BEIRUT: As part of its aim, to commit to education, empowerment, and equality for women and girls, the Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World collaborated with the Department of Communication Arts at the Lebanese American University and hosted an Egyptian play under the title of “Taa Sakena,” Monday night. The play, which took place in Gulbenkian Amphitheatre, was followed by a panel discussion that included five notable figures.
The play attempts to recreate and retell stories of twelve Egyptian women dealing with depression and mental illness, it also explores the society’s attitude towards mental health in relation to women. The performance was directed by Nada Sabet and produced by Noon Creative Enterprise, an organization that works through performing arts to develop a civil society with a focus on children, youth, and women.
“Taa Sakena,” translates to “The quiet letter Taa.”
In Arabic, “taa” is a term that refers to a feminine past tense verb, and is used to end female addressing words. Since “Taa” signifies femaleness in mere grammar, this play aims to give women and their struggles the significance needed in their communities, organizers noted.
According to Nada Sabet, the quiet part of the title refers to a number of issues: the silencing of women, the silence on issues of mental illness and disabilities, and the lack of a proper language and approach to discuss these problems.
“The title fits the mood of the performance, in which the suffering women are forced into silence while everyone else feels free to talk about them however they please,” said Sabet.
“Taa Sakina” follows the stories of twelve women who participated in a theatre workshop conducted by Noon Creative Enterprise at the Abbasiya Psychiatric Hospital in Egypt. Sabet explains that the women were not checked in at the hospital, but were there to accompany children who were receiving treatment. Among the twelve women were mothers, sisters, aunts, and caretakers.
Sabet emphasized that the workshop was never considered as therapy, “it was a tool to help women find support in other women dealing with similar situations.” Throughout the workshop, the twelve women were able to share their personal experiences with mental illness and disability, giving Noon Creative Enterprise and Sabet the permission to portray their stories on stage and inspire other women in different societies.
These stories were performed by three actresses, Abeer Soliman, Mona al-Shimy, and Mona Soliman. The play is plot-less and non-linear, it focuses on retelling the women’s stories in a both a realistic and artistic way. The three actresses take on many different roles that encompass the experiences of these women, providing perspective to the different aspects of a woman’s life.
Throughout the performance, the audience witnessed the three actresses play the parts of the women themselves, who are mothers, employees, aunts or sisters. The actresses also play the roles of the women’s children, school teachers, disapproving families, inner thoughts and fears, and the voices of society.
In one of the scenes, the mother’s character stands speaking to the audience about her intellectually challenged son’s experience at school, while the two other actresses quietly act the parts of the son and his teacher in the background, illustrating her words.
“The most important thing was that the play paid proper respect to the women and their stories,” Sabet said. “The goal of the performance is to actually listen to women,” she added.
Following the play was a panel discussion that included Ahmad Oueini, Associate Professor of Education, Lina Abyad, Associate Professor of Theatre, Lama Daccache, project manager at Catharsis-Lebanese Center for Drama Therapy, Nada Sabet, director of the play, and the moderator Amr Slim, Assistant Professor of Music.
The panelists discussed mental health and the use of drama to highlight gender issues. They also gave their different perspectives ranging from education and psychology, social work and performing arts to find solutions to the issues of silenced women, mental illnesses, disabilities and the society’s judgment of the prior.
According to Lina Abirafeh, Director of Institute for Women’s Studies in the Arab World, the idea of assembling a panel is that it gives credibility to the issues at hand, and shows how these problems need a real robust response.
“Mental health needs a multispectral response, it needs a lot of people, it needs a drama therapy expert, a drama teacher, a play writer, a psychiatrist, an education specialist, a communication expert, a women studies expert and there could be a hundred more,” said Abirafeh.
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