Syrian refugee women put on their own version of Sophocles’ play, Antigone, from December 10 to 12, 2014 at Al Madina Theatre in Beirut, Lebanon. Antigone is about a young woman who buries her beloved brother even though to bury him goes against the ruler’s decree that he lie in public shame because he died fighting for the throne in a civil war in Thebes. It is the story of a resilient and strong-willed woman, Antigone, who is led by what she believes to be right—the story of an individual struggling against the state.
Not only did the play’s director Omar Abu Saada work with the women to produce the powerful production, he also spent time with them in workshops discussing the meaning of the play and helped them wrestle with difficult moral questions, such as loss and moving forward. In an interview with The Guardian, Saada said, “The main theme of this text is a very important one for these women—insurgency, rebellion, disobedience—did they do right or wrong in deciding to ask for freedom?”
Since the revolution against Syrian president Bashar al Assad began in 2011, an esmated 200,000 Syrians have died, and the country is in ruins. Many Syrian women related to the strong character of Antigone. Still others related to her sister, Ismene, who was too fearful to join Antigone in the choices that she made. One woman said, “I see myself in Ismene; she wants to be strong, but she can’t be.”
The production provided a space for these refugee women to come together for laughter, tears, dialogue, and a chance to express themselves and the strife of their homeland through theatre. The final line was spoken by Sokari, a refugee from Damascus, and speaks to the daily struggle these women face: “We didn’t realize how weak we were in front of the machine of war, that we kept feeding it until it came and swallowed everything. We don’t know what tomorrow holds, all we know is that the Thebes that we used to know is finished.”