By Johanna Wallin
‘Rehearsing Freedom: The Story of a Theatre in Palestine’ is the outcome of a desire to visually present The Freedom Theatre’s first decade, from our own perspective, with our own voice. Collaborating with LeftWord Books was the obvious choice. It became as much their project as it was ours, thanks to the ingenuity, vision, and dedication of Sherna Dastur, the designer, and The Freedom Theatre’s close friend and LeftWord publisher Sudhanva Deshpande. Both Sherna and Sudhanva invested their heart and soul in this book.
The process of creating ‘Rehearsing Freedom’ was challenging and incredibly inspiring. It started with going through many thousands of photos, starting with the theatre’s very first days, when it was not more than an empty hall, through the wild twists and turns of its history to date. Ideas were tried and dismissed, texts were written and re-written, new elements were added and compromises were made, all in close communication between Sherna, Sudhanva, my colleagues, and I. We wanted this book to be anything but a classic, glossy photo book: pictures would lead the way, but the texts needed to be more than captions: they should reinforce the stories inside the images. We did not want a chronological account of the theatre’s first ten years, nor did we want it to be sharply divided into chapters. There are definitely themes in the book but they are fluid, feed into and sometimes even contradict each other. The spirit of The Freedom Theatre is in the book’s structure, texture and on every page.
When ‘Rehearsing Freedom’ was almost finished, Sherna suggested to try something that she was not sure would work, and would certainly require a lot more hard work by her: turning the book around, to read from right to left. My immediate reaction was the same as what Sudhanva later told me his reaction had been: She is mad. But yes, of course! Turning the book around was a way to signal from the very moment that the reader laid their eyes on the book, something about The Freedom Theatre’s identity. The Freedom Theatre is a Palestinian cultural centre, located in Jenin refugee camp, with Arabic as its main language, and it has a habit of turning things upside down, inside out, and back to front. The Freedom Theatre engages its participants and spectators in a process of critical reflection of the hidden, taken-for-granted, aspects of our human existence. It provokes questions and rarely provides simple answers.
As someone who has been involved with The Freedom Theatre almost since the beginning, embarking on the production journey was very emotional. It meant diving deep into the good, the difficult and the worst possible chapters of the theatre’s history. The pictures and stories represent all those who grew up in and were transformed by the theatre, those who are still here as well as those who have left or cruelly been taken from us. They encompass all of the plays, the workshops, the exhibitions, the meetings, the lunches, the heated discussions, the love, passion and everyday life of a place that is like no other. Co-creating ‘Rehearsing Freedom’ has truly been a labour of love and I am forever grateful to my colleagues at the theatre for entrusting me with this great honour.
Johanna Wallin is a writer, coordinator and communicator who joined The Freedom Theatre in 2008 as a resource developer. For the past six years she has managed The Freedom Theatre’s international communication, including website, social media, press releases, annual reports, publicity materials and publications. Wallin is also involved in strategic management and organisational development as a member of The Freedom Theatre’s executive committee.