ASHTAR Theatre International Youth Festival – ARTIVISM was a hybrid festival, that brought together 15 theatre groups to perform live and recorded shows, both online and in-person for audiences in Ramallah and UK. It took place between 1-7 July 2021.
In addition to the performance, 70 Palestinian young people aged 16-28 years of age, alongside 30 UK peers followed workshops and events on the ground, each in their respective country including: workshops in dancing, movement, creative writing and theatre of the oppressed, Stanislavski acting technique and voice; a two day webinar on ARTIVISM and its role in making change in the society; and two online master classes with the French director Ahmed Madani about his directing technique and on creative writing with Hope Azeda from Rwanda. The participative element culminated in the presentation of art at the festival.
2,425 people saw the performances, of which 1,000 were based in Ramallah and 1,425 were online via the website of the festival: https://www.ashtar-youth-festival.com/
“Cultural connection, communication and creativity” are at the heart of ARTIVISM, with the participatory elements acting as ‘bridging’ events/activities “whereby youth come together and find a platform of mutual voice and mutual aspirations through theatre.” The project supports young people from backgrounds that often don’t get to travel – whether from diverse ethnicities, refugee backgrounds or in a carer role – to experience and connect with young people from other cultures, with a focus on themes of social justice. Young Palestinians were given a voice, sharing stories and building understanding and respect for different cultures, working with other young people from the UK to create a mutual output.
- Consider how content (such as a play) will work in the film context, allocate an appropriate budget and work with a quality filmmaker that understands the medium to present it in a professional way. Capture shows on film to give them a longer life.
- Use these sorts of initiatives to provide an opportunity for the development of the skills sets of participants or alumni. For example, you might set up a ‘youth panel’ to inform and brainstorm ideas and approaches for a digital strategy which can also support the implementation in practice and in turn, build and develop their professional experience.
- With frequently changing environmental and political factors, it is important to identify and prioritise reaching and engaging target audiences /communities or participants. The purpose of the project should be at the forefront and it is important to articulate this to support any difficult decisions that need to be taken if, for example, audience numbers are limited.
- Stay true to your aims and what can be done digitally; do you want live content or can it be recorded and shared? Consider creating one central place where you can share content – such as via one of the partners’ websites so audiences or participants only have one link.
As a result of the project, ASHTAR and Mandala Theatre Company have learned how to use and utilise digital tools to collaborate and host a hybrid festival. While the in-person human connection element of theatre remains fundamental to the experience of a performance, the medium of film and live streams provides an alternative route to engage with audiences that they will continue to explore.
Going into 2022, ASHTAR will host the International Youth Theatre Festival again under the title of Ultra Art. The intention is that Mandala Theatre and another UK company, Smoking Apples Theatre, will be able to attend with their groups on the ground in Ramallah, continuing to build the community and develop what was started in 2021. One specific idea is a parade as part of the festival, where the Smoking Apples would lead workshops for participants to co-create puppets, an artform and practice less well known in the North of Palestine.
The project lead and participants said
“Mandala and Artivism has brought voice and connected people from across the world even under the burden of a global pandemic. With the right people and the same goal, our magic can reach the ends of the world.” Oxford participant
"The best thing about Mandala and Artivism is it opens your eyes to the parts of the world that you don’t see every day. You learn so much about other people’s cultures and you hear the stories they have experienced. On top of that you get to produce a piece of art that is based around all those experiences.” Oxford participant
“There's nothing better than actually being able to stand in other people's shoes. And you, you do that by knowing people by having a relationship with them.”
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