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Contemporary Arab Diasporic Plays and Productions in Europe and the United States

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When the new waves of emigrants began to arrive in Berlin, the Gorki was thus already oriented toward their concerns and it became at once a major center in Germany for Arabic diasporic performance. In November of 2016, the Gorki brought six professional actors in exile from Syria, Palestine, and Afghanistan together to form the Exile Theatre, housed at the Gorki and financially supported by the German government and private foundations. The actors are integrated into regular Gorki productions, but also present two productions created by themselves each year, based on the diasporic experiences of themselves and others. The first such production, Winterreise (Winter Journey) was presented in November of 2017. It was a great success in Berlin and has toured to seven major German-speaking cities. The text is in German, English, and Arabic, with supertitles in all three languages.

Germany’s second theatre city, Munich, has become a similar leader in diasporic theatre. In October 2015, the Munich Kammerspiel organized an Open Border Congress, dedicated to exploring how to open the theatre to refugees from foreign theatres forced to flee their home countries and producing structures. From this developed the Open Border Ensemble, which during the 2017-2018 season has invited hosted four refugee theatre artists from Damascus, Syria, who have worked with the Kammerspiele ensemble and also are creating productions of their own. The first of these, now performing, is called “Miunickh-Damascus (Stories of a City)” and is an installation performance, what is sometimes called “pop-up theatre” in the United States, where some public area in Munich is temporarily converted into an imitation of a Damascus street corner, with food, products, and a hint of Damascus street life. In June, they will present a production, “XYZ” directed by Lola Arias from Argentina, about governmental interviews with arriving refugees

Good Chance in Paris. Photo: Raphael Hilarion.

No other European country has attempted to welcome contemporary refugees from the Arab world so significantly as Germany, and in no other is refugee theatre so important a part of contemporary performance, but the Arab diaspora has nevertheless significantly impacted theatre in many countries of the West.  In 2011, London began offering every summer the Shubbak Festival bringing to that city artists and productions from across the Arab world. The most recent Festival featured artists from Egypt, Iraq, Tunisia, Syria, Palestine, and Morocco. Although the Shubbak Festival has included the work of both refugee artists and companies still based in their home countries, in 2016 London was host to a project closer to the Exile Theatre of Berlin or Open Borders of Munich. This was the Good Chance Festival which, like much such contemporary work, involves cooperation from a number of Western countries.

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