‘West of Us Lies the Sea’ is one of the Drama, Diversity, and Development closed projects, which held its final performance at Birzeit University in Ramallah at the beginning of this month. The project that started on the 1st of March in 2015 captured the story of an Arab Palestinian family in the last days before the 1948 war. Basing the performance on a conducted historical research and oral testimonies of people who lived in Jaffa at the time, ‘West of Us Lies the Sea’ project managed to picture the last escape route that this family took just as the 1948 war started. The project helped its audiences experience a voyage into a city that no longer exists and hear the sounds that have been silenced. Alaa Khalaily, DDD’s Project Coordinator at Al-Saraya theater, recounted his 14 months experience working with the ‘West of Us Lies the Sea’ project by answering a group of questions about the project.
When asked what the ‘West of us Lies the Sea’ Project symbolize to him, Alaa stated that this project “symbolises more than anything the way in which the traumatic events such as the 1948 Nakba war or the 1967 war affected the average common person on the ground and how these events were and still manifested throughout a person’s life.” He added that the project had a very strong generational perspective to it, as while it was mainly telling the story of the first generation that experienced the 1948 and 1967 wars at first hand, it still aimed to highlight how these traumatic events affected and still affect the second and third generations until our present times. Alaa added that the project’s main objective was to bring awareness to the Palestinian shared historical narrative, and as he put in his own words: “our main objective more than anything was to solidify this narrative with actual facts.”
Remembering the performance, Alaa stated that one of his favorite scenes is what he likes to call “the women scene”. He added describing the scene: “This scene pictures a group of women standing in line to get supplies for their homes during the martial law era experienced by the Palestinian community in Israel during the 1950’s and 1960’s. While most of the play is very dramatic and serious this scene touches the heart with a healthy sense of humor and as such stands out from the rest of the scenes.” The last scene of the performance where the first generation meets with the third generation and a fascinating exchange between the two happens is also a seen that Alaa cherished. “This exchange in my eyes symbolises the entirety of the play”, he explained.
Developing and performing the ‘West of us Lies the Sea’ was a learning opportunity for everyone involved. One of the main challenges that Al-Saraya groups faced while implementing the project on the ground was the changing political climate. Alaa explained, “the constantly changing political climate was definitely hard to handle since the play was supposed to air during October 15’ and political tensions between the Palestinian and Israeli societies came to a boiling point.” The hardest challenge that Alaa spoke of was dealing with the weather. ‘Logistics for a play like this usually takes a couple of weeks and weather forecasts are never reliable that far ahead so we, unfortunately, had to cut our losses several times and perform indoors instead of doing it outdoors”, Alaa further explained.
In terms of targeted audience, Alaa believes that the project’s message was broadly welcomed and appreciated by its Arab audience while it definitely challenged its non-Arab audience, by shattering a lot of misconceptions they might’ve had. Reflecting on the project, Alla echoed his belief of seeing Street Theater as an effective tool to changing people’s perceptions and bringing change. He concluded: “I definitely think theatre, in general, is an effective tool if utilized correctly, street theatre is undeniably even a more effective tool due to its broader exposure to the general society.”