theater really doesn’t even exist). As children they are taught to be quiet, unnoticeable and have no opinions, especially the girls – and yet they are so spirited and jumping right in to play, game to try out whatever we throw at them. Some of the newer girls are very shy, but as the workshops progressed we could see that they got more comfortable and felt more free to express themselves, in action and in words.
On the final day, we had a conversation with the youngsters and asked them about their experience: what did you enjoy about the workshop, what did you discover, and how can it be useful to you in your lives? How do you think theater can be of value to the community? I was blown away by their responses! They are so young but already so wise.
Theater, they tell us, serves to reflect our society and its problems in order for us to better see ourselves… Zainab points out that after working on different characters, she now feels she can better understand people, and this is how theater can be useful: to help us understand each other. Mahbouba said that she discovered how she can connect with people, beyond her small circle of friends – through theater she can make a connection with the audience and thereby with people in the community.
Zahra describes how men traditionally have more power than women in the society, but in this workshop she felt equal to the men, everybody on the same level, free and comfortable. Marzia points out that she even forgot the boys were there!
The fact that both boys and girls are working and playing together in the workshop is not without controversy. One girl, unfortunately, was not allowed to continue because her brothers discovered there were boys in the workshops, and even though her mother had agreed to her participating, the brothers as men had the veto power to decide what their sister may or may not do. On the final day, she nonetheless snuck out of the house and joined us for a last chance to play.
Marzia loved yelling her name out, throwing it far over the mountain, because, she told us, it was the first time she had ever said her name out loud, and it felt so good to know that “Yes, I am Marzia!”
Little Wahija liked the stilt-walking best. Why?, we ask her. “Because I stand tall and feel in control of everything! It makes me feel more confident.” Wahija is a very small girl, she is twelve years old but really looks eight. Everybody loved the stilt-walking. It’s amazing the power such a simple activity can have. And everyone loved the acrobatics too.
Mahbouba tells us she really saw value in the exercise of passing the mask that transforms. It’s the same in life, she points out, because when one is in an argument with someone, they pass on to you their angry mask which you take on, but you don’t have to keep it, you can change it to one of joy before you get home!
Wow. I have to say I am shocked and awed by their astute insights. And these were just a few examples. It is so affirming to hear how enthusiastic they felt about the work we’ve done together, how much they got out of it, how eager they are to continue, and the insights they gained. It makes me feel like we truly have offered something worthwhile and made a difference. This moment to me was the culmination, the highlight, of the entire project. (And this was less than two weeks into the program. Who knows what amazing things will happen in the next few weeks!?)
Then we ask them what the problems are that make it difficult to do theater in Afghanistan, and they all shout out in unison: “Everything!!!”