Posted: 12 June 2024

Theatre Spotlight: ASHTAR THEATRE (Ramallah-Palestine)

Edward Muallem and Iman Aoun in ORANGES AND STONES

ASHTAR is a bold and visionary Palestinian theatre / non-profit organisation established in 1991 in Jerusalem as the first theatre training initiative for youth in Palestine with a truly progressive community-centered global perspective.

Two Palestinian prominent actors, Edward Muallem and Iman Aoun, who have worked in theatre since 1977 (the former also established Hakawati Theatre in Jerusalem), are the founders of ASHTAR. Under the artistic directorship of Emile Saba, they aim to promote creativity and commitment for change with a true commitment to freedom.

This month, enjoy this special theatre spotlight with the founding members, Edward and Iman.

You founded ASHTAR Theatre in 1991 during the first Intifada, as a new initiative to set up the first drama training programme for schools in Jerusalem and Ramallah. It was unique at the time, designed to create a new generation of young actors and actresses. Tell us about the challenges you had to face and how you overcame them.

Getting out of the Intifada – where many young people had lost their education – we thought the best way to restore their hope and provide them with a horizon was through theatre. Yet it was the first time for such a project to be launched in the country on a large scale as we have started working in 12 schools together in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The schools were not used to having drama lessons and never had theatre part of their curriculum, while very few schools used to have extracurricular programs. Quickly ASHTAR Drama Program became very appealing for many schools who started asking our theatre to implement the program with their students.

ORANGES AND STONES was co-created with Mojisola Adebayo and you’ve been touring the play across the world for over 10 years. How did the collaboration with Mojisola come about?

Mojisola started coming to Palestine in 1999 – she was coming to train us in the techniques of Theatre of the Oppressed. After some years of continuous work with ASHTAR on different Forum Plays, Mojisola wanted to create a play that could reach as many people as possible to raise awareness of the true meaning of occupation in Palestine. Thus, the play followed a device mode, and the group created the story.

Was there a particular moment when you knew you wanted to be in theatre?

[Iman] I suppose I always strived for a platform to express myself. Especially when you live under occupation all your life you want to help yourself and others by motivating them to make change. My way was through my body and voice on stage.

Who were your creative inspirations growing up?

Growing up, all we knew were the Egyptian movies that played for a limited number of hours on TV. We had very little exposure to art (especially in the ’70s and ’80s) as Palestine, being under the Israeli occupation, was completely cut off from the Arab World.

What is a mantra you live by?

Everyone has a role in the socio-political change.

Next month, ASHTAR Theatre will be bringing their production, ORANGES AND STONES to the UK. Co-created by Mojisola Adebayo and presented by Tamasha and Shubbak, there will only be eight performances in the UK. Available to book now.

Discover more about ASHTAR Theatre and their call for Global Support – an urgent opportunity to support culture and mental health in Palestine.