Interview with Iranian/Australian Writer & Actor Osamah Sami by Kyriaki Maragozidis. Originally broadcast 13/6/16 Live to Air on Voiceprint Arts, Three D Radio 93.7fm in South Australia.
Interview with Iranian/Australian Writer & Actor Osamah Sami by Kyriaki Maragozidis. Originally broadcast 13/6/16 Live to Air on Voiceprint Arts, Three D Radio 93.7fm in South Australia.
“Tales of a City by the Sea’ is a perceptive story that magnificently captures the drama of star-crossed lovers in the besieged Gaza strip.”
In Daily – Adelaide’s independent news
This is wide-eyed saga of everyday Palestinians struggling to survive and find normality, hope and love in a region affected by hostility. It is an oddly poetic tale, whose complexity and subtleties of differing narrative viewpoint are maintained by axioms, a strong multi-cultural ensemble and superb lead performances.
Samah Sabawi’s script has received widespread acclaim for its insight into Palestinian life. The playwright’s remarkable sensitivity and artistry confers enormous authority on this portrayal of a beleaguered people.
The play focuses on Jomana (Helena Sawires), a Palestinian woman living in a refugee camp, and depicts life under the Israeli bombardment and siege. She is chaperone to her cousin Lama (Emina Ashman), who is unhappily engaged to Ali (Reece Vella).
When Rami (Osamah Sami), an American-born Palestinian doctor, arrives on the “Free Gaza” boats in August 2008, he and Jomana fall in love. When it is time to leave, Rami promises to sell his clinic in America and return to Jomana and his ancestral homeland.
The play gives us a prophetic flavour of the way people can culturally, politically, ideologically and physically be separated. There are sharp, pertinent scenes in which the lovers speak over Skype and renew their promises. But will the pair live happily ever after?
This play stands or falls by its love affair between the thoroughly decent Texan doctor, Rami, and the poetically romantic Jomana. And this love affair has all the passion of desperate people in desperate times and precarious situations. Sawires is well cast; she puts presence into every scene and bounces well off Sami, who brilliantly portrays an American caught between multiple loyalties. Read more…
by Julia Wakefield
Following its sold out premiere Melbourne season in 2014, Tales of a City by the Sea opened at The Bakehouse Theatre this week. The author is Palestinian/Australian/Canadian writer Samah Sabawi. She describes her work as ‘a poetic journey into the ordinary lives of people living in abnormal circumstances and their struggle to survive’.
The play grew out of a collection of poetry that Sabawi wrote while she was in Gaza during the three week bombardment of 2008/2009, prompted by her own experiences and those of her friends and family. She says she is not trying to put across a political message. Although this is a story based on real life events that took place during Israel’s assault on Gaza in 2008, its main purpose is to highlight the resilience and compassion that people display in such dire circumstances. In this current era of global conflict and confusion, there are many places featured in news bulletins that are enduring similar situations. Sabawi wants us to see ‘the detail of daily lives of people they see for brief seconds on the news’.
The play was originally directed by Lech Mackiewicz, and the current director is Wahibe Moussa. When it opened in Melbourne the plan was to have two simultaneous performances on the West Bank and in Gaza. The play was performed on the West Bank a week later; the script has been read in Gaza but as yet there has been no opportunity to perform the play there.
In the main characters of the play, Jomana and Rami, we see another theme: the gulf between the Palestinian diaspora (those whose families escaped from Gaza and who have grown up in an affluent, privileged society), and the same generation who remain trapped in Gaza. Jomana lives in Gaza, Rami is a doctor raised in Texas by refugee Palestinian parents. They are in love, but in order to enter each other’s world they have no choice but to abandon their families and the reality they grew up in.
The play ideally suits the intimate atmosphere of the Bakehouse Theatre. Scenes are evoked with the simplest of props, and Sabawi’s poetry slips seamlessly into the characters’ dialogue, serving to highlight emotional moments. In some places it appears as a passionate soliloquy, as in Rami’s heart rending speech “what price a life?” But it is also there in the play’s frequent humorous moments, such as the Dr Zeuss style banter that Rami exchanges with his mother. This reference to a familiar Western poetic style serves to emphasize the gap between Rami’s and Jomana’s upbringing. We realise that Rami, in spite of his heritage, has more experience in common with the audience than he has with Jomana. The contrast is cleverly portrayed in a particularly riveting scene where Jomana is conversing with her father in Gaza, while Rami is simultaneously speaking to his mother in Texas, on either side of a dining table.. Read more
The Barefoot Review
Where there is a wall, there is also a city its inhabitants call home in the sacred and emotional way expected of communities deeply attached to their history and culture; especially those coping with just over half a century of war in all its guises and forms, greater or lesser, challenging their right to exist.
Samah Sabawi’s Tales of a City by The Sea is poetically beautiful, discerning and honest in its examination of life in Gaza.
No angry, politicised, locked in sensationalism to be found here, despite what has been said of this work during 2016. Sabawi’s play is an astutely balanced, modern appraisal of what it means to live as a Palestinian under siege. Read more…
Adelaide Theatre Guide
June 11, 2016
This is a tale of conflict and survival told principally through the stories of two couples during the 2008 Gaza war.
Jomana (Helen Sawires) is a Palestinian journalist in Gaza who meets American born Palestinian doctor, Rami, (Osamah Sami) who arrives on board one of small boats that breaks the Israeli blockade.
Ali (Reece Vella) and Lama (Emina Ashman) are residents of Gaza. He loves her but she’s unsure whether to marry him or not.
The play traces the development of these two relationships amid the death and destruction that is everyday life in Gaza.
Samah Sabawi has created a potent narrative that brims with raw examples of the reality of living under a hostile authority. She explores relationships and family values in a place where people fight to retain some sense of normality amid the daily death toll; where “funerals and weddings have become part of daily life”. Read more
The Age June 2, 2016
“Our story resonates with refugees, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants, who after each performance feel the need to thank us for finally reflecting their lives on stage, telling stories of how humanity can survive in times of adversity and war and producing theatre that matters to them. The voiceless. The marginalised.”
My play Tales of a City by the Sea sold out its 2014 and 2016 seasons to standing ovations by many, including people from a Jewish background. Despite this overwhelming support, a small yet vocal group hit the panic button when the play was selected for the VCE drama curriculum.
It seems that I, the writer, missed the memo that I can’t write an artistic piece about Palestinian life without inserting Israel’s point of view into my art. This is wrong on so many levels.
Most alarming was the false accusation by the B’nai B’rith organisation that the play “peddles classic anti-semitic themes” (ABC radio, May 27). For the record, the play does not mention Jews, Judaism, the Jewish people or have any Jewish characters. This false allegation insults me as the author of this play as well as others including the cast and crew, La Mama theatre, the VCAA, the Australian Jewish Democratic Society as well as any one else who supported, attended, applauded and worked on this production.
I believe B’nai B’rith must apologise unequivocally to all of us. Anti-Semitism must always be taken seriously. False claims of anti-Semitism used to drive political agendas only trivialise and undermine our fight and resolve to eradicate it and other forms of racism.
Some criticised the play for not including Israeli voices. The reality is the only times Israeli voices are heard in Gaza is when an Israeli soldier phones a Palestinian family and orders them to leave their house before it is bombed, over a megaphone if a Palestinian boat gets too close to the forbidden line in the sea, or when a Palestinian walks too close to the fence that surrounds Gaza and Israeli soldiers shout at them from the surveillance towers to turn back.
The sad reality is that there are no human interactions between Palestinians in Gaza and Israelis outside of this paradigm. Palestinians know the Israelis are there all the time, surveying them with drones in the sky, cameras on the walls and towers and naval gunships at sea. Had Israeli voices been included, this would have been the realistic depiction as experienced by Gazans. But they were not included because all of this was irrelevant to the play.
What the critics don’t seem to grasp is this play is not about the Palestine/Israel conflict. Ordinary Palestinian life in Gaza does not revolve around political discussion. It is consumed with the daily battle for survival.
The two Palestinians falling in love in this play argue over where to live, what choices to make and the cultural differences between those who have left and those who have remained. The husband and wife in this play argue over how to make the water, a precious and increasingly scarce resource in Gaza, last longer.
Inserting a conversation about Hamas rockets and the Israeli army’s point of view would have seemed unnatural and out of place in the context of daily lives. The play touches only briefly on politics to the extent that it mixes with daily life, for example when characters complain about Hamas’ restrictions on civil liberties or when a fisherman recalls his encounter with Israeli naval ships at sea.
I spent the last two years researching with my Jewish Canadian co-editor Stephen Orlov the subject of Jewish and Palestinian plays as we gathered material for our soon-to-be-published anthology Double Exposure: Plays of the Jewish Palestinian Diasporas (Canada Playwrights Press). The more we researched the more we noted the scarcity of Palestinian plays actually produced in western theatres. Here in Australia, I can’t think of a staged play that had one Palestinian character or was written by a Palestinian.
It is perhaps for this reason, and for the fact that culturally diverse groups in general are under-represented on the mainstream stage, that Tales of a City by the Sea is received with such enthusiasm. Our audience is as diverse as our cast. Our story resonates with refugees, ethnic minorities, asylum seekers and immigrants, who after each performance feel the need to thank us for finally reflecting their lives on stage, telling stories of how humanity can survive in times of adversity and war and producing theatre that matters to them. The voiceless. The marginalised.
Tales of a City by the Sea is a quintessential human story of survival and hope, and its events could have taken place anywhere there is war, bombardment and siege. But because it is set in Gaza and told by Palestinians, the play triggered this hyperbole of fear-mongering and racist reactions from those who refuse to see Palestinians as human beings. The problem with this play is not that it may dehumanise Israelis – it does not. The problem is it humanises the Palestinians. Apparently, for some, this is too much to handle.
Samah Sabawi is a Melbourne-based commentator, poet, author and playwright.
This oped was first published in The Age on June 2, 2016. Original article at this link http://www.theage.com.au/comment/vision-of-everyday-life-in-palestine-too-bleak-for-some-20160602-gp9tmc.html#ixzz4AYRFxmci
We come from diverse backgrounds including Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Palestine, Malta, Malaysia, Thailand, Italy, Bengal, India, Chile and the UK. We have people of various faiths including the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. Our play is a celebration of the power of inclusivity and a testimony to breaking down cultural and racial barriers!
Writer Samah Sabawi
Samah Sabawi is a Palestinian Australian Canadian playwright, commentator and poet. Her plays Cries From The Land and Three Wishes had successful runs in Canada; Tales Of A City By The Sea enjoyed a sold-out season at La Mama in 2014 and an Arabic premiere at Alrowwad’s Cultural Theater Society in Palestine, and was selected for the 2016 VCE Drama Playlist. Sabawi’s poems feature in WITH OUR EYES WIDE OPEN (West End Press 2014), GAZA UNSILENCED (Just World Books 2015) and I REMEMBER MY NAME (Novum Publishing 2016). She is co-editor of DOUBLE EXPOSURE: Plays of the Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas (Playwrights Canada Press 2016).
Original Direction Lech Mackiewicz
Lech Mackiewicz is a Polish director, playwright, and actor. He formed Auto Da Fe Theatre Company in Sydney in 1987. He specialises in creating intercultural collaborative performance, having directed theatre in Poland, Japan, China, Korea, and Australia. Lech’s directing credits include: Felliniana (Belvoir St Theatre); King Lear (Playbox Theatre); Kafka Tanczy (Teatr Zydowski); Beckett in Circles (Suzuki Company of Toga); An Oak Tree (Teatr Wegierki); The Hour Before My Brother Dies (Teatr Jaracza); and Everyman and the Pole Dancers (Metanoia Theatre). He is a graduate of the National Academy of Theatrical Arts (PWST) in Cracow, and the University of Technology Sydney.
2016 Remount Direction Wahibe Moussa
Wahibe Moussa is an award-winning performance maker, and writer. In 2007, Wahibe received the Green Room Award for her role as “Mahala” in Theatre @ Risk’s production of Tony Kushner’s Homebody/Kabul. In 2014 she was one of ten dramaturgy interns at Melbourne Theatre Company, a Playwriting Australia Fellowship initiative. Wahibe’s practice is informed by her own experiences as a migrant child, her collaborations with Refugee Artists, and a commitment to understanding Indigenous performance and story making practices. This is Wahibe’s directorial debut.
Producer and Set Design Lara Week
Lara Week is a designer for performance and creative producer. Her design credits include: NaGL: Not a Good Look (Metanoia Theatre), Between Heaven and Her (La Mama Theatre), and The Conference of the Birds (Centre for Cultural Partnerships). Since 2011, she has been associate producer for Tribal Soul Arts, producing decolonial arts programs and performances in Africa, Europe, and Australia. She is dedicated to creating spaces where people with different skills and perspectives can share ideas and produce work together.
Lighting Design Shane Grant
Shane Grant has been Audio Visual Technician for St Kevin’s College for the past nine years. Previously, he was Production Manager with Strange Fruit and Technical Manager at Gasworks Theatre. Shane is an accomplished lighting designer having worked extensively with companies like Ranters Theatre, The Torch Project, NYID, La Mama and many others. Shane has a BA Dramatic Arts (Production) VCA from 1994. He sits on the Green Room Awards Association Theatre Companies Panel. Shane is currently an artistic director at Metanoia Theatre and the Technical Manager of the Mechanics Institute theatre in Brunswick.
Sound Design Khaled Sabsabi
Khaled Sabsabi works across art mediums, geographical borders and cultures to create immersive and engaging media based experiences. He is a socially-engaged artist who specialises in multimedia and site-specific installations that often involve people on the margins of society. Khaled has worked in detention centres, schools, prisons, refugee camps, settlements, hospitals and youth centres, in the Australian and broader international context. Khaled makes work that is in continual transfer from the physical to the philosophical, to interconnect the interrelatedness and cycles of life.
Sound Mixer Max Schollar-Root
From his roots in The Australian Theatre for Young People and the NSW Performing Arts Unit State Drama Ensemble, Max Schollar-Root found his passion in musical performance and composition while studying at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. He works as a band leader with Ungus Ungus Ungus, a theatrical and multi-modal performance project combining live music, technology, and dance, presenting nationally at large-scale festivals. As a Registered Music Therapist trained at The Melbourne Conservatorium of Music he runs early childhood music programs and works with adults with intellectual disabilities.
Production/Stage Manager Hayley Fox
Hayley Fox gained a Bachelor of Creative Industries majoring in Theatre at QUT (2005) and a Master of Arts in Writing at Swinburne University (2010). Her most recent stage management credits include: Werther and The Spanish Hour with the Lyric Opera of Melbourne; The Road to Woodstock and An Evening with Sarah Vaughan for Neil Cole; Diva Power Regional Tour for Arts Events Australia; Wuthering Heights with the Australian Shakespeare Company; and In Between Two at the Sydney Festival for Performance4a.
Assistant Stage Manager James Crafti
James Crafti is excited to be working on Tales of a City by the Sea as it combines two of his passions: theatre and Palestine. On the former James has directed a variety of plays such as Mutha, The Deserters, Rope, Creationism and Seven Jewish Children. He was also an assistant director on Yet to Ascertain the Nature of the Crime. James has also been an organiser with Campaign Against Israeli Apartheid, Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine and Jews Against Israeli Apartheid.
Producer Daniel Clarke
Daniel Clarke has worked in Australia, the UK and US as a theatre director, producer and artistic director. He is has recently taken on the role of Programmer, Performing Arts at Arts Centre Melbourne, after five fulfilling years as CEO and Creative Producer of Theatre Works, St Kilda. Daniel was the Artistic Director of Feast in 2007 and 2008, winning the prestigious Arts SA Ruby Award for Community Impact. He has also worked for Leicester Haymarket Theatre Company as Creative Producer/Associate Artist and was awarded the 2015 Sidney Myer Performing Arts Award Facilitators Prize.
Helana Sawires – Jomana
From a large, creative Egyptian family, Helana Sawires has always lived within the realm of the arts. Early on Helana developed a love for percussion, very much influenced by her father. Since graduating from Newtown High School of the Performing Arts (2011), Helana’s projects include: Short and Sweet Theatre Festival; Banana Boy (upcoming short); and W.O.W Casula Kid’s Festival (storyteller/drumming workshop). Helana landed her first major film role in 2015 in Ali’s Wedding (Matchbox Pictures). She was accepted into the Stella Adler Studio of Acting in NYC (2014), completing a Chekhov Intensive Course, which further influenced her unique expression across all forms of art.
Osamah Sami – Rami
Osamah Sami is a failed cricketer and a struggling Muslim. His memoir Good Muslim Boy was Highly Commended at the Victorian Premiere’s Literary Awards. He also co-wrote Ali’s Wedding, Australia’s first Muslim Rom-Com, and co-created the Web Series Two Refugees and a Blonde. Lead roles in films include Ali’s Wedding, Journey, 10 Terrorists! and Saved. TV roles include: Kick, East West 101, Rush, Sea Patrol, City Homicide and Jack Irish. He has performed at Belvoir St, MTC, La Mama and a dozen independent houses. His role as “Amor” in MTC’s I Call My Brothers earned him a Green Room nomination for Best Lead Actor.
Emina Ashman – Lama
Emina is a Malaysian born actor, dancer and theatre-maker. Before relocating to Australia (2012), her theatre credits in Kuala Lumpur include Beasts and Beauties, Lysistrata and Fragments. As a 2014 VCA graduate, her credits include Agamemnon, The Three Sisters, The Little Prince and Plus Sign Attached (with Living Positive Victoria). Emina played “Julie Bishop” in Lucky Country (Melbourne Fringe 2014). Last year, she read the role of “Christine” in Michele Lee’s Moths for MTC. She also played “Antonia D’Agostino” in the sell-out season of Adam Cass’s Bock Kills Her Father (La Mama, Melbourne Fringe 2015). She has recently completed a diploma in creative writing, specialising in writing for performance and poetry.
Reece Vella – Ali
Reece Vella graduated from The Actors College of Theatre and Television in Sydney (2010) and has been acting professionally for the past six years. Check out his Star now if you are into name-dropping. He harbours a passion for new, eccentric and challenging work. Since moving to Melbourne, Reece’s stage credits include: Everyman and The Pole Dancers; Tales of a City by the Sea; Between Heaven and Her; and most recently Night Sings Its Songs. Reece is elated and moved that a remount of Tales of a City by the Sea has taken life, confirming his everlasting hope in stories of humanity.
Alex Pinder – Abu Ahmed
Alex Pinder works as an actor and theatre director. Recent credits at La Mama include performing in Waiting For Godot (as “Lucky”) and In the Middle of the Night and Other Stories, and directing Buzo’s Norm and Ahmed. Other work includes directing a reading of In The Day I left Home by Raahma N Kalsie, for MTC NEON 2015 and MTC Cybec 2016, playing “Page” in The Merry Wives of Windsor at 45 Downstairs and Perth’s Fortune Theatre, and “Howard” in The Dead Twin.
Rebecca Morton – Samira
Rebecca Morton has been singing and acting all around Australia for longer than she cares to admit, from opera to music theatre to Shakespeare and Noel Coward with state theatre companies. She writes and tours highly portable, one act music theatre shows, and recently joined Alchemy 7, a group of artists who create a fusion of sculpture and song. She is also working with a new company, RAPt, which connects people through theatre. She is absolutely delighted and proud to be part of this very exciting and important play.
Cara Whitehouse – Multiple Roles
Classically trained, Cara Whitehouse has played roles in children’s puppetry to the Greeks, working in Melbourne and Singapore. Recent work includes Tales of a City by the Sea (La Mama 2014), Remember M with innātum Theatre, The Woman in the Window, and “Elektra” in The Oresteia. Cara’s film work includes multiple shorts with a web series in development. A certified Fitzmaurice Voicework teacher, Cara’s training encompasses Conservatory Actor training at Lasalle College of the Arts Singapore, Knight-Thompson speech work (NYC) and continued training at the Howard Fine Acting Studio.
Aseel Tayah – Singer
Aseel Tayah is a creative director, art producer and installation artist. She has been part of number of theatre productions at the Malthouse, Platform, La Mama, Polyglot and Metanoia Theatres, together with her own art works that have been displayed prominently in Palestine and Australia. She travels around the world to discover, photograph and be inspired by people’s cultures and histories. She creates interactive experiences that invite audiences to participate through her design of space, and the presence of her body and voice.
Ubaldino Mantelli – Multiple Roles
Ubaldino was in the 2014 Melbourne premiere of Tales of a City by the Sea at La Mama. He’s played major theatrical roles in the Geelong region, including performing for the National Trust and in the ensemble-devised Daylight Savings, led by James Pratt. Ubaldino trained under Kerreen Ely-Harper, Stephen Costan, Jenny Lovell, Danielle Carter, Karen Davitt and Nicky Fearn in the VCA Acting Studio 12. He’s been a producer, presenter and performer on community radio. In 2016, Ubaldino can be seen in James Burke’s short film, Sick Home.
Poster Design and Cover Art by Ahmad Sabra and Aya El-Zinati.
To buy tickets:
Melbourne: The show will be staged at the La Mama Courthouse theatre between May 11 – May 29th. La Mama Theatre is nationally and internationally acknowledged as a crucible for cutting edge, contemporary theatre since 1967. The Courthouse is located on 349 Drummond St, Carlton. Click here to purchase tickets for Melbourne shows.
Adelaide: The show will be staged at The Bakehouse Theatre June 8th to June 18th – June 18th. The Bakehouse is a charming, intimate live theatre at 255 Angas Street, near the east end (Hutt Street). Click here to purchase tickets for Adelaide shows.
Sydney: The show will run at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre on 1 Powerhouse Road, Casula. There will only be two performances scheduled for August 3rd. Click here to purchase tickets for Sydney shows.