Friday, December 01, 2023

Afghanistan Then and Now: From the Field to University

For our second blog post as a part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV), we had the opportunity to interview Heddy Lahmann, a Bond Street Theatre member. Heddy is a professor of International Education at New York University and wrote her dissertation about the work BST did in Afghanistan, focusing on the use of creative arts for youth development and peacebuilding in conflict and crisis-affected settings. She has been with the company for over 10 years! If you would like to read a more personal account of how Heddy got involved with theatre and BST in particular, the links below feature two blog posts Heddy wrote in 2012 and in 2015 when she was in Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: Then and Now

One of the projects Heddy worked on is the Creativity in Action project that has mobilized over 375 youth from 25 Afghan provinces to learn leadership skills and implement local community improvement projects. Groups underwent rigorous leadership training in their home provinces through workshop sessions using theatre and arts exercises to foster creative problem-solving, leadership, and improved communication skills. Each group created a Community Profile illuminating what they love about their community and the issues that need correction. 

Phase two brought two groups at a time to Kabul from two different provinces – often representing different ethnicities, religions, or languages – for a week-long brainstorming and training session in community development, advocacy, and proposal-writing. During that week youth teams worked on their Action Plans while living, learning, socializing and working toward creating a unified Afghanistan. In a country divided by ethnic, linguistic, and customary differences, these exchanges built a sense of community and cohesion across regional boundaries

Together with a female Afghan Filmmaker, Heddy produced a mini-documentary gathering videos and photos from the Afghani trainers and youth:

Unfortunately, after the Taliban takeover in 2021, these kinds of projects have been banned or forced to go underground, and so much progress has been lost. Women are denied basic rights, and voices speaking up for women’s rights are targeted and  silenced. However, not all hope is lost. Heddy shared that she is currently working on a project using ​​edu-tainment (educative entertainment) through educational television programming and distance learning to support education for girls in Afghanistan – especially secondary school girls who have been barred from attending school under the Taliban.

Lessons Learned from the Field - Gender-Based Violence

On the occasion of the 16 Days of Activism Against GBV, we asked Heddy what she learned from having worked in the field. She shared two insights with us: one from when she worked in Afghanistan THEN, and one in relation to the project she is working on NOW. While in Afghanistan, she was surprised and encouraged that there were many  young men who wanted to contribute to work on addressing women’s rights issues related to GBV. When she asked them about it, they said that they were motivated to want to create change to support women because these issues directly affected their communities and families.Through education and access to the internet, they understood that it could be different and wanted to be a part of making that change in their communities.

With regard to the current edu-tainment project she’s working on in Afghanistan, she explained that providing educational opportunities for girls in Afghanistan right now is (if indirectly) attempting to address gender-based violence. She explained that denying girls and women their right to education and work is in fact gender-based violence, even if it may not be physical or visible violence in the short-term. Denial of education and the right to work is psychological and emotional violence, which has long-term effects that restrict women’s life opportunities, choices, and ability to protect themselves.  

In addition to her work in Afghanistan, Heddy also highlighted her time spent addressing issues that women and girls face here in New York City. Alongside Ilanna, another BST member whose work we’ll be highlighting next week, Heddy created and performed in a BST show called Amelia and Her Paper Tigers. A fun-filled educational adventure, Amelia and Her Paper Tigers is a look at the life of Amelia Earhart, who fought all odds to follow her dream of becoming an aviatrix, setting numerous flying records along the way. Her tale of passion and persistence is told through comedy, music, audience participation and circus arts, serving as an inspiration to young people of all ages to follow their dreams. Optional post-performance workshops further the exploration and provide creative tools to address fear. While not directly about GBV, this show depicts a strong female narrative of a real woman who pushed against gender norms and the roles/capabilities typically associated with women at the time—and even now.

This is a perfect example of how there is always work that can be done bringing the arts to young audiences to help them think about the world differently, whether at home or overseas. To hear more about Amelia and Her Paper Tigers, come back next week, when we’ll be featuring Heddy’s partner-in-crime, Ilanna!

Monday, November 27, 2023

Gender-Based Violence Against Women and Men in Cape Town, South Africa

The global 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence (GBV) is an international campaign to challenge violence against women and girls. It is incredibly important to highlight this issue and celebrate the progress that has already been made, as well as acknowledging the work that has yet to be done. GBV is not an isolated issue, but an intersectional one that manifests itself in various ways and carries a myriad of symptoms. As such, it is only by working together that we can continue to tackle and challenge GBV. Let’s use this occasion to tell the world that we are still here fighting, and that we will not go anywhere anytime soon. 

Bond Street Theatre has done numerous interactive theatre projects throughout the years to provide support, raise awareness, and diffuse information about GBV. In the upcoming days, we’ll be highlighting the different projects we’ve worked on in regards to GBV around the world through blog posts, newsletters and interviews. We hope to not only raise awareness, but also inform everyone about the lessons we have learned in the field. 

Note: Applied theatre, or interactive theatre, is the use of theatrical practices in non-traditional theatre spaces to explore issues of interest and concerns of specific communities. As such, interactive theatre allows for a space in which people can speak up and share whatever is on their minds. The experiences Bond Street Theatre has had with interactive theatre have been empowering, especially when people feel comfortable enough to share painful experiences they have kept a secret for a long time. 

Background of the Project 

Our first interviewee is Zandile Mentjies, who we collaborated with alongside Rape Crisis Trust to conduct a project addressing GBV in Cape Town, South Africa. The goal was to give women and girls in crisis areas the tools and training to speak out for equal rights. The project took place over a two-year period from 2021-2022. With Zandile, BST worked intensely for 3 weeks to train a core team of 8 young GBV activists (male and female) towards the creation of a cohesive theatre group as well as training 4 staff members from Rape Crisis Trust. The result was the formation of the new Blended Voices Theatre Group, which continues to be a valuable outlet for information on GBV in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. 

With Blended Voices Theatre Group, we directed two different plays addressing GBV, which were presented each year in support of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence during November and December. In 2021, we performed Voices of Change, which illustrated the generational issues faced by young women who are pressured to marry at a young age to a man chosen by their parents. The following year, 2022, we presented Myths and Truths, which deconstructed each of the following 7 myths about rape:

1. Myth: Girls that wear revealing clothing are inviting rape.

o Fact: Sex without consent is rape; women are raped no matter what they wear.

2. Myth: Men can’t get raped, or only gay men are raped.

o Fact: Rape is about power and control, not sexual desire.

3. Myth: Spousal rape is not rape.

o Fact: A woman has to give consent, every time.

4. Myth: You can‘t be raped by a family member.

o Fact: Most rapes occur between people who know each other, rather than a stranger.

5. Myth: Once a man gets excited, he cannot stop himself.

o Fact: Rapists choose not to stop.

6. Myth: If you rape a lesbian, it will “cure” them

o Fact: Homosexuality is not a disease to be cured.

7. Myth: Getting drunk or going to bars invites rape.

o Fact: Sex without consent is rape; a drunk person is not able to give consent.

Following each performance, the audience had the opportunity to ask questions to the actors and suggest alternative solutions to the problems they faced. The feedback sessions opened up a space for dialogue and encouraged discussion in the community about these difficult topics. 

Bond Street Theatre hopes to return to Cape Town in 2024 and continue our collaboration with the Blended Voices Theatre Group. In the meantime, we have stayed in contact with our partners there, including Zandile Mentijes. 

Talking to Zandile 

How did you first get involved with acting and why did you decide to study it?

My first encounter with acting was with my uncle, my mother's brother. He was a play writer, and his theatre troupe would rehearse at his home, where I grew up. Sometimes I would assist them or come in as an extra. Growing up, I became the stage manager. I fell in love with the stage, with the audiences and live performances. This is why I studied drama. I also did African music and dance, so it worked well with my passion for my ethnicity and where I come from.

How did you begin working as an advocate against GBV, and why this issue? 

The reason I focus on GBV is quite personal. I was raised in a domestic violent family, because my dad was very abusive, physically and emotionally. I grew up with a bit of anger. With the help of my grandmother, I surpassed that anger and survived. She got me going to church activities, and I got busy with school as well. So growing up for me, GBV was always something that I had in mind. When I got into university, I studied drama. After I graduated, I was acting for some time, but for some reason I felt like something was missing. I felt like I needed to work more with the community. I needed to be involved somehow, but I didn't know how. 

When my mother started an organization here in Cape Town, called Khayelitsha, to support groups with regard to substance abuse, gangsterism or social issues, I would go do some theatre games with them. Everybody would just relax, and open up. I came across a lot of young women, little girls even, who had difficulties opening up. Through the games, and through roleplay, they would come and they would speak. I still didn’t know how to make sense of that, or what I wanted to do – until I came across a friend of mine, Alex. At the time, Alex was busy doing prison theatre. I spoke to her about what I was currently doing, which I didn’t have a name for, and she told me it’s called ‘applied theatre’. So I went back to university and did my honors in applied theatre! Since then I have been using this as a methodology to guide my workshops, because I facilitate group discussions and I am working with a lot of at-risk youth. 

Where I am based right now is in the top 30 hotspots in South Africa for GBV. We are forced to speak up, to say something, do something, and a lot of people have been trying. A lot of people are trying to fight GBV. They are holding presentations and working together with the interim churches and community halls, but nothing is changing. I thought that maybe if I could use the work that I do (applied theatre) as a tool, to assist in the fight against GBV, something could change. The beautiful thing about our work is that the community gets to participate, they get to be involved in whatever it is that we're putting on stage. So the performers do not feel the pressure to come up with the solutions because they can be assisted by the audience. It's beautiful so far, but obviously we are still struggling here and there. We are taking baby steps and we're praying that it works out.

How did you come into a partnership with Bond Street Theatre? How did the project go and what was the experience like? 

When I was doing my Honors degree at university, I made a good friend named Robin who was also part of the program. We worked together, but parted ways because she was traveling. Less than a year later, Casey, a BST member, called me because she got my contact from Robin. It was so unexpected, but I was grateful. I met with Bond Street Theatre and we immediately bonded. They introduced me to Rape Crisis Trust, who are a group of wonderful young people that I learned a lot from. So the journey was fruitful and it was an eye opener for me, because I could be in touch with the younger generation in the field of applied theatre. At my age, you tend to rely on a certain routine or a certain pattern of doing work, and then you come across these beautiful young minds who tell you that’s outdated and that you need to adapt. They show you their beautiful own ways of dealing with certain challenges, which allowed it to become a wonderful project. It’s something I’m really proud of!

What are you currently working on, and how can Bond Street Theatre and our supporters continue to support the work you are doing? 

Currently, I am working with an immunology team from Cape Town University. A professor approached me in July to help them with an annual conference around immunology – he wanted me to assist them with three shows on HIV and AIDS, TB, and the immune system. So I am again working with a group that doesn’t have any acting experience. It’s not easy at all, but it is a very interesting project because it's focused on education and information. That’s what I love about applied theatre, that we’re able to actually use the work in schools to inform others and bridge the information gap we have in our communities. We lack information. 

In regards to how BST can support us, I’m not sure where to start! There are a lot of challenges. For example, with the group I’m currently working with, we are only meeting twice a week for 5 hours because of venue challenges. We do not have a venue, so we rehearse in a cricket field center. I’ve also been looking for proposals and grants from international sponsors, because I would like to take my work to other provinces in South Africa and around the continent. It's very important work. It’s needed, because what I’ve witnessed in a lot of communities is that they are not informed about GBV. A lot of people still believe that if somebody is abusing you, then the person is showing affection. So these kinds of projects allow for a conversation to take place and help these communities to open up. However, because of a lack of funds, we can’t do as much as we want to and we have to sit around, wait, and apply for social development funds. These funds cover everything for everyone, so it is difficult for us to move forward and grow. 

What advice do you have for other people who are interested in doing work like you're doing, especially around GBV? What are some things that you do to keep your spirits up or to take care of yourself when you're doing this work? 

Firstly, my advice would be that you need to get yourself educated and informed in the field that you want to be in, or work in. This kind of work can be very overwhelming, especially if you do not understand what it is you are doing. It involves a lot of community work, so you need to be prepared to deal with a lot of different people and energies. People come from different backgrounds, they have their own stories. If you are uninformed and lack understanding, it can be overwhelming. Also, volunteer, volunteer, volunteer. I still do that a lot. If you get yourself involved with whatever is happening around you in your community, then you will understand the dynamics of where you are and where you come from. 

When I started off, I had a ritual that would keep me sane. Whenever I would get into character there would be a kind of ritual I used to do. What I do now is I affirm myself, I speak life into everything that I do before I leave somewhere or before I sleep, and I am always aware that at any moment anything can happen. You can call it a prayer for someone who is religious, but for me I consider it self-affirmation. Whenever I am leading a workshop and do a check in exercise, or an ice breaker, it also helps me to get into the right mindset and get to know the space and the energies in the room. That enables me to leave without any baggage or weight on my shoulders. 

End Note

This interview with Zandile not only highlights the potential of applied/interactive theatre practices for community-based solutions in regards to GBV, but also reveals the hard work that it entails. It was incredibly inspirational to talk to Zandile, who has a lot of knowledge about applied theatre, particularly in regards to GBV, and constantly faces and overcomes challenges in her work. 

Educating yourself about different issues and diffusing information is of utmost importance in the world we are living in today. As Zandile said, information gaps and access to information remain an issue within – and between – communities. These gaps can be bridged in various creative ways, such as interactive theatre, which can open a space for dialogue and effective discussions. We need more such projects that allow people to speak up, share, and discuss possible solutions in order to collectively grow towards a future without gender-based violence.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Personal Reflections on The Role of Feelings in the War between Palestine and Israel

  • These are our personal thoughts, which we have the opportunity to express. This does not necessarily reflect the views of the Bond Street Theatre organization. 

The past days have been marked by tragedy, injustice and unbelief. We (Ruth and Alix) both are currently doing an internship at Bond Street Theatre. The current events have touched everyone deeply and have left us feeling speechless. However, silence is complicity. In this blog we, together with a previous intern, are trying to find the words to speak about the unspeakable. 

As much as the writers in this blog all come from different backgrounds, nationalities and ethnicities, the horrendous events of the past week have left us pondering on the same concept: FEELINGS. What role do feelings play in a context where politics make us feel highly emotional and disconnected from the ones that are supposed to be leaders?

As the medium of text is sometimes insufficient to express certain things, we sought and found refuge in the arts. Kris Orzsaghova reminds us in their poem ‘Little did I know’ of the interrelatedness of human existence. One person’s fight is everyone’s fight. Let us not forget what the media or leadership's discourses want us to: We are all human.  

In the following paragraphs you will read our personal insights, a conversation with ourselves exploring the role of feelings. Coming from two different standpoints, both texts convey an important message to the world: NO MORE, let peace come and justice reign. 

Our thoughts are with the ones who have fallen, the ones who suffer and the ones who have lost. 

Little did I know

When I was little  before going to sleep  my grandmother would cover the  lamp next to my bed to dim the light  with a black and white scarf. 

Little I knew we did not have much 

my grandfather slept on the floor 

next to my side. 

Little I knew back then 

Growing up 

Palestine protected my dreams from 


So that I could sleep safe. 

Little I knew back then 

there is a child somewhere else 

wrapped in the farmer’s scarf 

child who will become

my brother in arms. 

Little I knew back then 

that the black and white scarf 

is life. 

That there are farmers like my grandfather 

in a far away Palestine


When a tragedy occurs -- and this is a humanitarian tragedy of unimaginable scale -- our first instinct is to feel. Anger, hatred, fear, hopelessness, powerlessness -- these are all understandable reactions. We should feel. But what we cannot do is let our feelings, however powerful they may be, override our rationality and our responsibility to act. Regardless of our religion, nationality, or race, we should all be united in calling for an end to the senseless and ceaseless massacre of civilians, and for the restoration of basic necessities -- including water, electricity, and humanitarian aid -- to Gaza.

It is our duty as human beings to recognize and fight injustice when we see it, and also to be responsible consumers of media, particularly in an age where propaganda and misinformation run rampant. Many stay silent because they feel they do not know enough, or are frightened of saying or doing the wrong thing. To those who feel this way, I urge you to educate yourselves -- particularly by listening to the voices of those who are experiencing the atrocities firsthand. Palestinians and Israelis alike have been speaking on this topic for years, and now is the time to amplify the voices of those who have been calling for justice and peace, as well as the end of the inhumane occupation of Palestine. 

Consider especially dynamics of global power and financial incentives, and remember the mistakes of the past -- particularly how, in the days following the 9/11 attacks, fear and anger were manipulated into the justification of warfare against innocents. Be aware of your sources, and recognize + call out Islamophobic and Anti-Semitic language and behaviors. And once you have educated yourself, act: initiate difficult conversations, share resources, and DONATE to those who are in dire need. 

As Maya Angelou says, "The truth is, no one of us can be free until everybody's free."


The last week has been a rollercoaster of emotions, despair and anger. As a master student in international relations, I would be able to give a 'rational' political analysis of the situation. However, I feel it would be insufficient to account for the gravity of the situation. International relations has failed me, has failed the world and the Palestinians once again... 

It is the very narrative of liberal security discourses and so called 'rationality' that has distanced us from our humanity. It is time we made space for the appreciation of emotions within international relations, as to not include feelings in decision making processes is to ignore a part of the truth. 

The truth that I see based on rationality and emotions, is that the violence inflicted by Hamas is different then the violence inflicted by the Israeli state. Recognizing this, allows one to see that the only way towards peace is for the Israelis to cease the occupation and oppression of Palestinians, to find a solution where Jews and Arabs can live in peace as they have done for decades beforehand. 

Our enemies are not Hamas, the Palestinians, the Israeli army or the Israeli population. The enemies are the leaders that willingly and without repercussions tell lies to the public, the sheer hypocrisy of the international system and all the ones that remain silent about flagrant violations of International Law, Human Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the Law of War. 

When I say that I stand with Palestine today does not mean that I do not recognize the suffering of Israeli victims or applaud Hamas' actions, but that I recognize that this battle gives us a chance to say 'NO MORE' and define the course of world politics. I choose my side: 'Rule with humanity not with Hypocrisy'

A past intern

We often talk about people who 'stood on the right side of history', sometimes it's hard to recognize when that same opportunity is in front of us. Too much of the current discourse has intimidated people into believing that it's too complicated to have an open stance on. A lot of us will be looking to world leaders to guide the way, and help form our opinion on the current conflict. The reality is, we don't live in a world where we can implicitly trust world leaders, media outlets and our next door neighbor into helping us decide where we stand on certain issues. It's important to do our own research, and I promise you... 2 minutes into learning the history of the Palestinian conflict you'll realize just how uncomplicated the issue is. 

There is so much one person can do to help- as privileged individuals it's our responsibility, to speak out, protest, donate, raise awareness, support those close to you and continue to fight for the liberation of the Palestinian people. Also keep in mind that political activism is often a marathon not a sprint, don't be discouraged if immediate results don't follow. When people look back at this time, they will see that there was resistance against war crimes, genocide and ethnic cleansing. That not everyone in the world believed what's happening is just and that there was resistance. We are all part of something bigger and have a moral responsibility to fight injustice within our capacity. In our thousands, in our millions, we are all Palestinians.

Monday, October 09, 2023

Kazakhstan - Creativity in Action: Promoting Gender Equality through Theatre

A peek into the experiences of Bond Street Theatre Member: from the ‘academic’ to the ‘real’ world

Nina, a graduate in international relations at Central European University, completed a virtual internship at Bond Street Theatre in 2021 during the height of the COVID pandemic, and later, brought the company to Kazakhstan for a project around gender-based and domestic violence in collaboration with the Union of Crisis Centers. The Union of Crisis Centers (UCC) is an umbrella organization of 19 women’s shelters and regional projects fighting for gender equality and against gender-based violence (GBV) across Kazakhstan. Together, the two organizations conducted a month-long training program and created a play together which they performed in five different cities around the country: Almaty, Ust-Kamenogorsk, Nur-Sultan, Kostanay, and Kokshetau. The goal was to create a safe space for dialogue, interact with the audiences and communicate practical information about how to deal with domestic violence in various scenarios. 

We had the chance to talk to Nina about her experience and how she managed to put together a whole project without having any professional theatre experience…

Participate in projects without theatre experience? Not impossible! 

In the interview, Nina shared the intricacies of project management with us. As expected, it is indeed very different then the academic world. It is way more practical than theoretical – you need to create budgets, write grant proposals, make the plan and coordinate its implementation. However, there is no need to fear, as Nina suggested some aspects of her studies were also relevant in the ‘real’ world. Nina’s academic skills were very welcomed when it came to problem analysis around issues of social justice, which in the case of Kazakhstan, was gender-based and domestic violence. Before writing a project you need to have an intricate awareness of the issue you wish to address and understand the ways in which you can help. 

Writing the project and actually getting the grant to DO IT are two very different things. Nina did them both! She does not have a formal education in theatre, but it has always had a special place in her life. Once she arrived in Kazakhstan, she met the founders of Bond Street Theatre for the first time in real life, and got started right away. The Kazakh team did not have any previous theatre experience, so the first thing was to teach them some basics to make everyone understand that everyone CAN enjoy theatre and that you do not necessarily have to go to acting school to be able to perform on stage. 

As the team got to know each other better and the training days were over, they started working on the play itself. However, it turned out that the members of the Union Crisis Centre did not think they would be acting in the play as well !? Let's read how that turned out!

Q: How did the execution of the project go? What do you think were the pros and cons of doing the project in such a concentrated amount of time, especially with people who haven't done theatre before? I'm sure you saw so much growth as the show was happening.

A: I think we always want to have more time for the show to be perfect. But it worked! And it worked with people that are not experienced at all. It was intense, the rehearsals and the tour – we spent all day rehearsing together, 6 days a week. Thankfully, we had preparatory online sessions before that, so we could talk about our vision for the play beforehand. 

And of course, the tour was also  intense if you're traveling so much. We started in a city in the north, and because the country is so big, you have to fly everywhere. It was a very tight schedule: you arrive, and maybe two hours later, you already have to be in the theatre to prepare. And then the next day you travel to the next city. So the touring phase is very intense. But it was a young team, and people knew what they were signing up for. The excitement also helps with the stress!

Q: Do you have one experience from the project that really stands out?

A: Women that were affected by domestic violence themselves came to watch the show. And then they spoke out about it, for the first time, during the post-performance discussion. So they said, “this is the first time that I'm talking about it.” We tried to highlight how it's not an issue behind closed doors, and it's not the victims fault. It's something that comes from society, from a patriarchal society. It was so great to see these women speak about it, and feel safe to speak about it. And for them to say “this happened to me, but I managed to get out of this abusive relationship.” That's what I do the work for, to reach these people. 

Q: What has it been like since you completed the project in Kazakhstan? Have you stayed in touch with the people you worked with there? Have you seen any projects or work that they've been doing?

A: We only completed 8 out of the 10 planned post-show workshops while we were there, so they conducted one or two more after the BST team left. And they also did one or two more shows without us, because the idea is that we helped UCC to create the play, but then they are able to sustain it as an organization. We completed the project in July, and then in November, we found out that they did another show. So that's a really nice result to see that they continued even 4 months later… We try to stay in touch, and if I see another grant in this region, I will definitely try to apply for it. And maybe we could do a new collaboration across the borders with Kyrgyzstan, for example.

Q: What about this project warms your heart when you look back on it?

A: Alia, the Project Coordinator from the Kazakh side, was amazing. I think much of the success of the project is because of her. We clicked immediately, and we were very close from the beginning. She was just so great in managing the project and so passionate.. And the funny thing was that in the beginning, she didn't understand that they would be part of the show – she thought that she would just coordinate logistics, and maybe do the social media. And then, after a few days, she learnt that she would be one of the actors! She said, “Ah, so I can act too!” and we said, “Yeah, that's really the idea – that you will become the actor.” And she didn't have any experience with theater before that, but she was so, so, so, amazing. She's just a great role model.

Q: Finally, what kinds of projects do you want to see Bond Street doing in the future?

A: I would love to work on the borders of Europe. There are so many refugee camps, on the Greek islands, for example. And the situation is really, really bad, and how people are treated is really, really messed up. So I think a dream project for me would be to do something there, maybe with women, because they are the most affected by the circumstances there. 

Wednesday, September 27, 2023

Palestine 2023 - Youth Engagement: Providing Mental Health Support through the Arts

This year, Bond Street Theatre collaborated with Fragments Theatre, a Palestinian cultural NGO, on a project in the occupied Palestinian city of Jenin in the West Bank. Together they completed an Arts for Psychosocial support training program engaging 10 youth from Fragments Theatre, the Youth Development Resources Centre in Jenin, the Youth Center in Aljalmeh Village, and Step Association in Arrabah. In Jenin, and the West Bank, life is marked by oppression of the Israeli regime and fear for their own lives or safety of their families. Youth in the city have no access to cultural spaces other than Fragments Theatre and have limited other ways of using their time as a positive outlet under the constant threat of violence. 

The program used theatre, arts and digital storytelling to give youth an outlet for self expression and support their mental health, foster social inclusion and address psychosocial issues identified by the youth themselves. Through a series of 14 short videos the youth reflected upon topical issues and their own  life experiences in Jenin and reached a much wider audience by sharing them on social media: ‘Fragments Theatre Speaks Out’. Afterward, they facilitated a series of 7 theatre workshops in Jenin to share what they had learned with other members of the community, bringing joy and creativity to the elderly, schoolchildren, and women's groups.

Why Theatre? 

“The beauty of this video series is that it was created organically and flowed with the process of our collaboration. Fragments Theatre Speaks Out (series) took inspiration from the immediate happenings in Jenin, Palestine. The series tackles the major theme of light and dark as it becomes manifest in the city.” – Rahma Ahmad, Program Participant, 26 years old

‘One of the powerful things about theatre is that it is so personal,

you put your whole body into it. You tell stories, you act out stories,

even in theatrical games you're telling a story in a sense.

You're not just saying it, but you're acting it’ - Tim, Program Teaching Artist 

Recounting the Healing Power of Theatre with Tim 

‘Theatre allows people to speak up even when they don't know what else to do.’ - Tim 

There was one day that I found was so powerful. Right in the middle of our stay in Jenin, a Palestinian activist and prisoner, Khadar Adnan, died in a hunger strike. He had spent 3 months not eating, because he was under administrative detention and out in jail without a trial. When he died, everything shut down. Nobody was out, and it was a weekday, it was as if Jenin was a ghost town. You could feel the tension in the air, almost as something you could grasp. We were continuing our workshop in the theatre, so people were coming in. Everybody’s body posture was just crunched in, it was as if everybody just felt small. One participant admitted that they were only here because they had to. What was the point even? What is going on? 

We started to think about ways we could respond.

What could we do to think about things in a new way? How

do we talk about the violence and tragedy that occurs every

day in Palestine in a symbolic way? How do we talk about

the hardship itself without directly talking about it? The idea

that came up was making a video to share on social media

about the hunger strike in the prison, but by using hands.

One hand would represent the prison guard and throw out a

piece of bread to the prisoners. The hands representing the

prisoners would grab the pieces of bread, but one hand

would refuse. This happened again and again, day after day.

The hand that refused to accept the bread would get slower

and weaker as time passed by until one day it just died.

The guard went to the prisoner, picked up the hand and slammed it on the table and dragged it away.

The other prisoners started banging their hands on the table. 

It was  a powerful moment. It was such a beautiful way to talk about our feelings in a very simple way that people are able to hear without repeating the same information over and over again. Once we made the video, the mood changed drastically. People were themselves again and were energetic. It was not because they had suddenly solved whatever issue was around them, but they were able to express and talk about it. They realized that they CAN say something and CAN post on social media even if it is a small thing. If they had not come to the theatre, they said, they would just be in their homes feeling powerless, like they cannot do anything about it. At least this was a way for them to push back a little bit and say ‘no’. 


Facing Bitter Reality: Leaving

It is heavy. It was bittersweet, because Palestine has been resisting the occupation since 1948. It's been over 70 years. As an American, you can leave and just be like ‘that was so tough’, but you get to go home and kind of look at that from afar.  However, these people are continuing to live this very intense experience that was even a lot for three weeks for a foreigner coming in. For the project itself, you could tell that there was energy going forward. They want to keep working with other youth, children, elders, and women in their community, they want to keep posting social media videos, and they have! There was a lot of energy towards the end.


After the program completed, participants overwhelmingly felt that they had created a “safe space” where they could support each other both artistically and psychosocially, despite many of them having never met before. They expressed their desire to continue using theatre in their personal lives, as it helped improve confidence and mental health outcomes, as well as in their professional lives and work with vulnerable communities. Many were eager to continue collaborating with BST in the future, and to start their own new projects including a recycling education program using live theatrical performances.