About ‘Our Stage’, A Joint Project Between Women Now and Seenaryo

Nov 2016

In their joint project, the Women Now organisation and Seenaryo organisation produced Little Dreams, a theatre play with 30 children of 11-14 age group in the Beqaa Valley region on August 13th, 2016. The play was the conclusion of Our Stage project, supported by Create Syria: a project to support Syrian arts in exile.

Below, Anas Tello from Women Now and Oscar Wood from Seenaryo, share with us some details about their journey to create ‘Our Stage’ and Little Dreams and explain their philosophy of empowering children through the arts.

Devising a 50-minute long show with original script, music, choreography and a fully-designed set is difficult. Even with professional actors in an air-conditioned studio, and with a coffee machine, it’s still tricky. So doing the same with thirty 11 – 14 year olds in the Bekaa Valley on concrete baked by the August sun (and all in five days) is indisputably a challenge. It’s as much a challenge for the adult artists as it is for the children - but it’s this necessity to defy the odds that drives the collaboration. It shouldn’t be possible to do this. That’s the bind that Seenaryo, Women Now, and thirty children find themselves in on Day 1 of a Showbuild.

Seenaryo is an arts and training organisation which works with refugees in Lebanon. The main partners are Women Now, a Syrian civil society organisation. We aim to empower participants by giving them a voice to tell their story. Storytelling is at the root of everything we do. On the first morning, children begin a Showbuild by improvising stories: in this case, the earth wearing a green coat, half the moon crying over his lost stars, and a cursed crown. Seenaryo recycle the good stuff, and throw it back to the participants who continue to refine it.

It’s easy when working with children not to take the “art” seriously. Instead to concentrate on children getting a simple show right. Seenaryo don’t buy this philosophy. The day before the show, we choreograph all five songs in three-hours of non-stop dancing. One boy has to sit out of a dance as both his fatigue and overexcitement mean he can’t cope. As an orphan who doesn’t attend regular school, it’s easy to see why this level of discipline is a challenge. But by the next day he’s learnt the dance anyway. The adult artists aim to match this commitment: mid-week, from midnight to 1am, we fiercely debate the politics of our “cursed crown”. In the end, we realise the Prince must throw the crown away.

Fast forward to 24 hours before curtain-up. Alarmingly, we’ve been banished from our performance space because the nearby football match will be too noisy. Luckily our Fairy Godmother (a charismatic Lebanese neighbor) swoops in. As the sun sets on Majdal Anjar, she drives madly across town, literally knocking on school doors until –thank goodness – someone offers us a space. There’s a beautiful garden out the back. But in order to stay in the shade, every two hours on show-day we have to unplug the PA system and move the entire stage 10 meters to the right. It’d definitely be easier to do it inside but, in the end, not quite as beautiful.

The obvious question here is: why not just do it inside? Why not settle for a little less? Why not write fewer songs or design a smaller set? Seenaryo’s answer is that children sense quality intuitively. And if they think it’s missing, then that “empowerment” doesn’t happen at all. I said that Seenaryo empower children by giving them a voice to tell a story. This is true. But we also empower children by demanding a huge amount from them. Children are resilient but only if you demand that they be resilient.

In spite of this pressure we put on children and ourselves, there are rarely any tears during the week. The tears come after the show when children start realizing what they’ve achieved. Plus plenty of smiles as the staff pose for endless selfies with cousins and siblings they’ve never met. The pride is palpable and for that 11 year-old boy from the local orphanage, we hope to have made something he’ll never forget. 

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