Storytelling in Beirut's Shatila Camp
In the Shatila Refugee Camp of southern Beirut, young women shift moment-by-moment between childhood animation and performative concentration as they workshop improvisation and marionette performances. They are part of the collective One-Hand Puppet, a troop of around a dozen students, both male and female, who perform for the Palestinian and Syrian refugee communities in Beirut, Lebanon.
As they practice, the young women disappear behind and disappear into the characters laboriously created through both materiality and word. The marionettes they've built are full personages who can support both the hardness of stories from a Syrian and Palestinian camp and the inspired imagination of children reaching toward new futures. With nuanced movement of the puppet’s face and body, and the expressive use of their one visible hand, these female puppeteers act out stories of angst and challenge layered with visual metaphor and symbolism. Here they are free to invent and act out their own stories of female identity under the gazes of both communal and national paternalism. At crucial moments in storytelling, the young women break out from their hiding place and talk to their characters, pushing them to confront their own foibles and the hardships of the world. Still, these are children—laughing, cutting up, mugging for the camera, playing to their audience—including playing the Hezbollah identity that is a vital component of these camp—but the professionalism of these young artists resonates within the room as they respond, adjust, rehearse, and watch each other intently.
In Shatila, as in art, play is serious business.