January 19 saw the premier of Inta ou Ana (You & Me), the grand show of the young people in Hayâtuna Amman. Music coach David Raflund tells us about an emotional rollercoaster filled with nerves, tear, joy and collective pride.
We are met with an obtrusive smell from the hot-air system that is chugging along on one side of the entrance as we stroll through the massive wooden doors and begin our descent throught the sea of chairs en route to the big stage. We are at theAl Hussein Cultural Center in Amman, Jordan, a culture and theater stage with a capacity of 535 seats.
Today is the premier of Inta ou Ana, a performance born from the work of the first year, out of two, with kids from different orphanages and marginalized areas in Amman. This is their story, their universe, their voices channeled through music, dance and theater. The story is focuses on two siblings, a brother and sister, who are separated when taken to different orphanages. We get to follow their journey and struggle towards a reunion.
Preparations and restlessness
It’s 11.30 and today’s production meeting is about to begin. All people involved are present and loud dicussions on technique, sound, positions, walk-ons and walk-offs and how to solve the problems of yesterday’s rehearsals are held. In addition to the coaches (David Raflund, Sahar Khalifeh, Maxeem Ayyad, Ostaz Samm), who have assisted the kids in creating the show, and the director Fathi Aref, Henrik Melius, the founder of Spiritus Mundi, and the local project staff are present.
Twelve volunteers that help with logistics and looking after adventurous kids, are also at the theater. There are many fun corners and crannies to run and hide in, many stairs to fall from and an accident can easily happen, especially behind and above the stage. The entire show is documented by the five man American film crew from Montclair State University, NJ, also present.
Yesterday’s rehearsals resulted in lots of running behind the stage as the kids grew restless from the wait. Therefore we have divided them into three groups, in three seperate rooms and closed off the hallway. The only exit is to the stage. Kids from the two orphanages (Al Hussein Society and Al Nadha House for Female Social Care) have a room each and and the kids from the social center RUWWAD, from Jabal Al-Natheef is in the third room. All in all 40 kids, ages 7-17. At 13.00 they emerge from their respective rooms and the rehearsals jump start.
Two and a half hours later two complete run-throughs of the 30 minute show have been made. It’s time for food and some well-deserved rest before the start of the show at 18.00. The meal is taken out on the stairs that lead to the inner courtyard of the theater, since the sun has begun to warm up a chilly Amman again. We’re basking in the afternoon sun while most of the kids are dancing and chasing each other down on the courtyard. A calculated attempt, albeit a failed one, to tire them so that the backstage area won’t be as chaotic as during the rehearsals.
The audience – a Jordanian microcosm
At 17.15 we are back inside the theater and it’s time for the kids to stay behind the stage. All doors in and out of the stage are staffed to avoid running and the volunteers are in charge of looking after a group of kids each. It’s of utmost importance that they are at the right place when the show is about to begin, since the changes on and off stage are quick during the performance and therefore have been meticulously coordinated. Two pedagogues are assigned to each side of the stage to assist in the changes of kids walking on and off stage.
Slowly the seats fill with excited visitors – parents, siblings, family, friends, ambassadors, politicians, officials and royalties – a Jordanian microcosm, and as the tension rises in the soon to be filled theater, the restlessness and temperature quickly follow suit backstage. In the limited space it’s difficult to keep calm when leg and minds are startled and soon the level of noise is rampant and anarchy ensues.
At 18.10 the lights go out and the seven minute film about Hayâtuna is screened to give the audience insight to the background of the project and the kids’ journey up to this point. After speeches from Henrik Melius, the Swedish ambassador in Jordan Charlotta Sparre, and the Hayâtuna and Spiritus Mundi project director in Jordan Eman Suhiemat, who reads poem written specifically for this occasion, the curtain goes up.
The show begins
Long, sweeping chords slowly breathe over the bandstand and unite in movement with the puffs from the smoke machine. A thick atmosphere settles on stage. The voices of the sister and brother echo over the theater as they slowly walk towards each other, halt, stare at the audience, turn their eyes towards each other and then walk out the same way they came in. The show has begun and the concentration backstage is evident, nothing can go wrong. The kids about to enter stage stage next have a hard time keeping quiet during the bridging passage, but silence is restored after a couple of whispering but firm rebukes from Maxeem and myself.
Through the six scenes that the show is built up around, the audience is taken on a journey to places known and unknown of Amman of today. Dance is alternated with singing and rap and are intertwined with staged situations about community vulnerability. Suddenly, in the third scene, something happens. The dancers are not in place when the music starts and temporarily chaos reigns. Somehow the kids manage to adjust and hurry to their positions. In the limelight they are all in sync again and order is restored.
A collective pride
Thirty minutes later the success is a fact. The entire theater is standing up, dancing and singing along, guided by the children from the stage. The message and the joy in the music are impossible to resist. When the final phrase of “Hayâtuna Song” fades into silence a roar of applause, that never seem to end, ensues. Many tearful faces are seen in the audience and the kids are competing for the widest smile. Without exaggeration it feels like a collective pride over what has just happened is present among everyone in the theater; the audience, the volunteers, the coaches, the technicians, the project staff and, of course, among the kids themselves.
It has been a long road lined with setbacks and friction, but also with credence, joy and belief in the future. And hopefully it’s a journey that has just begun. Soon the next year of Hayâtuna begins with the aspiration of making the project self-sustaining to be able to create a long-term platform that furthers creative expression and social participation in Jordan.