Amidst the rubble of bombed-out buildings in rebel-controlled areas of Aleppo city, a group of amateur actors and artists puts on plays for children and adults on rudimentary stages in basements and below-ground garages.
The Bread Way (“Tariiq Al-Khubz”) troupe was formed in July 2014. The name originates from the idea that it is not just food that sustains life and humanity, but rather awareness and contemplation through art.
The troupe is composed of 15 members from different provinces and includes doctors, teachers, university students and FSA fighters.
Their most recent play, Arab Party for Freedom, examines how freedom is understood “in Arab countries where people rose up against tyrants,” Salman al-Ibrahim, a writer and the director of the troupe, tells Syria Direct’s Mohammad Abdulssattar.
“The question that is directed to the audience is: Will we recreate these tyrants?”
Q: What’s the story behind the name Bread Way (Tariiq Al-Khubz)?
It is as if Syrians have become nothing except people begging for food and basic necessities. But our concern, the real issue, is human dignity and not just daily bread. Our bread is art, awareness and reflection. Bread itself does not sustain humanity. That’s why we chose the name Bread Way.
The poster from Bread Way’s latest performance of “Arab Party for Freedom.” Photo courtesy of Bread Way.
Q: Can you describe some of the plays and the messages they convey?
The script of the play Dakakin (“Stores”) deals with the transformation of active participants in revolutions who struggle for the cause. As store employees, they establish associations and organizations that on the surface aim to help people but deep down are only interested in amassing immense power and money to serve personal interests and their benefactors, even if it is detrimental to the revolution and the nation.
The marionette plays [for children] revolve around the protagonist a-Shatir Hassan [a-Shatir in Arabic means clever or smart]. The idea is how he transforms every time from someone who is naughty to someone who is smart.
The play Arab Party for Freedom tells the story of a journalist who is arrested because of his political positions and his morals. People come to him and he gives them balloons that are filled with the air of freedom. It is with this air that the true characters of people are revealed. The idea of the narrative is how freedom is understood in Arab countries where people rose up against tyrants. The question that is directed to the audience is: Will we recreate these tyrants?
Q: What are the biggest challenges you face while trying to put on plays?
Of course the security situation and the lack of available resources is hard. Finding a theater is also a challenge in and of itself.
Q: How do you prepare the stage and set? Where do you put on the plays?
First, we put on the play in areas underground. We never use the same location more than once out of security considerations.
Architects and artists that are with us inside rebel-controlled Aleppo city produce the backdrops and sets. A carpenter builds the stage from wood that we stand on. In short, we use rudimentary methods to create what we need.
Q: Where do you get the funding for this?
We get our funding from individuals who collect donations. We don’t get funding from parties that might take advantage of what we do or that want to politicize us. We do this for the sake of art, not to make a living.
Q: You live in a city described by some as the most dangerous place in the world. Competing rebel factions also control different areas that you are in and sometimes those groups don’t believe in the notion of the arts and theater. Does this compound the danger you face?
Yes, there is great danger. As I said previously, we never use the same location twice for this reason. But our belief in art is what drives us to take the risk.
This revolution was undertaken in order to inculcate certain principles that we need to hold on to no matter what happens. Through theater we are able to touch on these subjects.
Q: What is the importance of theater given the circumstances and to what extent does it influence society?
Trying to influence reality might succeed and it might fail. But in our opinion, and this is the most important point, art is a historical and literary record for the future. The history tomorrow will tell future generations about the revolution and what catastrophes befell it.
We intend to focus on the positives and the beauty that has come out of this revolution.
Q: Are people in the community attending the plays despite the siege, hunger and bombardment?
Yes, there is a desire to live.