Centennial play tackles refugee crisis
Production an adaptation of journalist’s graphic novel Escape from Syria
The drama team at Welland Centennial Secondary School is again combining creativity with social justice, with a play tackling a challenging international crisis.
Students and teachers are adapting Samya Kullab’s 2017 graphic novel “Escape from Syria,” which centres on young Amina and her family’s struggle to survive in the face of war, displacement, poverty and relocation.
Kullab, who is from Canada and now lives and works in Iraq, created a fictionalized account of her four years of correspondence while working for the Daily Star in Lebanon.
Drama teacher Max Ingrao said he read the book over the summer and was so inspired by the possible directions his students could take with it, he sent an email to Kullab. To his surprise, she replied almost immediately and arranged with her publisher permission for the graphic novel to be adapted for the stage.
Ingrao said he was certain his students would be on board with it because they tackled the subject in workshops.
“It showed me this is something the kids want to explore,” he said.
This isn’t the first time Centennial students have delved into
potentially difficult subject matter. In 2017, the school produced an original play, “Sisters in Spirit,” which dealt with missing and murdered Indigenous women. The play, for which students collaborated with Indigenous teachers in forming, received top honours at the Sears Drama Festival and high praise following a performance in front of an audience at Six Nations of the Grand River.
Work on the new play began in September with students getting to know each other and getting comfortable moving their body in a theatrical setting. About a month into the process they began doing readings and brainstorming interpretation ideas.
The individual parts weren’t so much auditioned for as assigned — or discovered — through the workshopping process.
On Jan. 7, the cast and crew met Kullab, who stopped by during rehearsal.
Ingrao said it was an honour to meet her, and the class was particularly thrilled to be given her blessing to adapt the story as they see fit.
“It’s trusting in our interpretation of the book and our intentions in telling the story,” he said. “Our intention is education; our intention is giving a voice to the recently resettled and the displaced through our medium.”
The students are involved in all aspects of the project, from developing the script, to creating the music and stage effects. Music students write the music based on what they see watching them rehearse. With help from a technician from Shaw Festival Theatre, they got a tip to fabricate stage barbed wire using rubber aquarium tubes, and for the sound of air bombers flying by, they slowly drew a bow across a violin string. The production also makes use of coloured lights and strives to match the scheme used in the graphic novel.
Kullab said she’s impressed by the all the artistic elements the students introduce.
“There’s such smart choices,” she said. “They’re taking it and making it their own. I think it’s really incredible.”
“Escape from Syria” runs Thursday, Feb. 28, and Friday, March 1, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for students/ seniors and can be purchased at the door or by calling the school at 905-735-0700.
Aidan Barron plays Yousef, the brother of lead character Amina in Welland Centennial Secondary School’s production of Samya Kullab’s graphic novel Escape from Syria.
Senzenina De Freitas plays the lead role of Amina in Welland Centennial Secondary School’s adaptation of journalist Samya Kullab’s graphic novel Escape from Syria.