September 5, 2016
AMMAN (JT) — As the performance began, young children selling water descended upon the crowd, hoping to make a profit. By the end, they were all sitting in a row, captivated by the storyteller.
For Al Balad Theatre’s Muath Isaeid, this was success.
The ninth annual Hakaya Festival began on Friday featuring storytellers and performers from across the Middle East and the world. The events include performances, workshops and seminars given by both professional and emerging storytellers.
“When this theatre opened, we were searching for the missing points in the culture and what’s being left out, and one thing was storytelling,” said Isaeid.
“The Arabs were known for their storytelling skills in ancient times… it’s not very common these days but the art of storytelling still exists.”
On Sunday evening at the Hashemite Square in downtown Amman, a crowd gathered to watch a performance by Nassim Alwan, a Lebanese storyteller.
Her narration, titled “The Tree of Immortality”, captured a crowd of young and old listeners, men and women, Jordanians and foreigners.
After the performance, Alwan told The Jordan Times that she was glad to be involved in communicating ancient stories to new generations.
“It’s not just storytellers from Jordan, but from all Arab countries,” she added. “They tell stories from their country, and their country’s history and their country’s heritage, and they even speak with their country’s accent.”
The festival staff, largely high school volunteers, has seen its fair share of challenges, including having to cancel the week’s closing ceremony due to technical difficulties.
Still, according to Isaeid, after an attendance of 8,560 people, including 2,720 children in 2015, they are expecting a similar turnout this year.
Some shows are accessible to people with disabilities, and sign language interpreters have been present at two events.
Venues range from public parks to refugee camps around Amman and the governorates, and Isaeid said the main goal was to reach new audiences in more remote locations.
“We don’t want people from our circle,” he added. “They’re here 24/7 and they are watching our shows 24/7. In this festival, we’re trying to get the people who are usually left out of these cultural events.”