Setting the stage

Ramallah’s Drama Academy is shaping the future of Palestinian theater, and aims to one day bridge the gaps with Israeli culture.

RAMALLAH – The new Drama Academy of Ramallah is much more than an academic institution; it is a symbol for many students, an opportunity for a normal life in a not fully normal place. It was created last October as part of “A future for Palestine,” a project launched in January 2008 by then German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. The school is aimed at developing the arts sector, helping new generations shape their future.
Great achievements are often the result of dreams, and the first drama academy ever built in the Palestinian Authority is one such achievement. When George Ibrahim, one of the proponents of the academy and a central figure in the Palestinian cultural scene for over 40 years, began his journey in the world of acting, there wasn’t a single Palestinian institution devoted to professional artistic education.
“I wanted to offer to the new generations something that was unimaginable for mine,” Ibrahim says, “a place in which to shape professional actors and performers. It was a process of 15 years until we finally realized this Academy, until we filled the gap.”
Mercator, one of the largest private foundations in Germany, was one of the first to believe in the idea, supporting it with €300,000. The Folkwang University, in Germany’s Ruhr region, also played a central role. “We hosted their academics, well known figures in our field,” says Ibrahim. “We also spent two weeks in their university, learning their method of teaching. We created a strong synergy between us and the results are clear to everybody: this year our students are preparing Sophocles’ Antigone and the next one will be devoted to Shakespeare.”
So far, 13 students have passed the week-long selection process and will receive a bachelor’s degree when they complete three years of studies. The internationally recognized certificate should go a long way towards helping them launch careers in the arts.
“Our students come from all parts of the West Bank,” says Ibrahim. “We teach them a profession to give them a chance for a different future. We put a strong accent on professionalism.”
THE ACADEMY is currently located within the Al-Kasaba Theatre, which was established in 2000 on the ruins of one of Ramallah’s three movie houses. Ibrahim, who founded the theater and directs its productions, says one of the aims of his project is to transcend political differences and focus on a common humanity.
“In the Palestinian territories we have a strong need of infrastructures, artistic and not artistic,” he says. “We also need that people from outside start to consider us as normal human beings that love, suffer and rejoice like you and your families do.”
Although political implications are almost always an integral part of any initiative implemented in the Palestinian territories, this project strives for something different. “We don’t care about politics, even if we cannot deny that the difficulties we face in our daily life affect what we bring on stage”.
The theater has already succeeded in presenting slices of Palestinian daily life in a play titled Alive from Palestine, which has traveled to many world stages, garnering awards in Spain, Tunisia and England. The play is composed of a long series of personal monologues about people who have lost their loved ones, dreams of the youth that cannot be fulfilled, and people who cannot move forward.
“There isn’t neither a hint of politics nor any attempt to impose any sort of vision,” the director explains. “We just want to show our malaise and the impact the wall and the checkpoints have on our lives. [The play] has also been presented also at the Hebrew University, where my daughter studies.”