Behind Barbed Wire, Shakespeare Inspires a Cast of Young Syrians


The crowd burst into applause, and a number of the leading girls broke into tears. Mr. Bulbul said they were overwhelmed because it was the first time anyone had clapped for them.

The Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan is home to thousands of refugees who escaped the Syrian civil war. Over half of the 587,000 refugees residing in Jordan are children. 60,000 of these children live in the camp, and less than a quarter attend school regularly.

Trapped within gated boundaries, these children live what one refugee calls “an incomplete life”—one of poverty and boredom. Many parents fear that the Syrian war has created a lost generation of children who are traumatized by violence and deprived of education.

Fighting to save this generation, Syrian actor Nawar Bulbul directed a production of William Shakespeare’s King Lear, starring the children of Zaatari Refugee Camp.


The sun blazed on the day of the performance, staged on a rocky rectangle of land surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. The 12 main actors stood in the middle, while the rest of the cast stood behind them, a chorus that provided commentary and dramatic sound effects. The audience sat on the ground.

…In later scenes, the king was heckled by the Fool, who wore a rainbow-colored wig, and eight boys performed a choreographed sword fight with lengths of plastic tubing. A few scenes from “Hamlet” were spliced in, making the story hard to follow. And at one point, a tanker truck carrying water roared by, drowning out the actors and coating the audience in a cloud of dust.

But the mere fact that the play was performed was enough for the few hundred spectators. Families living in nearby tents brought their children, hoisting them on their shoulders so they could see.

While the production did not stay true to Shakespeare’s original play—it was indeed a very loose interpretation of the great work—the performance successfully drew in an audience of hundreds, reinforcing the sense of community within the camp. Not to mention, it finally allowed the children to exercise their creativity and their intellectuality.

A passionate writer and reader, the title of this article—“Behind Barbed Wire, Shakespeare Inspires a Cast of Young Syrians”—immediately caught my attention. I have always believed that the arts have the power to both unify a community, as well as inspire individual creativity and expression; I think that the Zaatari camp’s King Lear adaptation is a beautiful example of this. I am fascinated by how Shakespeare’s writing has had so much impact. Not only has it remained so prominent for centuries, but it has transcended cultural boundaries. Though written by an English playwright from the seventeenth century, King Lear resonated with the Syrian children of a present-day refugee camp. It really makes me happy to see how art has the power to enrich the lives of people all around the world—people of all backgrounds and circumstances.

To read the full article, click here.

Post submitted by JoAnna


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