Before the war I was a child… But after the war I discovered I’m not a child any more, and that Gaza, unlike all cities of the world, doesn’t have children in it– Mahmud (Born 1994, Al Jalaa’ Street)
What comes of a childhood spent in a warzone, one fraught with so much loss and pain?
In ‘The Gaza Mono-Logues’ Palestinian children speak of bombs killing relatives, destroyed homes, electricity and food shortages but they are still children, and so it is not the politics that is the focus of their narrative.
One child speaks of running back into a house to grab her teddy bear, another of how her mother will not stop repeating herself, a third about her grandmother searching for missing false teeth. Written by young adults aged between 14 – 18 years, these narratives are so revealing, says the play’s producer Iromi Perera, each is filled with innocence, and even humour as these children navigate an extremely perilous landscape.
For those who missed it last year, this February Floating Space will be staging a rerun of the monologues, this time in honour of the 67th birth anniversary of Dr. Neelan Tiruchelvam – but they’re also hoping that the production will spark interest in a Sri Lankan version of the production.
While these are stories very specific to Gaza, theatre companies around the world have staged ‘The Gaza Mono-Logues’ not only to show solidarity for Palestine but also for children growing up in warzones everywhere. Iromi explains that the monologues were written during a yearlong drama therapy and creative writing workshop held by Ashtar Theatre in that region. Floating Space selected just under half of the 30 monologues that Ashtar offered them. And while most companies have opted to do simple readings of the monologues, the directors’ decision to dramatize it adds to the impact of each individual story. (Jake Oorloff and Ruhanie Perera serve as directors for this production and Tracy Jayasinghe is an assistant director.)
For the audience itself, Iromi imagines that it takes a moment for it to really sink in that these are true stories. Unsurprisingly, when a 13-year-old goes out to buy a loaf of bread, only to see his brother thrown 100 feet by an explosion, it is a tragedy that is hard to come to terms with. But the play doesn’t allow you to disconnect, especially since it is told in the voices of those most vulnerable.
The company is so taken with the concept, that later this year they hope to take the framework of ‘The Gaza Mono-Logues’ and work with children in Sri Lanka, says Iromi, adding that they hope to include children not only those who grew up in the warzone but those who were indirectly affected by bombs that claimed civilians in the city, and those who have family members serving in the army.
Also essential to the success of the production is the choice of young actors to portray their counterparts in Gaza. However, that decision presents its own set of challenges. Iromi, who was deeply involved with the previous production as well, says that this time the youngest actor is 12, the eldest 20. “We wanted the cast to really understand the gravity of the topic,” she explains, adding that we wanted them to see that it was not just about the war in Gaza but about children caught in conflict zones all over the world. “In fact, some of the monologues could have been written by children here,” she says.
The Gaza Mono-Logues will be staged on February 5 and 6 at 7.30 p.m. at Park Street Mews. This production stars Chalana Wijesuriya, Vishan Gunawardena, Kumudithe Perera, Amaz Irshad, Eraj Gunewardena, Naveen Nishane, Tazmin Anthoniz, Ruqaiyah Kamil, Zahabiya Adamaly, Roshaya Abbey, Megan, Aksha Suares, and Vishvanee Heentilake. Tickets priced at Rs. 500 are available at the venue.