“You know, it’s always frightening for me to go to a performance. I always feel like I’m on fire.”

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Episode notes

Hani al Rstum is a Syrian living in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli, and the conductor for the SADA playback theatre troupe. They engage with communities affected by serious conflict, with the goal of recognising and affirming life experiences, and opening dialogue.

Playback draws on psychodrama therapy, and Hani himself is a psychotherapist. He “conducts” events to create a safe space for people to share experiences, and to begin to connect and empathise.

The troupe is based in a social innovation hub on the frontline of one of Lebanon’s most notorious neighbourhood conflicts. It has also performed on-site in buildings with special connections to the war.

Topics discussed:

[02:10]  Leaving Syria to study medicine. Watching as the revolution started and the war began to impact his his family.

[06:15]  Cross-border activism as the war deepened. Filming and work with international media. Early work with children suffering from traumatic stress disorders.

[12:45]  How playback theatre works, and Hani’s role as “conductor”. Holding the space for dialogue in heated and painful environments.

[22:50]  Beginnings of playback theatre in Lebanon, and first applications to inter-neighbourhood conflict in Tripoli. Using physical spaces with specific histories in fighting and symbolic meaning.

[31:05]  How it works when emotions are running very high. Having the right expectations for the community, and recognising leadership when it emerges in the moment.

[38:50]  Positive and negative experiences as a Syrian in Lebanon. Implications for his ability to play a peacebuilding role.

[43:40]  What drove Hani to lead this initiative. Working with communities as a survival mechanism amidst the loss and tragedy of the Syrian war. Doubts and fears going forward.