Reflecting on Five Years in Jordan

Lara McIvor is Seenaryo’s Executive Director, based in Amman. She initiated Seenaryo’s first theatre projects in Jordan – starting from a desk in a shared workspace, and now leading a team of 8 in our new office in Jabal Al Weibdeh.

It has been five years since Seenaryo took its first tentative steps in Jordan. It all began in early 2018, when I was put in touch with Abdallah Smaik, who had been working as a theatre facilitator in Jordan and set up his own theatre and film production company. I told Abdallah about Seenaryo, participatory theatre, and our idea of embedding ourselves in communities and training youth in theatre leadership. I asked him whether this was something that might interest people. The answer was a resounding yes. Abdallah believed there simply weren’t enough opportunities for people to access theatre and play in Jordan, and those that did exist were for a small handful of people.

Abdallah sprang into action immediately, his excitement propelling us forwards, and after many hours of research, meetings, emails and conversations – Seenaryo arrived in Jordan. Abdallah introduced me to the people who helped shape the first Seenaryo show in Jordan, with the Citadel community of Amman. I then met Louay Dawaime, who shared Seenaryo’s passion for using theatre and play for social change. He quickly became one of our lead facilitators – and he is still going strong five years later as our Senior Arts Manager, heading all of Seenaryo’s theatre programmes in Jordan.

After a recent performance of the Seenaryo production While We Were Dreaming, one participant Ahmad Al Rifai reflected that he loved the play because “every single move said something about ourselves.” As I reflect on the last five years, I realise that is exactly what I had hoped for from the start. I hoped that every move Seenaryo made would reflect the people at the heart of the organisation – the communities, the artists, the wonderful project managers who make up the core team, the educators, the children, the youth, the parents, and the leaders of the powerful organisations who we are lucky enough to call our partners. These are the people that built Seenaryo and continue to do so, every day.

One of those leaders is Dina Al Khaldi, Director of Sama Al Badea, a community based organisation in Mafraq who we have partnered with since 2019. I was introduced to Dina through Eyad, a young Syrian man in Seenaryo’s very first youth theatre project in Amman, Up to the Light. For three months, he travelled two hours from his home in Mafraq to Amman to take part in every session. After the project, he was inspired to make this experience possible for other young people in Mafraq. So I travelled to Mafraq, where Eyad introduced me to Dina.

A performance of Life on Planets in partnership with Sama Al Badea (Dec 2019).

In our first conversation, Dina warned me that running theatre in Mafraq might be controversial for some of the more conservative families. Thankfully she was not only prepared to take that risk, but was determined that theatre and play was something that Sama Al Badea should offer to the children and young people they were serving. Since then, with Dina’s unwavering support, we have facilitated over 12 theatre projects in Mafraq, supported five trainees to become facilitators and trained 16 emerging artists, many of whom are now independently leading their own theatre projects in their community.

People like Dina forge the path for theatre and play to be accessed by communities who are too often overlooked. The inspiration and drive to keep creating new theatre, training new teachers and working with new communities (from Karak to Irbid, Zarqa to East Amman) comes from the Eyads, the Dinas and the Abdallahs – and the many others who make up the Seenaryo network. There are too many to name, but you know who you are. For us this is the power of theatre and play: once its power is unleashed, it resonates far beyond the individual. It ripples through people, schools, whole communities and beyond, leaving behind marks of hope, connection and new possibilities. This inspiration will continue to drive the work of Seenaryo in Jordan for the next 5 years – and hopefully many more after that.