In Malaysia, refugee theatre pushes ahead with resilience and resourcefulness


A rehearsal video clip of the 'End Of Each Month' theatre show, a free admission event at the Black Box in Publika in KL on Jan 22. Photo: Parastoo Theatre

Refugee theatre hasn't dropped off the map in Malaysia.

Afghanistan-born director Saleh Sepas saw how the various lockdowns made it impossible for the KL-based refugee arts group Parastoo Theatre to stage shows in the last two years, but that has not broken the resilient spirit of these arts-loving individuals, who changed the direction of their work to include outreach and online initiatives.

The members and volunteers also helped with food aid distribution and donation drives to assist refugee communities severely impacted by the pandemic.

In 2022, Parastoo Theatre is eager to reconnect with the masses, and to get back on the live stage.

Saleh says it's time to encourage and inspire such minority groups involved in the performing arts scene, including refugee theatre. The Kabul-born director, writer and refugee hopes to see a flurry of creativity with refugee theatre groups and newcomers coming together to work with other arts practitioners.

“I say that two years of silence is enough. Art is the soul and essence of society. Society without art will be silent, and this silence will further damage the morale and motivation of the people, so for a great, motivated, and strong society, we all need to start again," says Saleh, the director and founder of Parastoo Theatre, which was formed in 2017.

Last January, Parastoo Theatre presented 'Overcoming Hardship In Times Of Crisis', an outreach show about the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, to five refugee communities. Photo: Parastoo TheatreLast January, Parastoo Theatre presented 'Overcoming Hardship In Times Of Crisis', an outreach show about the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, to five refugee communities. Photo: Parastoo Theatre

“If artists convey enough motivation and hope to society through art, the damage from the pandemic will be less and people with motivation can stand up to the challenges. This is in everyone's interest,” he adds.

Saleh definitely knows what he’s talking about.

Parastoo Theatre’s play And Then Came Spring, in collaboration with Instant Cafe Theatre (ICT), has been postponed three times since the start of the pandemic. It has been a blow, especially for a theatre group concerned about refugee rights.

But Saleh is confident that this year, the long-awaited play about child marriage, drug abuse and refugee issues will finally see the light of day.

“We want to make up for the silence of 2020 and 2021. We will perform And Then Came Spring at a later date (this year) and we also have other new theatre shows in our schedule, so we are ready for different performances,” says Saleh.

Back on stage

Parastoo Theatre will perform End Of Each Month at the BlackBox, Publika in KL on Jan 22.

End Of Each Month, a free admission show done in collaboration with Asylum Access Malaysia, explores labour rights issues in the refugee communities. In the absence of a legal framework, refugees are denied formal rights to work in Malaysia.

A screen shot featuring Saleh in the 'Parastoo Theater: Journey Of The Swallows' video series last year. A screen shot featuring Saleh in the 'Parastoo Theater: Journey Of The Swallows' video series last year.

This show, written and directed by Saleh, aims to shed light on this longstanding issue.

“This is a true story based on research and its script is based on the result of the same research. Refugee workers work hard but have not been paid for several months.

"Instead of paying them, the employer threatens and beats them. The end of each month is a ‘happy’ time for everyone because they receive a salary. But it is full of challenges for them,” explains Saleh.

“As a result of the lockdown, many lost their jobs and there has been an increase in experiences of labour rights violations during the pandemic such as unpaid salaries, termination without notice, exposure to confined spaces that does not permit social distancing, and occupational safety and health hazards – all compounded on existing perilous working conditions,” he adds.

End Of Each Month features Afghan refugees Sayed AliReza Hossaini, Masooma Sepas, Farzana Yakta and newcomers Abolfazal Jafari and Halima Nekoee.

Parastoo Theatre is also planning another performance later this year focusing on mental health challenges among the Afghan refugee community.

Parastoo Theatre's new play 'End Of Each Month' at the Black Box, Publika in KL on Jan 22 explores labour rights issues in the refugee communities. Photo: Parastoo Theatre Parastoo Theatre's new play 'End Of Each Month' at the Black Box, Publika in KL on Jan 22 explores labour rights issues in the refugee communities. Photo: Parastoo Theatre

“Due to the pandemic, the level of mental health problems in refugee communities has increased, and this is a cause for concern,” says Saleh.

Parastoo Theatre was not completely inactive in the last two years. It presented Overcoming Hardship In Times Of Crisis, an outreach show about the rise of domestic violence during the pandemic, to five refugee communities. Twelve online screenings of Screaming In Silence, a show about child marriage, were also streamed virtually, while the group also went online for the "Theater Of The Oppressed" series and contributed to the virtual World Refugee Day events.

Creativity has to continue despite the odds, maintains Saleh, who hopes this year will be a kinder one for everyone, especially those in the arts scene.

“Two years of silence has not destroyed our energy and motivation.

"We must all come back this year. It is clear that the audience will not be the same as before, but art creates hope. So, it’s important for all artists to return,” concludes Saleh.

More info here.

Article type: metered
User Type: anonymous web
User Status:
Campaign ID: 46
Cxense type: free
User access status: 3
Join our Telegram channel to get our Evening Alerts and breaking news highlights
   

Next In Culture

Borneo Native Fest rolls out Kaamatan, Gawai celebrations at KL's Central Market
Watch: cartoon alien aims to ease World Cup culture shock in Qatar
How young theatre performers are negotiating identity, social belonging
Egyptian composer's star rises with 'Moon Knight' fame
Lee Lee Lan, celebrated Malaysian dancer and choreographer, dies aged 77
Homegrown literary arts festival for young and emerging writers of the stage
TikTok time: Art Basel HK welcomes 'art influencers' to its upcoming edition
Watch: Robbie Williams reveals artwork at Sotheby's gallery
Kyiv residents call for iconic Soviet-era monuments to be renamed
'The Neon Hieroglyph' takes a trippy dive into a hallucinatory universe

Others Also Read