Conversational Karaoke, Recall–Reflect–Return 70 Years: Palestine Performance Symposium, al-Arroub, Palestine (participatory performance)
Performance: Sunday May 6, 2018
I originally installed the Conversational Karaoke game on a street where it could be enjoyed by passersby from the al-Arroub refugee camp. Just minutes before the game was scheduled to begin, I was notified that it was no longer safe to play on the street. Israeli soldiers stationed one hundred metres away had begun firing tear gas canisters in our direction for no apparent reason other than that there were people on the street and it was becoming dark. As I learned, this is normal practice around the time of Salat al-maghrib, the Islamic call to prayer taking place just after sunset. The atmosphere was especially tense at the time as it was just one week prior to President Trump’s plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem (May 14, 2018) and scheduled protests related to the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (May 15, 2018). These protests resulted in fifty-eight Palestinians being killed by Israeli gunfire at the Gaza border.
I had spent my first few days in al-Arroub meeting people, recording conversations, and deciding on a public performance location. I had hoped to re-animate the stories I had gathered on the very streets they took place. Thus, when the director of Nowat Theatre, Hazem Al Sharif, suggested we had better move the installation inside, I was reluctant at first. As the symptoms of tear gas exposure, headache and burning sensation in the eyes, became noticeable even from behind the walls, I realized there was no choice but to move the equipment indoors where the game could go on. With the help of several Finnish and Palestinian artists, we quickly set up on the unfinished upper floor of Al Sharif’s home and the Nowat Theatre space. Within twenty minutes, I was ready to introduce Conversational Karaoke with the help of a local, Issa J. Al Lahaseh, acting as translator.
In the game, local residents of al-Arroub approached a video installation with muted video segments of people from their community in conversation. Participants selected a “game” and were able to tell their own story and be heard by a western audience. Despite the fact that there were no windows on this floor of the theatre, you could still hear commotion going on in the streets. However, this was soon drowned out by the ambient sounds of excitement and laughter coming from within the walls of the theatre. This was for me, a profound encounter with the true resilience and bravery of this community. Their strength of spirit and enjoyment of each other could not be so easily penetrated, even by the constant oppression and assault they live with every day.