On 31st October 2010 Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church in Baghdad became the bloody scene of yet another explosion which left 52 people dead. In October 2011, Voices of Baghdad rehearsed in the building opposite the church before its premiere performance in Erbil on October 8th. It is a performance of theatre reportage in which four young Iraqi actors from Baghdad under the direction of Annet Henneman (Teatro di Nascosto) tell the reality they are living in this city that still knows no peace.
Annet Henneman speaks about her work and the experiences that she made with Ali, Yasir, Fouad and Mustafa. The interview was made by Arabella Lawson, who has been helping to organise and who will be performing in the Incontri-Meetings this October (see below).
Arabella Lawson: How does your work of theatre reportage confront the violence of life in Baghdad?
Annet Henneman: In the performance we speak about the bombs that were exploding in the Church. It is a young Muslim man who speaks about it. A young Muslim man who was so touched by the situation of the Christian people, having been forced to escape abroad, that he felt ashamed as a Muslim: it is right for Christians as well to be in their own country. So he made a work of theatre reportage in remembrance 40 days after the attack.
I want to go to where people are living through violence. That is where the work for peace is needed. In April I went out to the University and began to plan this project with Ali Kaream.
Also amongst the actors, in the work of theatre reportage – in which the performers all live together, share stories – we have to find new ways of working together. Instead of resorting to conflict, we all have to learn how to build up a constructive way of being together.
AL: What were the reactions to the performance in Erbil?
Myself, being a Western woman, I was inside of this situation, playing a mother of South Iraq. In the performance and during the work, because of the age difference between myself and the actors, they became like my children in the familiarity created by sharing such intense stories of war, of losing family members, of witnessing explosions, of seeing people die on the road. The familiarity created an acceptance: I became an Iraqi, first for the actors and then for the audience. It is extraordinary for them when someone from outside wants to really share their life with them – “you share our situation, you risk the same risks with us, you are not just a person who looks from the outside and goes back, only going to the safe places...”
Especially women were very touched. They have such a difficult situation. Already life is difficult with the danger of the bombings in these war-like circumstances. However, women in this culture have such little recognition as decision-makers and their suffering. If it was not for the children who love their mothers it would be even more difficult for them to live a life where their husband can go to all places. The women are imprisoned in the culture and they felt recognised in this performance.
AL: What role do you feel your work has to play in the context of peace development? How is it different and why is it important?
AH: With my background as a therapist, I try to work in a very delicate way with these people who have such a painful past. I must find a way to make them open up. It must be in a way that is not too much for other people to hear. It has to be done in way that it is constructive - sharing the pain and sharing painful memories and sharing hopelessness.
The tough physical training I do is very important, so the body has the possibility to release tensions and blocks caused by very painful experiences and by not being able to express yourself, to pay attention of yourself and to work with the body. To express yourself and to open up makes them stronger as actors but is also very good for them in a city where drawing attention to yourself by any behaviour or appearance that is a little bit different is dangerous.
When it is possible to have this kind of sharing? I just can’t stand the fact that people in Baghdad are left so alone in their misery, in their struggling to survive and to find a kind of balance and hopefully peace. No one cares. A taxi-driver in Florence once said to me: “But why do you not just stay at home and let them sort it out amongst themselves?” They are left alone at the level of humanity, of human solidarity. People don’t even react when you say “at the age of 26 they have lived through three wars…”; it doesn’t mean anything. If they just saw the performance…
Those who can avoid living in Baghdad, leave, others stay. It is their home and they want to try to do something to change the situation. But many are imprisoned in this city. I don’t even think that I can help. I leave and the situation remains the same. But it’s the fact that there is no understanding, that there is no empathy. It must be repeated many times on TV for people to speak about it. People living a life of relative luxury don’t feel connected [with those in war, under oppression, in prison or in poverty]. In my work I tell about how much it means to know that people are speaking about you when you feel so alone in a moment of torture, of solitude in your cell. Then it means such a lot that someone cares. I don’t know how one can help. What can I do? If you tell someone about something they didn’t know, then already you have done something because you changed their understanding of the lives of people living through war or people who escaped from war.
Sharing people’s life is so important in this work. To stand beside the people and not above them, living the same difficult situation. It brings real understanding and to them it feels like we are standing side by side. It creates a very strong and motivated working relationship.
Incontri – Meetings 27-30th October 2011, Volterra ITALY Teatro di Nascosto’s new workspace
In Baghdad, October 2010, 58 people were killed in Our Lady of Salvation Catholic Church. In Baghdad, October 2011, Annet Henneman held rehearsals for a new theatre reportage: Voices of Baghdad.
From the 27th to 30th October, Ali, Yasir, Fouad and Mustafa will be among over thirty performers, writers, artists, journalists, directors and musicians from Palestine, Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Turkey, Kurdistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Spain, Holland and the UK to raise their own voices and those who have no voice, but living through conflict, through oppression and imprisonment, poverty.
The programme of all the meetings and exchanges will be available soon, detailing the performances, concerts, exhibitions and conferences to which are coming: Iman Aoun (Director of Ashtar Theatre from Ramallah, Palestine and director of the world-travelled production The Gaza Monologues); Savas Boyraz (Kurdish photographer from Turkey whose exhibition documents the life now led by those who had to flee their burning villages); Selwa Zako (a 75-year-old award-winning (press freedom prize by Information Safety Freedom) journalist from Iraq now living as a refugee in Amman, Jordan); Roberto Bacci (founder and director of Fondazione Pontedera Teatro and Teatro Era); Farqin Azad and Cafer Akarsu (renowned Kurdish singer and member of the group Koma Azad, and the youngest Dengbej singer in Turkish Kurdistan); Mehdi Zana (former mayor of Diyarbakir, Turkish Kurdistan; imprisoned and tortured for many years in Turkey, author of Prison No. 5); Mahmoud Badr (a young Egyptian actor whose account of the demonstrations and of his arrest he is currently telling in a monologue performed across Egypy); Mohammed Al Ma’aita (a young Palestinian poet living in Amman); Khyam Allami (renowned Iraqi oud-player and composer); Ana Alvarez (film and television director, Goya award-winner and member of the Academia del Cine Español); the group of London students performing Iran: Forgotten Stories to shout the cries of protesters who for doing so in Iran risk unknown abuse for themselves and those closest to them behind the bars of Evin Prison.
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