Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The play's the thing!

Report by Anna -- finally adding some further posts about our performances, end of April and beginning May in Afghanistan!
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The girls’ show is about a mother-in-law who abuses her daughter-in-law with constant put-downs and beatings. This is actually a big problem in Afghanistan. It is a pattern that gets repeated time and again. Often a young girl is married off to an older man who abuses her along with his grown sons and all other relatives around. Or a girl gets married to a boy -- both of them too young – with the boy trying to establish his manhood and beating his wife at the behest of his mother. A man might get a young wife just to be a slave to his mother. The mother was herself a young bride once who was mistreated by her mother-in-law. And so she perpetuates a behavior that has become ingrained. It is difficult to understand why women would stand against other women rather than stand together in this patriarchally oppressive society, or why a mother would discard her daughter, but it has to do with economics for one thing. A daughter brings no economic benefit, since women do not work, so she has no value (but to be a household slave).

In our story, the mother in law suffers from the bad memories of her own life as a young bride terribly abused, all the while lashing out at her young daughter-in-law, purposely getting her in trouble with her son, the husband, and beating her. One day, a friend comes to visit, catching her in the act of mistreating her daughter-in-law, and the friend berates her for it, telling the mother-in-law of her own misery having done the same. The friend’s daughter-in-law set herself on fire and killed herself as a result of all the abuse (this is a common occurrence in Afghanistan, I’m aghast to say!), now her son left her and she is all alone. The friend reminds the mother-in-law that she once was a young bride too. Slowly the mother-in-law realizes she is doing the very same that was done to her, and after some struggle, she decides she must and can make a change. In the end there is a reconciliation with the daughter-in-law. They realize standing strong together and supporting each other is a better way of living, and as a result, the son/husband also has a transformation.

To develop the show, we start our young actors off with a simple scenario and let them improvise around it, playing with character and action. They make our job easy as directors, because they are so creative! Of course, they have a lot to learn yet about theatrical presentation and how to make strong, physical choices on stage, but they are impressively adept already. Such clever dialogue, improvised on the spot! And funny little character quirks. In less than two weeks, we have a half-hour play fully developed and ready to go – and it’s amazing how much our work and our actors have grown. Madiya and Hasti who play the two narrators have become a knock-out clown duo. They bring the audience along the journey and provide some comic relief. And they’re really funny! Marzia has really found solid strength in her portrayal of a man. And Rohela is truly an amazing actor – intensely expressive as the mother-in-law, showing both nasty cruelty and vulnerability. Her transformation in the moment of reconciliation with the daughter-in-law is full of so many emotions. It is a very touching scene. (I just can’t believe this young actor is only thirteen years old!)

I am amazed at the talent, skill and dedication of these young performers, most of whom are only 12, 13, 14 years old! There are two girls who are 17 and 19, and then the boys are 16-21. During the course of our work, I forget how young they are, because they are so good, so dedicated and so professional! And they are tackling serious subject matters of family conflict and domestic violence, acting out beatings and abuse. But they are wise beyond their years and fully aware of the problems of their society. And, sad to say, many of the wives for whom this is a reality are only 14 years old (or younger)! Innocence of childhood is shattered early in this country.

I hope Rohela can continue doing theater, and the other girls, too. But the risk is that in a few years they will be married (off) and that will be the end of it. To encourage their families and the community to accept theater as something good, indeed, to show that it is something that can bring income to the family, we are paying the girls (and boys, too) a fee for participating in the workshops and for their work as performers. See, theater brings economic as well as social benefit to the community!

For the first performance, we invite the performer's families and friends as well as all the workshop students. We present the girls' and boys' shows and then we have a certificate ceremony for everyone involved in the workshops. It is great to see the smiles on the parents' faces!


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