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Shakespeare in Za’atari

Young refugees perform King Lear in Arabic at Za'atari camp.

Young refugees perform King Lear in Arabic at Za’atari camp. © UNHCR / J.Kohler

Twelve-year-old Wiam Yousef Al-Ammari has not been to school since her family fled Syria in January 2013. But that hasn’t stopped her from studying Shakespeare. She was one of 80 young refugees who recently staged “King Lear” at Za’atari camp in Jordan, exploring all-too-familiar themes of exile, bitter rivalry and human cruelty. Wiam played Cordelia, the king’s youngest daughter, who pays a steep price for daring to tell him the truth.

The production was directed by Nawar Bulbul, a Syrian actor who fled to Jordan in 2011. Best known for his roles in the historical television drama “Bab al-Hara,” Bulbul had visited Za’atari to help deliver assistance and decided to stage a play after learning that over half of the Syrian refugee children in Jordan were not attending school.

By March 2014, the young actors were ready for their debut. An audience of hundreds, mostly camp residents, gathered to watch. Although the wind tore at the costumes and trucks transporting water drowned out some of the lines, the performance moved many people to tears. “I liked my role a lot,” Wiam said afterwards. “It’s the first time I’ve participated in a play—and we were successful. We can’t believe that we were successful!”

Producer & Camera: Joslyn Massad
Originally published 14 May 2014