Silvia & Nada
Silvia & Nada

Staging Walls

In collaboration with Hostwriter, we have asked the Tandem community to share their stories. In this story, journalist Daniela Sala reports back on Nada Abdelwahab and Silvia Giordano's Tandem collaboration.

As a young man walks to the centre of the stage, ten people, sitting around him, start throwing at him ripped pieces of papers and shouting: “Shawarma, Shawarma, Shawarma”.

“I am not a shawarma guy, I am a scholar”, he says loudly. Then he gets quieter, while unfolding a big, blank paper: “I felt weakness, oppression, sadness. But I decided that this is my book: only I could write in it”.

It was late March, on the stage of the Garage theatre at the Jesuits’ Cultural Center in Alexandria, Egypt. None of the persons on stage is a professional actor: they are refugees from Syria and Sudan. And the stories they are sharing are their own.

The performance, now included in a video documentary, is actually part of a bigger project, called “Staging Walls”, born from the encounter between Nada Abdelwahab and Silvia Giordano, and supported by the Tandem Shaml.

“Probably it was the fact of being in an international context, without the usual borders that triggered the conversation”, says Nada, recalling the first time Silvia and her met in Tunisia, at the Tandem kick-off meeting. Nada and Silvia immediately found a common interest in discussing walls and barriers. And a common ground in theatre, that plays a central role in both their personal and professional life.

A background in international cooperation, Silvia joined the company Teatro Prova in Bergamo, Italy, in 2015. She works with the young generation, with a focus on inclusion and disability. Nada discovered theatre when she was 18: “It was right after the revolution: for the first time the street was a public space where we could express ourselves. There were a lot of emotions and theatre became a way to canalize all these different feelings”, she says. Nada is part of Hewar (“Dialogue” in English) Independent Theater Company Group, with a strong focus on social and political issues, drawing from political and post-dramatic theatre.

The dialogue between Silvia and Nada immediately focused on migration: “I am from Bergamo, that recently became a destination for many migrants. While Italy, is also home to a big Egyptian community. Nada is from Alexandria, that used to host a big Italian community. And if it is true that Egypt is a country of origin of many migrants who travelled to Europe, it is also a destination for people from Syria or Sudan, for instance”, says Silvia, recalling how they started exploring the concept of migration and borders, and how points of views keep reversing.

They decided to explore this concept further. And the main medium was obvious: theatre. As part of the project, Silvia (with Andrea Rodegher, head of Teatro Prova) travelled to Alexandria to join the workshop, which later resulted in the performance and later on, Nada was in Bergamo for an international theatre event, where they presented a video-documentary about their project.

For a year, they had permanent labs for children and young people, and workshops to discuss what walls mean to people from different background and ages.

In March, a six days intensive workshop held in Alexandria, with 12 refugees from Sudan and Syria, culminated in a performance shown during the sixth edition of “Theater Is A Must”, an international forum in Alexandria (organized by Hewar Theater Company)

The point, as both Nada and Silvia stress is not the performance but the whole process: “It was an integrated storytelling process: the participants chose to share their own stories and telling them the way they wanted ”, says Nada. “The way all these people came together in this framework, learning so much from each other, in such little time, expressing themselves in the way they were comfortable with: I am very proud of all this”.

Through the workshop and the performance, they also decided to explore different languages and form of arts, from music to origami, from sculpture to shadow puppets.

“Our own self-reflection and methodology as a theatre company grew a lot, thanks to the encounter with Nada”, says Silvia. “Letting theatre breathe through other forms of art, led us to reflect on the barriers in our own hearts and minds. And this is the power of theatre: it forces you to unveil, to confront your identity and to discover the other”.

Theatre is personal. Always, according to Nada, as it is the medium where people come together, without a screen separating them: “Sometimes we feel detached when seeing the news, or when we are told about numbers and figures: but when a person is a few feet away, standing in front of you, you feel it. And through theatre you can share ideas, rather than imposing them: I do believe that culture is the way forward to change, it is the space where people come together and are open to exchange”.

In the video documentary featuring the performance in Alexandria, there is a recurrent phrase said by the participants when they share their emotions in an interview after the show: “We found a family. We thought it was just a performance, but now we are a family”.

It seems that “Staging walls” did not destroy only the “fourth wall” (the invisible barrier between the stage and the audience), but many more.

“When we share one another pain, and build on it step by step”, says one of the participants, “The walls break and a new form of unspoken language appears. We were able to stage and destroy the walls”.

The trainers of the workshop were Ossama Helmy (Ozoz) and Mohamed El-Ekiaby, under artistic consultancy and dramaturgy by Andrea Rodegher and Adel Abdelwahab