Freedom Theatre to bring 'The Island' to UConn

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Storrs - posted Fri., Aug. 30, 2013
Arna Mer Khamis founded Care and Learning in the 1990s. Courtesy photo. - Contributed Photo

Gary English, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Drama at UConn, said that his attention was drawn to The Freedom Theatre as a result of a BBC article about the group’s production of “Animal Farm.” Interested in the group’s adaptation of scripts, he contacted them and made arrangements for a visit in 2010. “I went really to do research on political theater in the West Bank,” said English.

According to the theater’s website, “The Freedom Theatre draws its inspiration from a unique project, Care and Learning, which used theatre and art to address the chronic fear, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder experienced by children in Jenin Refugee Camp.” Jenin is a Palestinian city in the northern West Bank. The Jenin camp is one of 58 Palestinian refugee camps in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria that were created when Palestinians were expelled from their homes in 1948, during the creation of Israel, and again after Israel occupied additional land in 1967.

Care and Learning was set up during the first Intifada, or Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories, which lasted from December 1987 until approximately 1992.The project was run by Arna Mer Khamis, a revolutionary who devoted her life to campaigning for freedom and human rights, particularly in occupied Palestine.

In 2006, Arna’s son, Juliano Mer Khamis, co-founded The Freedom Theatre. Juliano was the general director of the theatre until 2011, when he was assassinated by an unknown enemy. English returned to Jenin in 2012 to help the theater through a period of transition following the murder. He notes that there were a number of people from different parts of the world, along with a core group within Jenin, who dedicated themselves to the project’s support. “Together we all kind of worked together through the last year to reconstruct the theater,” said English. English served as the artistic director of The Freedom Theatre from May of 2012 through July of 2013.

“This is really a theater that came out of the resistance movement,” said English. “It has been very successful in helping people to redefine themselves around the world.”

According to the Freedom Theatre’s website, the organization aims to accomplish several major goals: raising the quality of performing and visual arts in the area; offering a space in which children and youth can act, create and express themselves freely and equally, imagine new realities and challenge existing social and cultural barriers; empowering the young generation to use the arts to promote positive change in their community; and breaking the cultural isolation that separates Jenin from the wider Palestinian and global communities.

This September, the Jenin Freedom Theatre will tour four states in the U.S. with its production of Athol Fugard’s award-winning play, ‘The Island,’ which is directed by English. The play explores the lives of two prisoners who share a cell during South Africa’s apartheid regime, and has been adapted to reflect the experiences of Palestinian political prisoners and the abuses within the Israeli prison system.

“The prison experience is one most Palestinians share, either by being imprisoned themselves or by having a loved one put in an Israeli prison,” said Faisal Abu Alhayjaa, one of the production’s two Palestinian actors and a resident of Jenin refugee camp. Both Abu Alhayjaa and Ahmad Alrakh are graduates of The Freedom Theatre’s Acting School and have toured throughout Europe with various Freedom Theatre productions.

“’The Island’ is political drama at its best, with political ideas embedded within the characters and their experience. It is universal in its themes - including the tragedy of those who anywhere in the world are unjustly imprisoned for purely political reasons, beliefs, or for simply speaking out against injustice," said English.

The tour is co-sponsored by the theatre departments of three universities - the University of Connecticut, Brown University, and Georgetown - and by the New York Theatre Workshop. 

The show will be performed at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, in the Nafe Katter Theatre Sept. 6 at 7 p.m., and Sept. 7 at 2 and 7 p.m.  For tickets and information, call the box office at 860-486-2113, or visit for additional information and to buy tickets online.

For more information about the Freedom Theatre, go to

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