IAS recently sat down with Miguel, an actor, director and graduate of the 2014 semester to talk about what brought him to the program, his work at home in Portugal and the incredible theater project he started with a group of students from Baqa, culminating in a couple of performances, one at the school's graduation and the other at IAS's semester end party. Below is our interview and a video of the girls rehearsing!
Intensive Arabic Semester: What brought you to Intensive Arabic Semester? How did you encounter the program, and what drew you to it?
Miguel Barros: I found out about the course from a friend, he told me about the different components: the language, culture and everything surrounding it.
And of course there’s my interest in conflict resolution, which is really the work that I do at home through theater. And this country (Israel) is really loved by everyone that thinks about conflict resolution, which, of course, includes myself.
IAS: Tell us about the work that you do at home. How is it related to your interest in conflict resolution?
MG: I am the director of a project called Teatro Ibisco, started in 2002, which is part of the umbrella Choices project.[*] We are a theater, which hosts kids from difficult socioeconomic and familial backgrounds, at risk of becoming gang members, working with them through theater to gain tools to become citizens.
Generally my work can be classified as conflict prevention and resolution work. The theater teaches our actors (the kids) to have awareness and critical sense towards society, and works against victimizing themselves—thinking the system is against them. Sometimes, of course, the system is, but if they have a pessimistic point of view, it absolutely will be. We’re now working with the 2nd generation of kids, the 1st is now teaching the second! In addition to our theater work, the project has expanded, we have opened spaces for the community, a bar, gallery, gym and now have two auditoriums.
IAS: Wow! So can you tell us a bit about your experience with IAS, and the work you’ve done here?
MG: Well, first, I fell in love with the language and tried to make the best of the course, which meant absorbing and experiencing as much as I could. Listening to people talking about their lives, their own perspective, the idea of how they deal with the many issues that are related to this country.
After a few weeks, I thought it would be interesting if I could implement the methodology I use in Portugal—working with kids, not necessarily from troubled neighborhoods, but people who had different perspectives in the country. So I started not one but two projects. One in Haifa in collaboration with Agial youth group and one in Baqa at the Ibn Al Haytham school. The one in Baqa, due to logistics and immense support from the school continued and developed, ultimately giving birth to a 10 minute play.
IAS: How did the play come to be? What did the project look like?
MG: Well, we started with a group of girls and boys, but that dwindled to a group of girls. This was actually very positive; it helped the girls feel comfortable as young women in theater. They call themselves Bannaat Baqa (The Baqa Girls) and they went through the process of preparing a whole play through our methodology. I had originally thought just to do one workshop, but it morphed and we had rehearsals once a week for 3 months.
First we did exercises and relaxation skills, gaining self-confidence and communication skills—the work is always based on improvisations. At first I gave ideas for them to work on, and they would tell little stories about these subjects. The girls then took these ideas, telling stories and presented them to each other in groups of 3 or 4, and everyone gave their opinion, after which I would work with them, explaining errors made in the storytelling, in terms of “good theater” and they would revise them.
After this process the girls democratically decided which improvisations (which were all in Arabic, at the beginning I thought they might be bilingual, but this wasn’t a priority so we followed natural impulses—the best improvisations were in Arabic.) would be taken as the basis for the play. We then worked to improve them, decided as a team how to find a common narrative, make all things a part of a whole. We had one class on how to structure a narrative, how to have conflict which is a must. Found a way of making all the bits and pieces a single story and now we have a ten-minute play!
In the end, the girls chose an improvisation about a disabled girl with 6 sisters, none of whom respect her. They are very cruel, sometimes because they want to be, sometimes just by accident. And then the story unfolds from there. It’s all about empowerment.
IAS: How exactly did the first ideas develop?
MB: Well, at the advice of Haneen (English teacher, and coordinator of the school/IAS exchange) we took up the Ministry of Education theme for schools in Israel this year, “Embracing the Other.”
IAS: An amazing process! And did the girls perform the plays? Have other people seen them? What have you taken away from seeing their experience?
MB: Yes, it was performed twice! Once for the school’s graduation in front of hundreds of people in Baqa, and the second time at the IAS end of year celebration at Givat Haviva.
In terms of the experience, I was not worried about making it as perfect as a professional show—I was much more interested in the process. In the play we use one of [Mahmoud] Darwish’s poems about the Other, a traditional song, and Zaghrouta, the traditional Palestinan unulation, which did initially pose a problem. There was concern about the girls projecting such a noise in a public way.
This was hard; there were so many questions of identity tied into it. I felt there was concern about kind of countering the collapsing of globalization—where everyone having the same identity with the same songs, same cars, same lifestyles. It acted in two ways, the inclusion of traditional cultural elements in the play, but also some discomfort about the kind of activities the girls were partaking in, which maybe went against traditional cultural ideas of what is acceptable for them to do.
But I really believe everyone needs to find the roots of their culture, it is a very fluid thing (identity too) you can be a lot of things at one time. But for an Arab being an Israeli should not be about forgetting their Palestinian roots, and this is one of the things that’s so beautiful about this country. Arabs will have a big responsibility in the future because they live in a very different way than the Arabs in the much of the Arab world given Israel’s plurality.
In the end it was about so much more then the play, knowing the girls before and after the process, you see such an incredible change and that’s what we’re here for. Giving the person the tools for her to empower herself, giving her tools and choices. It’s not about changing them the person changes herself.
[*] Taetro Ibisco and Choices are Portoguese government projects also supported by Barclay’s. Read more about Choices here!