Cen­ten­nial play tack­les refugee cri­sis

Pro­duc­tion an adap­ta­tion of jour­nal­ist’s graphic novel Es­cape from Syria

The Welland Tribune - - Front Page - MIKE ZET­TEL

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.

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