WRITING WORKSHOP WITH PALESTINIAN PLAYWRIGHT AHMED MASOUD
On the 9th of June 2017, Outside The Frame Arts in collaboration with HOME arts centre, produced an event which brought acclaimed Palestinian playwright Ahmed Masoud to Manchester to deliver an exclusive writing workshop with participants. Having had the pleasure of engaging with his work through our initial project Platform For Palestinian Arts in 2016
( https://youtu.be/jbmxchDOBMg ) and realising the demand that exists for a much more diverse body of literature, we wanted to continue the work with our ethos in mind, platforming voices that are unheard in the mainstream and challenging the gatekeepers of knowledge. Too often minority voices are silenced, written for, spoken to or erased completely and the crucial need to decolonise, re-center and give agency back to individuals to narrate their own stories is just as pertinent now as it ever was.
So, funded and supported by Future Ventures Radical Arts Fund, Outside The Frame Arts arranged for the workshop to be held in the morning and was attended by 15 diverse participants from a variety of creative backgrounds. The workshop explored aspects of theatre writing including storytelling, plot devices and character building as well as giving participants an insight to the challenges faced by Ahmed Masoud’s writing as a person of colour in a world where the Palestinian narrative is so contested. Themes raised in the workshop included the representation of trauma, the silenced voice, comedy as a political tool and the nuances of our human condition.
Everyone was encouraged to share and the inclusive workshop was useful to the participants in terms of their creative development. Ahmed’s encouraging and positive manner provided a safe and comfortable space for learning and many were inspired by the diverse writing and technical tools he introduced them to.
‘The workshop was inspiring and helpful and it was great to meet and learn from different people.’
‘It gave me a chance to learn more about Palestine and what it means to struggle.’ The event has been fabulous, very interesting, fun, creative and a great opportunity to benefit from Ahmed’s experience which he has communicated in a generous and organized way.’
‘It was really helpful at this point in my life and work because I lack the confidence and strategies to begin writing. The exercises were really clear, helpful and very effective.’
‘I attended the workshop as I want to be a successful working writer and Outside The Frame Arts give high quality opportunities to develop writers.’
READING OF THE SHROUD MAKER written by AHMED MASOUD, DIRECTED BY RICHARD BEECHAM, PERFORMED BY KATHRYN HUNTER
The writing workshop was followed up the next day by a reading of Ahmed Masoud’s dark comedy ‘The Shroud Maker’ which charted the journey of a woman’s story of survival through modern history. This compelling satirical play was directed by Richard Beecham and performed by internationally renowned actress Kathryn Hunter whose portrayal of 80 year old Hajja Souad living on the besieged Gaza strip, was deeply moving.
The play delved deeply into the intimate life of ordinary Palestinians weaving a path through Palestine’s turbulent past and present. The staged reading successfully sold out with many being added to a waiting list. It drew in an extremely diverse audience of around 90 people, many of who were from a Black Asian & Minority ethnic background. Activists supporting the Palestinian cause were interested to see how politics and the arts are intrinsically connected. Many in the audience felt a sense of solidarity and a need to offer support since the event highlighted bringing minority voices to the forefront. Some who attended were artists curious to see new work. Overall the subject matter though universal, also explored the nuances of ‘ordinary people living in extraordinary circumstance’. The added bonus of the talented and well-known actor Kathryn Hunter also drew in a wider audience.
Inclusive and diverse audience engagement is vital to us at Outside The Frame Arts as often we have found through our engagement with the arts that theatre is inaccessible to many marginalised and underrepresented communities – largely being an arena consisting of and catering for the white middle class. This event represented how a real investment for change – a conscious step away from the status quo, can reshape and redefine the demographics of audience development, create a better understanding between people who would not normally engage with each other and enhance community spirit on a local and global level. It also encourages well-known establishments to reevaluate their outreach work and be open to welcoming diverse artists as skilled and talented contributors with distinct experience and knowledge, into the structures that make up the arts world.
The event closed with a Q&A session with Ahmed Masoud hosted by co-director of Outside The Frame Arts, Hafsah Aneela Bashir, opening up space for the audience to have an engaging and in-depth discussion with Ahmed spanning comedy, literature, his childhood, representation and moral responsibility through the arts.
Ahmed Masoud was extremely generous and warm, discussing the complexities of his experience as a Palestinian writer and the challenges he has faced with his work. He explained how he was unable to go to Palestine to attend a well-known literature festival he had been invited to speak at, yet his British friends crossed the border easily.
As a Palestinian man, we learnt that the restriction on his freedom and basic human rights informs how and why he chooses to write. He emphasised that for him, it was imperative to write. In this vein, as a writer fighting for survival, there is no choice but to put pen to paper. He garnered a positive response from the audience many of whom stated they wanted to learn more about the region, its culture and the rich canon of arts it has to offer.
‘A terrific production – wonderful and so moving to be able to see something here in Manchester that so vividly conveys the spirit of survival of ordinary people in Palestine.’
‘Fantastic and original work. I’d love to see more play readings and other work of this caliber.’
‘It was a great experience. The play was very heart-touching. Hunter was brilliant. Thanks for organizing and bringing Palestine spirit to Manchester’.
‘I find this more powerful than direct examples of war. Human experience and comedy worked really well. Well done to everyone involved in this production.’