The Palestinian actor Faisal Abu Alhayjaa is known to the New York theater audience for his charismatic performance as a wounded resistance fighter in “The Siege,” a production from the Jenin Freedom Theatre that was blocked for more than a year from getting to the stage here because it humanized people who are dismissed as terrorists.
And going back another year or so, Abu Alhayjaa turned in a vivid performance as a prisoner in the Jenin Theatre’s production of Athol Fugard’s play “The Island” with talks afterward with the likes of Tony Kushner and Cindy and Craig Corrie. I remember him shoveling imaginary sand and making it seem like hard labor at the New York Theatre Workshop run of that show.
On Sunday, New Yorkers will get a chance to hear Abu Alhayjaa talk about Palestinian theater with some snatches of performance, too. He’s appearing at the People’s Forum. Below you can see the flyer.
Writes Terry Weber, a founding member of the Friends of the Jenin Freedom Theatre:
I first met Faisal in 2008 on my yearly visit to the Freedom Theatre. He was a young teenage actor taking acting classes from Juliano and participating in local productions. He has always had an excellent grasp of English and has generously translated for me every year as I need it. He was part of the inaugural drama school which was Juliano Mer Khamis’s second dream after having resurrected his mother Arna’s Stone Theatre. Of all the beginning drama students Faisal appeared to me to be the most sincere and wanting to learn.
When they put on the Island, the Fugard play, they invited Palestinians from the camp who had been in Israeli Prisons. After the performance a prisoner mentioned that they used shoes under their blankets as pillows. Faisal told him we will put that in our production and asked the prisoners other questions. He took to his training of Play Back Theatre with great performances during the first Freedom Bus Tour through Palestine. When the Siege came to NYU Skirball Center Faisal did a wonderful job as the resistance fighter who was shot in the leg; and 3,500 people saw that show. He is a kind thoughtful actor who has a hunger for building his skills including directing but all with a political presence that comes from his training in using art as resistance.
And here’s more about Abu Alhayjaa’s background from the Sundance Institute:
Abu Alhayjaa is a Fellow at the Laboratory for Global Performance and Politics at Georgetown University, and was born in the Jenin Refugee Camp in Palestine. When Juliano Mer-Khamis opened an acting school as a part of The Freedom Theatre in the Camp, Faisal was part of the inaugural class. After graduating, he was a resident artist of The Freedom Theatre for the next five years and taught the next generation of students. Faisal has performed with The Freedom Theatre throughout Palestine, as well as in Brazil, India, the UK, the US, and across Europe. As a member of Red Noses International and a graduate of their International School of Humour in Austria, he has performed as a clown in refugee camps across Greece with their Emergency Smile initiative, and in children’s hospitals in the West Bank. Faisal’s directing credits include At-Tuwani (Palestine), A Skate Play (Palestine) and Hamesha Shamida (India). He was a leading artist for The Freedom Bus, a project that toured Palestine to promote cultural resistance. Faisal toured the UK with celebrated British comedian, Mark Thomas, performing Showtime from the Frontline.