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May 11, 2015

Trotter Institute Director Earns Opportunity to Study Theater in Palestine


  • Boston
Barbara Lewis Sees Parallels Between Palestinian, African American Theater

Barbara Lewis, director of the William Monroe Trotter Institute for the Study of Black Culture, leaves for Palestine on Wednesday, where she will spend nearly two weeks visiting research institutes and cultural institutions in the West Bank.

The Palestinian American Research Center (PARC) has selected Lewis, also a professor of English at UMass Boston, to attend its sixth Faculty Development Seminar on Palestine.

Lewis and nine other professors from across the United States will be taking part in roundtable discussions, tours of historic cities, and visits to a half-dozen universities. PARC covers all of the in-country expenses, and has arranged for Lewis, whose expertise is in theater, politics and performance, and cultural history, to meet with a theater historian while she is in Palestine. UMass Boston Today sat down with Lewis ahead of her trip.

Q: Why did you decide to apply for this seminar?

A: I was fascinated about how the different theaters in Palestine use theater to demonstrate and preserve and increase their humanity in the face of war and oppression and I felt that connected fundamentally to how African American theater is used here to show voice and presence and to celebrate the history of African Americans who often have been silenced in the usual story.

Q: You were also inspired by a film shown by our American Studies Department, Al Helm: Martin Luther King in Palestine, which follows the creation of a touring play about the civil rights leader in Palestine.

A: What I found fascinating was this dialogue between these two different cultures who shared some aspects of culture, but of course were not identical. One of the things that first caught my ear was the actor who was playing Martin Luther King, who said when the American performers came in, they started snapping pictures, and they didn’t even say hello before they started snapping those pictures, and he felt that they were objectifying him. And he resisted very strongly to that attitude of objectification that they had, and I loved his language. One of the things that I’m fascinated by is how when people learn a second language, they often express themselves more simply, but more clearly, and he was doing that in that film. He was saying what his heart had to say. And I loved that kind of conflict that eventually got solved. In working on the play, they had this object in common that they both worked on and they both shaped to their satisfaction.

Q: What do you hope to take away from this experience and bring back with you to UMass Boston?

Lewis adds that after she returns at the end of the month, she’d like to work with other UMass Boston faculty members interested in Middle Eastern studies and see what kind of programs could be created for students here.

A: See video



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