- The Freedom Theatre: Performing Cultural Resistance in Palestine ed. by Ola Johansson and Johanna Wallin
The Freedom Theatre (TFT) was established in the Jenin refugee camp in the Palestinian Occupied West Bank in 2006. In 2011, cofounder Juliano Mer-Khamis was assassinated outside the theatre by an unknown assailant. Since that tragedy TFT has faced numerous challenges, including raids by the Israeli Occupation forces and the Palestinian Security Services that have involved the destruction of property and the arrest of staff. Despite the seemingly overwhelming odds, TFT has grown to comprise a theatre school, a media-training facility, a theatre production company that tours shows locally and internationally, a charity, and a community center. The central concerns of The Freedom Theatre: Performing Cultural Resistance in Palestine are how TFT's work might function and be understood as cultural resistance, how this work negotiates external and internal pressures, and how the organization and its work might be sustained into the future. In the acknowledgments, coeditor Johanna Wallin explains [End Page 406] that the publication was motivated by the desire of the theatre's community to tell the story of TFT "in our own words" (11). This central aim has resulted in contributions from a wide range of individuals who make up the diverse community responsible for establishing and sustaining the theatre. The book offers refreshingly diverse perspectives on a leading Palestinian cultural institution that deploys theatre and creativity as part of a struggle for liberation against oppression in its various forms.
The book is divided into four parts. Part 1, "The Beginning," traces the inception of TFT, starting with Mer-Khamis's drama-therapy program with children in the Jenin refugee camp during the first Intifada. The section also includes chapters comprising several testimonies from key members of TFT's early establishing community. Part 2, "Cultural Resistance," which draws its title from the theatre's mission, includes the chapter "I Gained a Voice," in which Rania and Suzan Wasfi provide some insight into the liberating potential of the theatre in challenging patriarchal and conservative gender roles. In her important chapter on theatre in Palestine following the Oslo Accords, Hala Nassar explores the dependency on funding and the conflicting agendas of international donors and NGOs on the Palestinian cultural scene, leading her to ask: "Is there a political theatre left in Palestine?" (135). Against this backdrop, Jen Curatola's chapter explores how TFT negotiates the fragmentation and depoliticization encouraged by the neoliberal NGO model (141). She also argues that by promoting democratic principles of pluralism, free speech, and equality, TFT makes important contributions to Palestinian civil society (152). In his chapter considering the promotion of democratic principles by TFT, Ola Johansson discusses how the production Return to Palestine (2016) facilitated deliberative participa-tory democracy (185).
Part 3, "Performing Arts," provides some analysis of the performance practices of TFT, beginning with a chapter in which Nassar provides a historical background to Palestinian theatre. The section includes a refreshingly honest and critical chapter by Micaela Miranda exploring the establishment of TFT's theatre school and offering a series of reflections on pedagogical issues specific to running a three-year acting program within the sociopolitical context of Occupied Palestine (203–49). The theme of education is taken up again in Wallin's chapter, where she explores TFT's work with children and youth (250–65).
The fourth part, "International Perspectives," explores the theatre's connection with international solidarity organisations and individuals. This includes an interesting chapter by Sudhanva Deshpande exploring a collaboration between TFT and New Delhi's Jana Natya Manch, a company that specializes in political street theatre and has an impressive history spanning more than four decades. The final part of the book, "The Future," includes some perspectives from key members of the theatre about its future status and direction, and ends with a poetic fragment from the production Return to Palestine.
This book collects into one volume a wide range of voices that provide often very personal insights into the establishment of TFT and the...