Adam and Johar © Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association.
RAaW London is an organisation that specialises in providing opportunities for young people and adults within the performing arts environment. They are committed to pushing boundaries through creating important and exciting new work. For the last seven months, RAaW have been working on Endurance: Be the Change Nobody Wants to See in the World – a new production which will be performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre from 29 June to 4 July.
Endurance incorporates music, real life experiences and emotionally packed storylines. The audience is introduced to three eras and sites of social or political conflict: antebellum slavery, 1950’s London and Gaza. The result of Endurance is a unification of the rife and prevalent oppressions that many have experienced, in the past and the present. By framing these epochs through the eyes of a young female slave, a gay man and a Palestinian teenager, Endurance shows these actions and oppressions as still at force today. By asking fundamental societal questions to which we should feel urged to find answers, the production encourages the audience to consider the imbalances within the make up of our current world.
An aim going into making Endurance was to show how many identities are still intrinsically linked to a form of oppression. There are countless examples of moments where people’s basic human rights have been infringed by an unashamed populous. This is something that happens to many people everyday, including those in Palestine. We came across the work done by the charity Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association, and were particularly struck by the story of Adam Abduraouf Halabiyeh. Robbi Stevens, the artistic director of RAaW, met Adam at a community centre in North London, “I was inspired to tell his story as one of three outstanding young people in RAaW's inspirational play. On the way back from a football match Adam was shot, attacked by dogs, hit on the head repetitively with a rifle and his leg broken, cracked backwards. This was at the hands of the IDF. The manner of his delivery and humility and gratitude for just being alive made me re-think the way we choose to live our lives here in London. Palestinian people are generous, heart warming, family people who are happy to live as they choose. Unfortunately this has been taken away from them in a confusing battle of politics that has been going on for decades. We hope our play raises awareness of a real problem in normal people's lives for both Palestinians and Israeli's.”
In Abu Dis, Adam is confined by walls, check points and constant attacks. His story seemed like a coming of age story, with tangible and obtrusive barriers. Months later, Adam and Johar recovered after being treated in a hospital in Jordan. That evening as they tried to cross the boarder between Jordan and the West Bank, they were separated from their family and were arrested, despite there being no charge. They were held and eventually forced to sign documents in Hebrew with no translation in an exchange for their freedom. This concept of ‘freedom’ really struck us. It seems ridiculous how it purports universality in its meaning, yet in reality its connotation changes in different cultures. After putting his name to something he doesn’t understand, what kind of world does Adam enter as a ‘free’ man? What are the aspects of this that we take for granted? These are the questions that resonated with us, and so writing Endurance became an exploration of that.
The theme of freedom was enhanced by the work done on the other two storylines – the slave and the gay man. Although totally different worlds, they both shed light on these experiences. These two characters were chosen because they both showed how cause of peoples struggle is more likely to be opposed on them by society’s ‘norm’, rather than being self-inflicted. With the slave storyline, we felt compelled to explore how much of this type of oppression still perpetuates and remains unquestioned by society. When discussing the 1950’s homophobia, a similar light was shed. All the actors and development team were shocked to learn about awful punishments, such as chemical castration. Undermining and derogatory opinions are still rife and embedded within global culture. That said, we still wanted to show that many things have improved, in order to offer hope for those who may feel the effects of institutionalised racism or are potentially struggling to come out to family and friends.
From a writing perspective, the challenges have been about how to pick and chose content that will produce a logical, valuable and subtly emotive production. It helped during research and development to look at the music belonging to each identity to find high and low points. It also showed a strong ‘voice’ to each epoch, one that could never be taken away. This is reflected in the production, music plays a big part and also helps to enhance the visualisation of the world on stage for the audience.
We put these facets together in order to emphasise the similar themes in the oppression and identity relationships, as well as opposing ones. In the research phase of development, it became fascinating what things stood out, as well as discovering what was missing. As a result the play works in its unification. It was also useful during the workshop phase to work with the actors and see what stories resonated with them. During these conversations the notion of just wanting to live was brought up again and again – it also came with many intense accompanying emotions. Considering the stories were so emotionally provocative, it became important once rehearsals started for the actors to be able to connect emotionally with their parts. Seeing a struggle caused by empathy as they got to know their characters was particularly illuminating. It brought to light the ongoing dent the history of oppression has made on the world. Due to this, we also set out to explore these effects on current society. It's been incredibly exciting and rewarding watching the project take shape. I look forward to seeing the performances in front of an audience, hopeful that our aims will be fulfilled.