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The merchant of stars … theatre children workshop in Palestine

Like for the title of a famous Italian movie of 1953, ‘bread (love) and fantasy’ are the three ingredients of the project The Merchant of Stars (”Il Mercante di Stelle” in the original Italian title), a theatre children workshop included in the dissemination activities promoted by the Cerealia Festival, which on the occasion of its 10th (2020) edition, will be dedicated to food and environmental education for young people, aged 6 to 25.

The Italian non-profit cultural association Music Theater International (MThI) has planned, in cooperation with proTerra Sancta (ATS) and the Mosaic Center, this creative workshop in the Palestinian West Bank which, through playful-performative activities, intends to stimulate the expressive abilities of Palestinian children to transmit their skills, useful for their individual and relational growth.

The work with children will focus on the following themes: friendship, travel, meeting, sharing, nature/environment, food / bread … creatively addressed through improvisation and expressive movement (mime, use of the masks, etc.), drawing on the rich heritage of the Italian theatrical tradition, and in particular of the Commedia dell’Arte, also integrating dance, music and singing.

For the final performance, the participating children will use the mythical (Greek-Roman) stories, the Greek-Latin tales from Aesop and Phaedrus, Palestinian folk and traditional tales, the creative and poetic world of the renowned Italian writer Gianni Rodari. The very title’s project is the same of a doggerel by Rodari (1920 – 1980), celebrated in 2020 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of his birth. Rodari, an ironic and original author defined as “The poet of fantasy”, not only entertained generations of children, but helped them to believe in the possibility of creating a better world by denouncing any form of injustice and abuse. His fantastic, amazing and extraordinary adventures invite us to look at reality with the filter of fantasy and to change the order of things, to see them better. In his fairy tales, novels and doggerels, he invites readers not to give in to the easy enticements of approval, but to seek their own way, despite difficulties and inevitable misunderstandings.

Traditional and folk tales are stories transmitted orally by communities since the dawn of time. They served, like the Classical Mythology, to make sense of the existential questions that human beings have asked themselves in different cultures. The selected stories allows us to identify the representations of conflicts, which we want to deal with in the group, and which concern every maturational experience. Fairy tales have, among other functions, that of revealing reality under appearance (demystification), a human reality made up of relationships based generally on strength and cunning. Fairy tales are also a school of prudence for survival, of industriousness, energy, tenacity: all fundamental qualities to survive in a difficult society. Aesop’s fables (Aesopica), in particular, is a genre of literature that has its roots outside Greece, in the Near East, although it takes its name from a “sage” of the Ionian age. It is precisely from this culture of Asia Minor, whose origins date back to the Sumerians, inherited and continued from the Babylonian and Assyrian culture, that Greek culture knew the first examples of this kind of literature.

Last but not least, the universal food: bread, fundamental basis for every culinary tradition. From Mesopotamia to all the tables in the world, bread has been a symbol of culture, history and anthropology, hunger and wealth, war and peace. Bread, made of water-flour and a little salt (when present), carries within the history of civilizations, becoming the basic food essential for the survival of peoples. For Palestinians, bread plays a very important role: it is baked in the common oven, called the taboon, placed in the space shared by several families. The many types of bread, never cut with a knife but ‘torn with the hands’, are often the dish on which to place the food, as it already happened in antiquity, according also to the ancient Roman poet Virgil in the Aeneid.

The workshop, which will involve Palestinian boys and girls between 7 and 10 years old, will take place from 11 to 16 March 2020 in the Bad, Crusader room (XII century) with Byzantine and Roman remains of the Mosaic Center. The Center, thanks to a long and careful recovery made since 2014 together with proTerra Sancta and co-funded by the Foundation Assistance Internationale – FAI, contributes with its activities to the improvement of the economic and cultural living conditions of the Palestinian population in Sebastia, Jericho and Bethlehem; economically depressed areas but of great historical and cultural importance.

The Merchant of Stars projectwill end with two public performances, with the children as the main protagonists, in Sebastìa (Nablus) and Betania (Jerusalem) on 17 and 18 March 2020, with the involvement of the Municipalities of Sebastìa and Nisf Jubeil. The video-photographic documentation of the project will be presented at the Cerealia Festival in Rome (5-10 June 2020). Three performing arts professionists with experience in theatre training and teaching also for children and young people (Gerardo Dino Ruggiero, Paola Sarcina, Aziza Essalek) will coordinate the workshop. MThI has launched a campaign to support the project through the Italian crowdfunding platform Produzioni dal Basso:

About the Author

Paola Sarcina received her bachelor degree in “Human studies and Music History” at the II University of Rome Tor Vergata. Her musical training includes also studies as soprano and she performed as singer in concerts in Italy and abroad, as soloist and in chorus.

Since 1994 she works in the management and communication for the performing arts, having followed some management courses held by important institutions and universities in Italy, Germany and USA.

She also works as playwright and director, having directed over thirty performances, from classical to contemporary theatre and Opera. She is president and founder of the cultural not-for-profit association M.Th.I.; founder and artistic director of the International Festival Cerealia; past member of ITI/Unesco’s Music Theatre Committee.

Peace Over War