Refugees from the Middle East transiting here take part in a theatre offering supported by the UNHCR, writes Sulyn Chong.
“ALL I did was asked them to tell me stories of what they like or dislike about their life in transition. What I got in response was a raw emotional re-enactment of being discriminated by us (Malaysians),” begins Razif Hashim, an actor, director and founder of Arara Entertainment. The bubbly 34-years-old is the director behind the theatre production, We Are Human, that’s set to open with an all-Middle Eastern refugee cast. This production will be staged in conjunction with the Food and Arts of the Middle East Festival (Fame), happening on March 4 and 5 at BlackBox, Publika in Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur.
Eyes clouding, Razif recalls the emotionally-charged session: “When one member of the cast was scolding another with unkind words during the re-enactment, he was scolding in a way only he knows how and has felt before through his years living here. The corresponding response to him were harrowing shouts of ‘we are human!’.”
It was this particular intense session that was to inspire the name of the production. There’ll be more heartfelt stories such as this to be told during the two-day event, shares Razif.
The inaugural Fame is organised wholly by Middle Eastern refugees transiting in Malaysia and is brought by Arara Entertainment together with Wavemakers, a trio of best friends comprising Nadzirah Hashim, Rachel Lai and Sasha Yusof, who conduct courses and workshops on branding in the digital world. The collaboration was made possible partly because of Razif’s and Nadzirah’s relationship — they’re siblings. But in truth, it’s their upbringing and strong sense of advocacy in helping people and giving back to society that resulted in this collective undertaking.
In addition, the project is supported by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. There’ll be a showcase of varieties of food, art and cultural performances to promote the craftsmanship and heritage of the participants. It’s also an empowerment project aimed at bringing together the different refugee communities in this country.
The genial Razif is no stranger to giving back to communities because his company, Arara Entertainment, is the outfit behind FTalent, which specialises in teaching theatre skills for free. This platform helps promote effective communication and creative flow to anyone who’s interested and they’re held every fortnight. Classes have been going on since 2015 at Bookmark in APW, Bangsar. “FTalent is nothing like Fame, it’s just something small,” adds Razif, somewhat humbly.
Suffice to say, being able to provide refugees a platform to express isn’t something new to him. What has resonated is the fact that he does have partially Middle Eastern bloodline. “I’ve Arab blood from both my parental lineage. My dad’s lineage can be traced back to Yemen, while my mother has a combination of Saudi and Afghan. So, there are certain things that they do that makes sense to me. And the more I interact with them, the more I find an affinity with them,” he confides.
His experience in acting and directing since 2004 has also prepared him well to take on this task. Nevertheless, producing the show didn’t come without its own set of challenges. “The first thing I faced was the language barrier. I had to learn all the acting jargons in Arabic!” exclaims Razif.
“But harder still was to extract stories out from them. It’s not easy to get them out of their comfort zone because there’s just so much pain. Some have even buried them so deep. It was very heart-breaking to say the least.”
TELLING OF STORIES
Preparation for the production was also challenging. Razif divulges that the more he delved into their lives here, the more he’s able to see the pain they carry. “It’s quite an eye-opener. Surprisingly, there’s a divide among them that I didn’t think existed. Slowly, through the rehearsals, the participants unravel the silent distraught they face from each other as well as from outsiders.”
This 50-minute theatre production will see a cast of eight refugees consisting of three women with their children — two boys and a girl— as well as two teens discussing current issues affecting their lives here and around the world. It’s anchored on the themes of transition, displacements, and things lost and found. In addition, it’ll incorporate contemporary multimedia treatments on a runway setting that projects a juxtaposition of their life then and now.
“The runway is supposed to remind you of a few different things, such as an airplane runway, a modelling runway and a metaphorical term of running away,” explains Razif.
The production will see rhetorical questions being put forth on the flights and plights of the refugees. “Hopefully, it’ll provide a deeper understanding of their situation. No matter how negative the media may paint their life, at the end of the day, they’re all just humans and life still goes on.”
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
“I can’t say that we can empathise with them because we’re not in their shoes but being sympathetic towards them may not be the best solution either,” says Razif.
“What we have is something simple that hopes to tug at heart strings and bring together communities instead.”
The young director hopes that his production will enchant theatre-goers and those interested in current affairs. It’ll provide another insight into the refugee situation. And the added bonus? All proceeds will go towards improving the lives of the refugee communities here.
As we end our chat, Razif looks pensive. A pause and then he says: “Sometimes, we shouldn’t be asking ‘why should I help?’. Instead, we should be asking ‘what valuable stories will I get?’ because I believe merely sympathy in regards to the work they’ve put for this production isn’t right.”
Concluding, Razif rationalises: “Work doesn’t come out of pity. They’re smart individuals who can put on a great show like anyone of us and they’ve plenty of passion to show. They are human after all.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/FAMEfestivalkl
WHERE WhiteBox and BlackBox, Publika, Solaris Dutamas, Kuala Lumpur
WHEN March 4-5
We Are Human Performance
WHEN March 4-5, 8.30pm
ADMISSION RM99 per ticket, RM80 for purchases of 10 tickets and above of up to 50 tickets.
Available at http://reward.pitchin.my/project/300 or call +6012-302 3253 (Norlin) / +6013-380 5020 (Farah)