Monday, December 10, 2018

The Freedom Theatre’s “Jinan” brings much needed relief to Jenin Camp


By Ruth Regan - February 19, 2018
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Section: [Main News] [Culture] [Features]
Tags: [Freedom Theatre ] [Jenin] [Jenin Refugee Camp] [Jenin Freedom Theater] [IDF]

It has been a tumultuous six weeks in Jenin Refugee Camp.
 
Following the killing of Rabbi Raziel Shevach on January 9, Israeli military forces carried out a heavy manhunt to track down the suspected shooter.
 
'Israeli occupation broke into the city of Jenin from all directions and searched the houses,’ reported Haaretz.
 
The Israeli forces were searching for 22-year-old, Ahmad Nasr Jarrar, who they suspected of killing Rabbi Shevach.
 
On February 6, they located him in his village of al-Yamoun and killed him, extrajudicially.
 
At least eight others were injured, a room and a barn were demolished.
 
Prior to finding Jarrar, Israeli forces mistook his cousin to be him, killing him on January 18.
 
Outside of the family, 19-year-old Ahmad Abu-Obeid was killed on February 3 with a shot to the head by the Israeli military, during a raid in Burqin, close-by Jenin.
 
These events have served as the backdrop to rehearsals for “Jinan”, the latest production to take place at The Freedom Theatre. Established in 2006 in the heart of Jenin refugee camp, the theatre holds the tag line 'Generating Cultural Resistance’.
 
A scene from the production of Jinan at The Freedom Theatre
 
For the play’s Swedish director Lars-Eric Brossner, this was his first experience in Palestine. “I didn’t really know anything, I just came here,” he said.
 
“He’s been a real good sport”, remarked Avan Ansari, who runs the theatre’s international relations. But the events have “really had an impact on the way people have interacted, with the environment in being here” she said.
 
Violence and suffering has always been characteristic of life in Jenin camp.
 
“This is life in Jenin and the people here are used to it,” Ansari said.
 
The Freedom Theatre’s own founder, Juliano Mer Khamis, was killed by a masked gunman in 2011.
 
Yet his vision and passion for art as resistance persists.
 
The motto of The Freedom Theatre in Jenin, reflected in its art displays
 
The latest production blends messages of resistance and optimism as well as providing a dose of much needed joy and relief to local children. It also highlights the role of women in resistance.
 
Jinan is based upon the popular Swedish series of children’s books about Pippi Longstocking, a playful and superhumanly strong freckled girl with red hair.
 
“This is the first time Pippi Longstocking has been brought to Palestine,” said Ansari.
 
“It was really interesting how they decided to use her [Pippi Longstocking] and adapt it to the Palestinian-Arab society, using the narrative of a girl for empowerment.”
 
Ditching the red hair and freckles, Jinan has been adapted with subtleties reflecting life in Jenin camp, to resonate with the audience here.
 
“I thought it was a rather brilliant idea because [Swedish] Pippi doesn’t mean so much, but here, in the context, it’s suddenly got a new life,” said Brossner on taking Pippi to Palestine.
 
Mays Assi, playing Jinan and wearing the iconic long stockings says "Being here in Jenin gave me all the things to build the character."

The theatre, with a capacity of almost 200, saw a full-house for each of the eight shows it performed. The audience was overwhelmingly made up of children from schools in Jenin camp, as well as across Jenin city.
 
“The response … has been phenomenal. They [the children] bring so much energy, especially the young kids,” said Ansari.
 
“They’ll whoop or clap or laugh, some kids hysterically.”
 
“The reaction from the audience is really amazing. It’s a very very tough environment here, with kids aged three or four to 20,” Brossner said.
 
Jinan, accompanied by her trusty sidekick Sayed (in the form of a toy monkey) is defiantly optimistic. She is so sincerely and unapologetically kind that in one scene, she helps pull her own assailants up onto a roof.
 
The raucous children in the audience, mostly boys, cheered wildly as she took down the world’s strongest man with ease in a fight, or made policemen bump heads.
 
For Mays Assi, playing the title role with immense energy and humour, Jinan is a reflection of the people of Jenin Camp.
 
“Being here in Jenin gave me all the things to build the character in this way,” Assi said.
 
“It became less about the character and more about the people who live here.”
 
“You always see children playing games every night in places where there’s no space to play games. Even in all the suffering there is here, they are doing their games.”
 
The character reflects the model The Freedom Theatre tries to project.
 
“She [Pippi/Jinan] accepts everyone, she deals with everyone, she can be friends with everyone. She can find solution for any relationship,” Assi said.
 
“This place [Freedom Theatre] is a Holy Place, it is Palestine. Because every day you see people suffering in their situation and you believe in them because they are really making something here.”
 
Twenty or so minutes into the final production of Jinan, the electricity went out for the whole of Jenin city. The stage was plunged into darkness.
 
Crew members came forward and shined flashlights on their phones to illuminate the stage, remaining that way for the rest of the show.
 
In the spirit of Jenin, they powered on regardless.
 
“They didn’t even blink” admired Brossner after the show.
 
The Freedom Theatre will continue forward with its mission of resistance through art.
 
Its previous production Return to Palestine is set to tour Europe in the autumn and early discussions are taking place for a show relating to this year’s 70th anniversary of al-Nakba (“the catastrophe”), referring to the 1948 expelling of Palestinians from their homes.
 
They will also host their annual 3-4 day event at the start of April, commemorating the anniversary of their founder’s assassination. This year’s theme is “cooperation”.
 
“We are trying to create a cultural resistance theatre festival in Palestine. We will be putting on our most powerful shows,” Ansari said.
 
Jinan has wrapped at The Freedom Theatre but there are plans to take it on a West Bank tour within the next few months.
 
Meanwhile, the director would love to take the show to Sweden where he says there is a large Arabic speaking audience.
 
A documentary coming out early next year marking the 70th anniversary of the creation of Pippi Longstocking will feature the production.

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