‘Them’ is an act of beautiful resistance

Matt Hewson

For Samah Sabawi, the playwright behind ‘Them’, resistance is most effective when expressed through beauty.

“As an activist, as a writer, as a woman, all the things that I am, I’ve found that you need to be able to enjoy fighting for what you believe in,” Ms Sabawi said.

“It cannot be all dreary and dark. The act of resisting itself is very rewarding and beautiful.”

‘Them’ will feature at Geelong Arts Centre from Tuesday, August 2 to Saturday, August 6, and tells the story of a group of friends contemplating fleeing their war-torn city.

The stellar cast is diverse and multitalented, including Taj Aldeeb, Abdulrahman Hammoud and Claudia Greenstone, and the actors bring their own experiences as migrants, refugees, and parents to the work.

Born in Palestine, Ms Sabawi knows firsthand the horrors of living under oppression, but also seeks in her works to juxtapose that horror with the simple joys and beauty of the everyday life that continues under the shadow of war.

“When I’m presenting these stories I try to make them not only authentic to the tragedy they tell, but also to the beauty of life in these parts,” Ms Sabawi said.

“There’s always music, there’s always poetry. There’s always a love story, a chase.

“All the things that we experience and take for granted, day-to-day in our privileged lives, they still happen. And they are felt a lot more profoundly in places where it is dark, where there is war, where there is oppression.”

Ms Sabawi based the play on her experiences and the stories she heard at Yarmouk, at one time the largest unofficial Palestinian refugee camp in Syria; in 2002 Yarmouk was home to 112,000 registered refugees, but its population was reduced to mere hundreds after the Syrian civil war and its occupation by ISIL.

Ms Sabawi is an advocate, a scholar, and a member of various international bodies in an advisory capacity, but she views her work as an author and playwright as her most important contribution.

“Art is the most important part of the work that I do,” she said.

“Theatre, specifically, is so special. It’s really about building communities and reaching out to different segments of society, speaking in diverse languages and tongues and modes of expression.

“When it comes to the idea of resistance, it’s about building movements, getting people to see things that need to change, and compelling them about why that change is needed.

“I think people are persuaded more through art than they can ever be through political lecturing, discourse, or academia. I think art goes from the heart to the heart, and that’s really the best way to communicate.”

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