Skype meets theater in Syria Romeo and Juliet

The China Post - - LIFE - BY KA­MAL TAHA

Mix­ing tra­di­tional theater with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, a new Syr­ian ver­sion of Shake­speare’s “Romeo and Juliet” is of­fer­ing a unique twist on the clas­sic love story.

Romeo is a young Syr­ian refugee in Jor­dan, and his beloved is trapped in the re­gion of Homs — their only means of com­mu­ni­ca­tion through Skype and other on­line tools.

Play­ing out on the rooftop of a makeshift hos­pi­tal for Syr­ian refugees in the Jor­da­nian cap­i­tal Am­man, the new pro­duc­tion aims to high­light the plight of those who have es­caped Syria’s dev­as­tat­ing civil war — and those left be­hind.

“We wanted, through this unique work, to draw at­ten­tion to the ar­eas un­der siege by the regime in Syria af­ter the fail­ure of hu­man­i­tar­ian or­ga­ni­za­tions to send food, wa­ter and medicine there,” said the play’s direc­tor, ac­claimed Syr­ian ac­tor Nawar Bul­bul.

“We also wanted to send a mes­sage to the world that the be­sieged peo­ple are not ter­ror­ists but chil­dren threat­ened by shelling, death and de­struc­tion.”

The play’s Romeo is Ibrahim, a 12-year-old who lost his mother and three of his sib­lings in regime shelling of Da­m­as­cus last year.

Three op­er­a­tions to his right leg saved it from am­pu­ta­tion, but the road to re­cov­ery is long and he re­quires two more op­er­a­tions.

Its Juliet is a 14-year-old girl cut off from help and her ex­tended fam­ily — one of what the U.N. says is some 440,000 civil­ians trapped in Syr­ian con­flict zones with­out ac­cess to re­lief ef­forts.

Juliet’s iden­tity and ex­act lo­ca­tion are kept se­cret, and she wears a veil through­out the per­for­mance.

As the au­di­ence watches, their love story un­folds with Ibrahim sit­ting be­fore a video feed pro­jected on a white can­vas.

‘No more love in Syria’

The real world can in­trude, with In­ter­net and elec­tric­ity out­ages in Homs some­times in­ter­rupt­ing the show.

At one per­for­mance, spec­ta­tors had to wait an hour be­fore the feed of Juliet’s bal­cony ap­peared for Romeo to de­clare his love.

Bul­bul said he be­lieves his play is the first to use Skype in such a way. He has rewrit­ten the work sub­stan­tially to re­move vi­o­lence and fo­cus in­stead on the love story.

It fol­lows a sim­i­lar project last year that saw Bul­bul pro­duce “King Lear” with child ac­tors for his “Shake­speare in Zaatari” project at the Zaatari camp north of Am­man, where some 83,000 Syr­ian refugees live.

He said his plays em­pha­size the anx­i­ety and pain chil­dren face when torn away from their homes, fam­i­lies and coun­tries.

“The aim was to hu­man­ize and in­spire the chil­dren through art. To use art as an out­let for their anger, sor­row and pain,” he told AFP.

Ibrahim said that af­ter work­ing on the pro­duc­tion for sev­eral months he has grown close to those on the other side of the cam­era.

“I hope to see them one day face- to- face once the war is over,” he said.

For the au­di­ence, many of them Syr­ian refugees as well, the play has driven home how much their coun­try has lost.

“There is no more love in Syria like in this story. The war de­stroyed all that is beau­ti­ful in my coun­try,” said Mo­hammed Hal­ima, a 24- year- old wheel­chair- bound refugee who is re­ceiv­ing treat­ment af­ter be­ing shot five times two years ago in Syria.

“We young men are the big­gest vic­tims of this in­sane war, and ev­ery­one had a love story with some­one,” Hal­ima said.

“But now we don’t know where they are or if they are still alive.”

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