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Artsfile: New anthology shows how theatre can help ease Middle East conflict

Artsfile: New anthology shows how theatre can help ease Middle East conflict


Can theatre solve the Middle East conflict?

Stephen Orlov and Samah Sabawi believe it could help. The two playwrights are the editors of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas. The book focuses on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and is the first-ever English-language anthology of works by Jewish and Palestinian writers. It includes interviews with the various playwrights about the challenges of writing and staging their work.

Orlov – a Boston-born Jew living in Montreal – and Sabawi — a Gaza-born Palestinian now living in Melbourne, Australia – will speak about their book at the Ottawa International Writers Festival on April 30.

“Our hope is that the anthology will give voice to one of the great issues confronting not simply the identity of Jews and Palestinians, but all of humanity,” says Orlov.

Adds Sabawi, who was in Montreal in advance of the duo’s appearance at that city’s Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival: “The goal is to present stories to bring us closer to understanding the impact of the decisions politicians make on real people on the ground and to shed light on the injustice and oppression.” She says the book exemplifies how a Jewish and a Palestinian playwright can join forces to open up a space that brings both sides closer together.  Read more…

WESTMOUNTMAG:  Most intriguing event at this year’s festival is Bridging the Diaspora Divide, Palestinian and Jewish playwrights come together in groundbreaking anthology

WESTMOUNTMAG: Most intriguing event at this year’s festival is Bridging the Diaspora Divide, Palestinian and Jewish playwrights come together in groundbreaking anthology

By Luc Archambault

Since 1997, the Blue Metropolis Literary Festival in Montreal has given us a glimpse at the fascinating world of literature, both home grown and from foreign lands. As a bilingual festival, it has a rich program. One of the most intriguing events at this year’s festival is the panel made up of two playwrights, Stephen Orlov, a Jewish-Canadian born in the US, and Samah Sabawi, a Palestinian-Australian who stems from Gaza. Read More

Brownstein: Jewish and Palestinian alliance sets the stage at Blue Met

Brownstein: Jewish and Palestinian alliance sets the stage at Blue Met

Bill Brownstein, Montreal Gazette
Published on: April 21, 2017 | Last Updated: April 21, 2017 6:00 AM EDT

They assembled a book together over a two-year period. They share similar hopes and values. Yet this encounter at an N.D.G. coffeehouse marks only the second time Stephen Orlov and Samah Sabawi have met in the flesh.

But there will be many more get-togethers in the weeks to come. One of the more highly anticipated events at next week’s Blue Metropolis literary festival will be the April 29 discussion, Bridging the Diaspora Divide, wherein Orlov and Sabawi will be expounding on their groundbreaking anthology, Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas. The two playwrights — one Jewish, the other Palestinian — have edited and published what happens to be the first-ever English-language anthology of works by Jewish and Palestinian writers.

This anthology, focusing on the Israeli/Palestine conflict, features three plays written by Jewish playwrights, including Orlov’s Sperm Count, and three by Palestinian playwrights, including Sabawi’s Tales of a City by the Sea, as well as one co-written by a Jew and a Palestinian. The collection also has interviews with the playwrights exploring challenges they faced in writing and staging their work.

The lack of previous encounters doesn’t relate to any anti-social issues. Though their ideals are in sync, their backgrounds couldn’t be more diverse. Orlov is a Boston-born Jew living in Montreal, and Sabawi is a Gaza-born Palestinian Muslim living in Melbourne. Through the magic of email and Skype, Orlov and Sabawi managed to deal with the complexities of bringing their project to fruition.  Read More …

For Immediate Release: A Jew and a Palestinian cross the cultural divide in groundbreaking anthology

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Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas Edited by Stephen Orlov and Samah Sabawi

Montreal: Blue Metropolis International Literary Festival – Saturday, April 29

Ottawa: Ottawa International Writers Festival – Sunday, April 30


How did two strangers, a Boston-born Jew in Montreal and a Gaza-born Palestinian in Melbourne, embark on such a challenging artistic journey to edit Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas, the first English-language anthology worldwide in any genre of drama, prose or poetry by Jewish and Palestinian writers? From literally opposite sides of the world, join award-winning playwrights Stephen Orlov of Montreal and Samah Sabawi of Melbourne as they discuss the complexities, obstacles and creative process in editing this groundbreaking collection. For the events- Bridging the Diaspora Divide -expect a lively and frank discussion at Montreal’s Blue Metropolis on April 29 and Ottawa’s Writers Festival on April 30. The programs, moderated by Playwright Leila Buck, Montreal Gazette drama critic Jim Burke in Montreal and contributing playwright Arthur Milner in Ottawa, also feature scene readings.

“Samah and I met only once at the early stage of our editing journey,” Orlov revealed. “I think we were both surprised at how quickly we bonded in our work via Skype and emails. We faced so many complicated artistic and political hurdles on this two-year journey, but we never wavered in our resolve or our mutual respect.”

This provocative collection of drama stylistically turns the political into the personal. The seven plays vary in genre between drama and comedy, in aesthetic between realism and surrealism, in setting between the Diasporas and Israel/Palestine, and in the political opinions of their characters. Collectively they offer distinct diaspora perspectives on this seemingly endless conflict in their ancestral homeland. As the editors state in their anthology preface, “We categorically reject the notion expressed by some that writing from the safety of our homes, far from the heat of battle, negates our right, our reason or our ability to address the issue in public. The Diaspora journey from page to stage is marked by the cultural footprints of our ancestors and the emotional, material and familial ties of so many to the conflict. This is an issue for all of humanity, not merely for Jews and Palestinians.” Read the full preface here.

“The powerful and dramatic situations from the plays in Double Exposure transported me into the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza and placed me side by side with three dimensional characters struggling to keep their hope, their humanity and their moral compass amidst the brutalities, large and small, of the most intractable of conflicts. Essential reading.” —David S. Craig, 2016 Helen Hayes Award–nominated playwright and president of Playwrights Guild of Canada

Orlov and Sabawi will be speaking at festivals and events in Canada, USA and Australia (please see below) about the plays and their collaboration editing this captivating anthology about the most inflammatory Page 2 of 3 ongoing regional conflict of the past seventy years. The book tackles one of the remaining thematic taboos for most major theatres in the Western world, fuelled for decades by prejudice, ignorance and timidity.

“This diverse mix of dramatic styles and voices is a brave, passionate and collective call, a theatrical catalyst for investigation and resistance.” — Eve Ensler, Obie Award-winning playwright of The Vagina Monologues

This unique anthology about the Israel-Palestine conflict includes three plays written by Jewish playwrights, three by Palestinian playwrights, and one by both, along with interviews with the playwrights exploring the inspirations and challenges they experienced both in writing and staging their work. The plays are penned by highly acclaimed dramatists now residing in the diaspora of five continents: Bitterenders by Hannah Khalil in Ireland; Facts by Arthur Milner in Gatineau, Québec; The Peace Maker by Natasha Greenblatt in Toronto; Sabra Falling by Ismail Khalidi in Chile; Sperm Count by Stephen Orlov in Montreal; Tales of a City by the Sea by Samah Sabawi in Australia; and Twenty-One Positions: A Cartographic Dream of the Middle East by Abdelfattah AbuSrour in Aida Refugee Camp, Bethlehem, West Bank, Lisa Schlesinger in America, and Naomi Wallace in England; with introductions and interviews by award-winning American playwrights, Karen Hartman and Betty Shamieh. Read playwrights bios here.

“An extraordinary collection of plays penned by some of our most courageous and compassionate playwrights.” — Jamil Khoury, artistic director of Chicago’s Silk Road Rising Theatre.

Sabawi’s inspiration for Tales of a City by the Sea and later for the anthology was influenced by her own experiences and stories of family and loved ones under Israeli siege in Gaza. She elaborates, “We’ve been through very tough times. The worst for me was during the 51 days in 2014 when Gaza was being bombarded and I feared for my family’s safety. But you always need to pick yourself up and stay the course. I believe this anthology has a vital role to play in challenging western convictions about the conflict and in breaking the taboos that we’ve normalized for so long in mainstream theatres.” The play’s simultaneous world premieres in Melbourne and the West Bank, along with an Australian tour, played to sold-out houses, but its Gaza premiere had to be cancelled because of destruction and casualties from Israeli bombing raids.

Orlov’s play Sperm Count had its world premiere in London during a politically-charged time shortly after 9-11 and the launching of the War in Afghanistan. The theatre received several anonymous bomb threats, which the cast and crew bravely defied, fortunately without incident. He is now polishing Birthmark, the third in his dual-diaspora trilogy, and explains his role as a progressive Jewish dramatist: “Plays that promote peace and social justice must be delivered by characters portraying a range of human frailty and strength along the moral spectrum, characters in conflict true to their times, their place and their culture. My greatest challenge as a Jewish playwright tackling plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is creating with anecdotal accuracy, authentic Palestinian characters free of stereotypical depiction. I suspect the same is true for most Palestinian playwrights creating Jewish characters. Cultural appropriation must be avoided, but if writers don’t dare to cross the cultural divide with diligence and mutual respect, we will fall short of our visionary goal.”

Bridging the Diaspora Divide: Jewish and Palestinian playwrights come together in ground breaking anthology

Blue Met– Sat. April 29, 1:30-3:00 pm, moderated by Montreal Gazette critic and playwright Jim Burke Hotel 10, Salle Godin- 10 Sherbrooke St. west, Montreal Tickets

Ottawa Writers Festival- Sun. April 30, 2:00-3:30, moderated by playwright Arthur Milner, Christ Church Cathedral, 414 Sparks St., Ottawa Tickets


Other Canada, US and Australia appearances at festivals and events for Double Exposure:

New York City -Book Culture –April 23, 4:00-6:00 pm, bookstore branch at 536 W 112th St., NYC, also with Ismail Khalidi, contributing playwright and co-editor of Inside/Outside: Six plays from Palestine and the Diaspora, co-sponsored with Theatre Communication Group (US) and Playwrights Canada Press.

Ottawa -sponsored by Middle East Dialogue Group, April 27, by invitation only.

Toronto -Canadian Play Outlet – Orlov and Sabawi will be available for Toronto media interviews May 3-5 while in town for their panel and reading, by invitation only, at Playwrights Guild of Canada’s launch of their new drama bookstore, Canadian Play Outlet.

Sydney -Sydney Writers Festival – May 26, and Whitlam Institute of Western Sydney University – May 29

Melbourne -Side Door  – June 4 at St. John’s Uniting Church in Elsternwick, and Readings (2016 international bookstore of the year) – June 5, at St. Kilda branch.


Montreal Media Contact: Shelley Pomerance 514 270-1199

Ottawa and Toronto Media Contact: Stephen Orlov: 514 751-2548

The artistic and political complexity of dramatizing onstage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict:  A response to Dr. Vlazna’s review of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas

The artistic and political complexity of dramatizing onstage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: A response to Dr. Vlazna’s review of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas

As co-editor with Palestinian playwright and poet, Samah Sabawi, of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas, I appreciate Dr. Vacy Vlazna’s March 31st complimentary review in Palestine Chronicle of our groundbreaking anthology, but I feel compelled to address a thematic and character misrepresentation in her account of my play, Sperm Count.

I offer this clarification not as a personal criticism of Dr. Vlazna, an esteemed academic activist and editor in support of Palestine. I realize, as she acknowledges, that the reading of plays, especially by non-theatre-practitioners, sometimes misses thematic or character nuances that are apparent when actors deliver them onstage with emotional subtext often contrary to the literal meaning of their dialogue lines. Despite this, reading plays is a page-turning experience for most lovers of literature, because character conflict intensifies scene-by-scene from beginning to end.

Sperm Count, a dark-comedy drama featuring a Jewish Montreal family and their Palestinian doctor, depicts male infertility as a multi-layered metaphor; a sperm character, potentially conceived with a Palestinian egg, on a mission for lineage, satirical allegory of nationhood and the battle for statehood.

Dr. Vlazna was offended by what she describes as “the nazification of the one and only Palestinian character, Dr. Hamid,” particularly by allusions made to Nazi experimentation on Jews “in the dream image of Said wearing a traditional Arab robe with a swastika armband and a keffiyeh, (who) then waves goodbye with a Nazi salute.” This indeed is how the stage directions describe Said’s portrayal in that scene, but the reviewer’s judgmental reference is taken out of context. This is a nightmare scene depicting Said as a distorted figment of the Jewish husband David’s nightmare. London audiences at Sperm Count’s premiere run clearly realized this was not meant as an actual characterization of Said as a Palestinian Nazi.

On the contrary, in the context of the overall plot, this nightmare scene dramatically exposes metaphorically how Israeli propaganda uses the Holocaust to viscerally rationalize, especially among diaspora Jews, its oppressive occupation of Palestine. David’s nightmare challenges his self-professed liberal image as a supporter of Palestine and reveals his own latent racism long denied, fueled earlier by his wife Lena’s IVF failures at Said’s fertility clinic and ongoing anti-Arab diatribes by his estranged father, Jacob, a Holocaust survivor.

Dr. Vlazna takes issue with Jacob’s racist diatribes targeting Said’s genetic research and his mysterious visit to Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. But the heart of drama is delivered by characters forced to change or resist change through conflict; without it, drama is simply boring. How can a playwright depict authentically racist Jewish characters in conflict with Palestinians except through anti-Arab dialogue and action true to their dogmatic worldview?

Playwriting relies on the theatrical conventions of “set-up and pay-off” and “show don’t tell” to create compelling characters in a suspenseful plot structure, the salt and pepper of a great script. Negative character exposition early on sets up more powerfully their positive pay-off twists at the end…and vice versa for characters that initially hide their weak or detestable nature only to be later exposed. The true nature of characters is not revealed principally by what they say, but by the decisions they make under pressure; and it’s in the climax scene that pressure explodes revealing the essential heart of characters.

Dr. Vlazna correctly points out that David’s wife Lena supplants David as a hero character, which I intended. But I would maintain that at the end, it is Said who stands tallest among all characters on the moral high ground. The revelation of his brave treatment of Palestinian children in Kuwait during the height of the Persian Gulf War, his spirited integrity as a dedicated proud Palestinian doctor in the face of racist slurs, and his snap decision rushing from a family wedding to save Lena at the hospital are reasons, I sense, why Palestinians in the audiences complimented me on his character and the authenticity of his voice.

The job of a progressive dramatist is to deliver plays that promote peace and social justice delivered by characters in conflict true to their times, their place and their culture. My greatest challenge as a Jewish playwright tackling plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is creating with anecdotal accuracy authentic Palestinian characters free of stereotypical depiction; I suspect the same is true for most Palestinian playwrights creating Jewish characters. Cultural appropriation must be avoided, but if Jewish writers don’t dare to cross the cultural divide with diligence and mutual respect, we will fall short of our visionary goal.

I agree with Dr. Vlazna that writing a play about the refugee experience of Mrs. Hassan, who is merely alluded to in Sperm Count as an unseen Palestinian patient whose egg was mixed up at the fertility clinic, could make for powerful drama. Mrs. Hassan and her adopted Palestinian daughter, Hana, are central characters in my commissioned sequel, Birthmark, which Teesri Duniya Theatre, Canada’s most progressive political theatre company, plans to premiere.

I thank with deep respect Dr. Vlazna for her complimentary review of Double Exposure and especially for her ongoing work in support of Palestine. I hope her review and my commentary offer insight, however modestly, to the artistic and political complexity of dramatizing onstage the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Stephen Orlov, April 1, 2017, Montreal.

Review – Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas

Review – Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas

By Vacy Vlazna

“To them that walk in power; to exceed is madness, and not wisdom.” — Antigone
The creation and slow demise of the two state solution in the Palestinian tragedy of the 20th and 21st centuries has been brought about by the hubris of the main antagonist, Israel.

“Hubris, Ate, and Nemesis are three minor Greek deities, mostly remembered today for their function in ancient Greek drama. Hubris symbolizes arrogance, and deviation from virtue. Ate refers to an act of folly [moral blindness], a direct consequence of hubris, which provokes the wrath of gods and precipitates their intervention. Nemesis is the retribution of divine justice—painful, but necessary to restore world balance and order.”
Enter Trump right of stage to dispense a startling potential coup de grâce to the zionist project, “I’m looking at two-state and at one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I can live with either one.”

Here is the delicious irony; Israel’s monumental hubris- its greed and violent theft of Palestine- has created the basis for a one state, not within the present frame of apartheid, but a state of equality for all citizens.

Consequently, there is a long journey towards healing between Palestinians and Israelis and Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas edited by playwrights Steven Orlov and Samah Sabawi is a bold advance towards reconciliation.
Be aware that Israeli hubris is a seen and unseen dramatic presence in all the plays.
In Double Exposure, there are three plays by Palestinian playwrights; Hannah Khalil, Ismail Khalidi, and Samah Sabawi, and three by Jewish playwrights; Arthur Milner, Natasha Greenblatt, Steven Orlov and the final play Twenty One Positions: A Cartographic Dream of the Middle East is a joint work of Abdelfattah AbuSrour, Lisa Schlesinger and Naomi Wallace.

I am purposely not going into great detail about Khalil’s Bitterenders as the play is so cleverly crafted that I don’t want to spoil the emotive power of the ending’s impact for readers. Suffice to say its simplicity is deceptive and the reader/audience is carefully deflected from, yet simultaneously steered directly into the full force of its coup de théâtre; the insanity beyond the edge of unbearable agony and the formidable resilience of the human heart and mind before its breaking point – the bitter end.
Bitterenders staged would be a memorable experience keeping in mind the stage itself is both a Palestinian home and the Palestinian homeland under occupation. We don’t see the occupiers but their presence entirely saturates the characters’ lives with fear and oppression.

Contrasting the emotional gravity of Bitterenders, is the masterly intellectual gravitas of Milner’s unflinching Facts: a hard hitting discourse on and challenge to identity – Zionist and Jew, Palestine and Israel – carried by the momentum of an intriguing who-done-it; a police team investigation by a Palestinian Inspector, Khalid and an Israeli detective, Yossi into the murder of an American archeologist Gordon Philips based on the factual murder of Dr Albert Glock in 1992.

Facts’ thematic tension of the right to the land of Palestine lies in Biblical archeology as a tool of the Israeli occupation i.e. the Biblical claim of Jews to Palestine and archeology as a “history of Palestine, a history derived from archaeological facts” * which concludes that the Exodus never happened, and Moses, David, Solomon and the kingdom of Israel didn’t exist. Yossi’s question, “If there never was an Israeli kingdom, what is the justification for Zionism?” reveals the existential fallacy of Israel.

Milner presents the suspect Danny, a settler zealot, whose religious fanaticism acts as the determinant of Jewish identity and the antagonist to literal facts. Yet, ironically, it is Yossi, the ‘progressive’ Israeli for whom identity and justice is malleable, who emerges as the adversary to both the settlers and to the Palestinians.

Greenblatt tackles a major pitfall in reconciliation; the irony in the title of The Peacemaker and the protagonist’s name, Sophie is definitely not ‘wise,’ underscore this important dramatisation of a what-not-to-do to help Palestinians for all foreign activists. Sophie is an ingenue know-all relying on ‘research’ to deal with Palestine’s human and political complexities and possesses a sense of western superiority but without the belligerence of the Israeli characters.

Sophie is Jewish and comes to Palestine via Birthright – a propaganda trip that normalises zionism and the occupation. No-no number 1 is – she hides that she is Jewish from the Palestinians. Honesty doesn’t come naturally to the well meaning Sophie, she tricks her students into playing to Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem, she sleeps with the Palestinian enemy, Oran an Israeli soldier, then later denies knowing him, she dismisses his killing of a child as a mistake. Through Sophie’s dangerously not at all funny comedy of errors, Greenblatt shows us for real peace to be made, first Palestinian dignity and narrative must be honoured.

Samah Sabawi’s Tales of a City by the Sea explores resistance within the relationship between Palestinians “trapped in Gaza” and Palestinians in the diaspora who have “wings and the freedom to leave when things get tough”. Tales is is a love story between Jomama and Rami and their love for a cherished war-ravaged ‘God-forsaken earth’ that is Gaza. It is hard to believe that this is Sabawi’s first play. It is beautifully compact with a seamless symbiosis of dialogue, poetry and song articulating the immediacy of shared experiences of horror, fear, grief, guilt, between actors and audience trapped under a “sky that rains death” and also articulating the resilience and tenacity to life that “defy the universe”.

When Tales of a City by the Sea was included in an Australian senior school curriculum, it came under vicious attack for nonexistent antisemitism. When you read/see the play you’ll understand the threat to Israeli hubris- you leave the theatre with the sense of having met Gazans and know them for people who love each other, love life, love Palestine; they are people like yourself, not death toll statistics or strangers on the news. Sabawi’s art brings their humanness to light which heightens Israeli moral blindness, violence and the lie of Palestinians as terrorists. This insight starkly accentuates the inhumane face of the zionist.

This power of art to to expose both good and evil and thus become a potent agency for civilised change is a convenient segue to Khalidi’s Sabra Falling where the debate between art as resistance voiced by Sofyan and Eyad versus armed struggle represented by Hani and Dahlia. “The poetry of revolution – evolution unlike any accomplished with third-hand rifles” is further juxtaposed to Israeli warmongering.
As a Palestinian, Khalidi is bound to balance the heroism of freedom fighters of both the pen and the sword. Eyad, wrote ‘seditious books’ and like novelist Ghassan Kanafani, and poet Kamal Nasser ( and Naji al Ali), was assassinated because, “He was eliminated to protect us [Israelis], to protect democracy. The unit that put bullets through his tongue did a sacred duty.”

The character, Sofyan, a theatre director, in an act of grief and artistic imagination fuses his dead son Eyad and the wounded Israeli pilot Eyal into one being. In a play within the play, the dramatic tension within the Pilot is the struggle for the individual’s humanity versus a lifetime’s relentless brutal militant brainwashing represented by The General. The reader /audience knows which will win out in the doomed setting of the Sabra and Shatila massacre.

Duality as dramatic conflict manifests in the tragicomic Twenty One Positions in the relationship of the two brothers, Fawaz, whose goal is the American dream of success and Rashid whose dream is flying a glider and Palestine’s freedom. Duality is also rendered in the ubiquitous two sides of the Wall and the glider that surmounts and erases divisions. In Fawaz’ search for his prodigal brother, he finds the Palestinian identity that he had lost and that Rashid had found and fought for.

I sense Twenty One Positions is powerful in performance but its unsatisfactory ending feels contrived; the hero Rashid is shot – killed on his wedding day in a glorious gesture of love – to bring Dahlia the orchid; something no Wall could prevent BUT it is the prosaic Fawaz who ends up getting the girl: his brother’s fiancé Dahlia while she’s still in mourning – she should know better. Go figure.

I have left Orlov’s Sperm Count until last as I found its major flaw- the nazification of the one and only Palestinian character, Dr Hamid, offensive. Allusions to highly emotive Nazi experimentations on Jews are linked to Said Hamid, a fertility doctor and given visual emphasis in the dream image of Said “wearing a traditional Arab robe with a swastika armband and a keffiyeh.’ then waves goodbye…with a Nazi salute…”
Added to this is the covert investigation into Said’s past in Kuwait.. which was not buying ‘more scuds to hit Israel” but genetic research which Jacob immediately associates with ‘Nazi madmen’ and a demographic threat, “With those Arab birth rates, what does that mean for Israel?”

In my view, Jewish maturity in the Palestinian cause is marked by the weaning from the sour blackmail of the Holocaust which then completely disassociates the Holocaust and Palestine because the Holocaust is overloaded with victim connotations and is exploited by Israeli propaganda to reinforce the false victimhood that justifies the zionist colonisation by unfair and foul means.
This play would have been more powerful had the doctor been Canadian and the only allusion to Palestinians was Mrs Hassan’s lost egg with an exposition of HER life as a refugee.

Notwithstanding, the play is entertaining with Orlov’s wonderful flair for Jewish humor and the Woody Allenesque male ego of the anti-hero David. The provocative complication of abortion delivers the play’s moral denouement; sanctity of life sans predilection for religion ( Jewish) or ethnicity ( Palestinian). Abortion is explored from different moral points of view – abortion under the Nazi’s saved the life of Jacob’s wife, Rosie; Said suggests the abortion of one embryo to save two embryos and David’s trite ego-motive, his lineage. Lena easily supplants David as the hero of the play.
And Nemesis? Double Exposure’s playwrights are the agents of retribution of human justice. Like gods they strike and destroy, the monolith Israeli hasbara i.e false propaganda regurgitated by western media and our governments, with the ultimate weapon – Empathy.

“All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.” — The Buddha

Theater is an empathy machine; its very intimacy, unlike film, triggers a visceral vicarious participation in the characters’ lives. Watching a theatrical performance, our minds and hearts are active relating, actively feeling, morally judging at conscious and unconscious levels. The A-ha ! moments of profound insight into the Palestinian truth cause catharsis, or purification which occurs not only in the protagonist but in our deepest selves; we have connected person to person.

*Palestine Twilight: The Murder of Dr. Albert Glock and the Archaeology of the Holy Land by Edward L. Fox

– Dr. Vacy Vlazna is Coordinator of Justice for Palestine Matters and editor of a volume of Palestinian poetry, I remember my name. She is a regular contributor to Palestine Intifada, Palestine Chronicle, Dissident Voice, Al Jazeera, Counterpunch, Countercurrents. She was Human Rights Advisor to the GAM team in the second round of the Acheh peace talks, Helsinki, February 2005 then withdrew on principle. Vacy was convenor of Australia East Timor Association and coordinator of the East Timor Justice Lobby as well as serving in East Timor with UNAMET and UNTAET from 1999-2001. She contributed this article to

PREFACE – Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas

PREFACE – Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas

How do two strangers, a Boston-born Jew in Canada and a Gaza-born Palestinian in Australia, come together to choose seven plays for an anthology about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

The starting point for us was trust, something we felt from the moment we read each other’s plays about the issue. What made our process work was mutual respect, honest exchange, and guiding principles.

Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas is the first anthology of its kind. Diaspora writers outside the conflict zone offer a distinct viewpoint. Many of us live in multicultural societies that accord us both privilege and perspective, enough that we view the conflict through a more diverse prism and experience its impact differently.

We categorically reject the notion expressed by some that writing from the safety of our homes, far from the heat of battle, negates our right, our reason, or our ability to address the issue in public. The Diaspora journey from page to stage is marked by the cultural footprints of our ancestors and the emotional, material, and familial ties of so many to the conflict. And this is an issue for all humanity, not solely for Jews and Palestinians.

Double Exposure challenges one of the last remaining thematic taboos to permeate much of Western theatre from North America to Oceania. We make that bold claim with humility and regret, for we wish it were not the case. Despite the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the world’s longest and most inflammatory ongoing regional hostilities of the past seventy years, most major theatres in Canada, America, Australia, and Europe have not commissioned, solicited, or produced plays on the subject, many for political more than  artistic reasons. This silent de facto boycott has not been a conspiracy; it has been fuelled for decades by prejudice, ignorance, and timidity.

This is true of scripts written by progressive playwrights of both ethnic descents who dare to criticize Israel onstage. Few companies produce such plays, but most theatres, especially those run by mainstream Jewish cultural institutions, stamp the scripts, particularly those written by Diaspora playwrights, “non-kosher.” In 2011, the board at City University of New York rescinded an earlier decision to grant an honorary degree to Jewish Pulitzer Prize–winning playwright Tony Kushner because of his criticism of Israel; public outcry erupted, however, prompting trustees to grant him the degree. And in 2014, Washington DC’s Theater J fired its long-time artistic director, playwright Ari Roth, one of the few heads of an American Jewish theatre to showcase plays critical of Israel, including a stage-reading festival of scripts penned by Arab-American playwrights. Both controversies were instigated through intense lobbying by pro-Israeli zealots.

Closer to home, Montreal’s major English and French theatres have never portrayed on their mainstages a single Palestinian character in plays of their subscription seasons. And the Australian branch of the largest international Jewish membership organization, B’nai Brith, recently instigated unsuccessful attack campaigns in the press against Tales of a City by the Sea, triggering a debate in the Victorian State Parliament, with some opposition MPs condemning the play’s inclusion in Victoria’s recommended high school drama curriculum. The controversial censorship campaign backfired, however, and the play has remained on the recommended curriculum list. Its subsequent three city tour received solid reviews of sold-out shows.

The price we pay scaling hurdles to mount this conflict onstage is minuscule compared with the death and destruction that so many face in this seemingly endless war over birthright and homeland.

Beyond navigating through the political complexity of the conflict, our work as editors was artistically challenging, for both of us faced some different but equally complicated obstacles in our search for submissions. We both knew that not many playwrights of either Diaspora had tackled the conflict onstage, partly due to limited chances of production, but we were surprised to find during our research so few produced plays to solicit for publication consideration.

Despite the high number of Jewish playwrights residing in their global Diaspora, you can almost count on your fingers and toes how many of them have written such plays produced at professional theatres. Some Jewish dramatists consider the topic to be overly complex, polemical, or angst-ridden to pen for stage, but too many avoid it for partisan or career reasons. While proportionally more Palestinian Diaspora playwrights address the issue directly, not all write in English. And we knew that some playwrights of both descent would balk at participating in a dual-Diaspora anthology.

Some excellent plays considered but not chosen were worthy of publication. The most common weakness of other submissions written by both Jews and Palestinians was their stereotypical depiction of the “other” characters. The plays in our anthology do not shy away from portraying the “other” side as the enemy, and a few secondary characters are limited to unidimensional roles. However, we have tried to offer you a collection of dramatic works that turn the political into the personal with universal themes delivered through authentic characters, time, and place. We have sought variance in genre between drama and comedy, in aesthetic between reality and the surreal, in setting between the Diasporas and Israel/Palestine, in playwrights (with three plays written by Jews, three by Palestinians, and one a collaboration by both), and in characters’ political opinions.

Since we began working on this anthology project over two years ago, we have noticed that more Diaspora playwrights are now addressing the issue and a few more theatres, especially in England, are producing such plays. Their success highlights the growing demand for compelling theatre that calls for a just peace, however distant in the horizon. Dramatizing that onstage is not merely a pipe dream of fiction. The brutal Israeli bombardment of Gaza in 2014 and its ongoing siege have furthered a shift already in the making of global public opinion toward a more balanced stance on the conflict. The publication of this anthology is very much a reflection of these changing times.

We believe theatre should be a visionary art that dares to shine a light on what blinds us with fear, and the stories we pen as dramatists should expose the dark shadows of the past and the firestorms of our present to help us create a world that is more just and more peaceful for generations to come.

Samah Sabawi and Stephen Orlov Melbourne and Montreal, July 2016

To purchase a copy of Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas please click here 

The Guardian: ‘Voices that deserve to be heard’: when art meets activism

The Guardian: ‘Voices that deserve to be heard’: when art meets activism

Lyn Gardner

Political plays about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are repeatedly failing to reach American theatres. The US playwright Naomi Wallace is doing something about it – by setting sail for Gaza

It’s seldom, if ever, that a piece of theatre changes the world. But it can challenge the way we think about it and provide a forum to do so. As Simon Stephens observed in his Working Diary: “I don’t think that theatre has ever been more important. In a world dislocated and disengaged by technology, it is the one forum in which we are encouraged to sit next to people we have never met before and look in one direction and share a live experience that exercises our brains and our sense of aesthetic. It is necessarily a mirror to ourselves. The responsibility of the artist is to decide what that mirror will show and how it will allow the light to fall.”

That’s true, but it’s rare to come across a piece of theatre, such as Chris Thorpe’s Confirmation, which really makes you question what you think. Or a show that so enrages you that it sends you back out into the world determined to actually do something. The urge to feel “useful and not just decorative” – as someone put it during the 2008-09 Gaza war – is a strong one for increasing numbers of theatre-makers, for whom art and activism are entwined. Their lives, politics and practice are one and the same, feeding into each other. Unlike previous generations of political playwrights who saw their plays as a means of excavating the state of the nation and the world, these are artists for whom making theatre and being involved in politics are intrinsically related and for whom direct action can be part of their artistic practice.

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From September 11-17, 2016, Infinithéâtre is showcasing the work of their inaugural Playwrighting Unit. The Unit is comprised of eight playwrights who will be presenting staged readings of their new plays at theatres across Montreal and the surrounding area. The readings are free and open to the public.

QDF had the pleasure of sitting down with Stephen Orlov, the playwright, dramaturge and educator who will be showcasing his new play Birthmark at the Centaur Theatre on September 15 as part of Infinithéâtre’s inaugural playwrighting Unit. Birthmark is a dark-comedy set in 2015 that delves into the relationship of two Montreal diaspora families, one Jewish, the other Palestinian. Stephen is writing the play with the support of a Cole Foundation commissioning grant, sponsored by Teesri Duniya Theatre.

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