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Docklander - July 2017

28 Jun 2017

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In a space for thoughts and adventures

By Sunny Liu

Award-winning playwright and new Docklander Samah Sabawi says Docklands is where her creativity takes place.

Ms Sabawi has recently returned to Docklands after eight weeks of touring around Australia and North America, where she and co-author Stephen Orlov launched anthology Double Exposure: Plays of Jewish and Palestinian Diasporas.

This book is the first anthology of Jewish and Palestinian drama, prose and poetry in English and won the prestigious Canadian Patrick O’Neill Award.

Born in the war-torn Gaza Strip in Palestine, Ms Sabawi has lived in five different countries.

Her family lived in exile in a refugee camp in Jordan during conflicts in the 1960s and lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years before migrating to Australia. She lived in Canada for 20 years and returned to Melbourne six years ago.

Ms Sabawi said her “restless” migrating experience had enriched her creative work.

“There’s a disadvantage that people always talk about when your life has been uprooted. Your life is interrupted and you are disconnected from your homeland and your culture,” she said.

“But there is also an incredible experience that comes with being part of a floating population of being a hyphenated human being ­– being a part of this and a part of that. It gives your incredible vision and opens you up to different perspectives.”

Ms Sabawi said her identity fitted various titles, being a Palestinian, Canadian-Australian, a mother, a Muslim woman and a writer.

“It just really enriches your life. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if my life weren’t uprooted like this, but this is the life that I have so I make the most of it,” she said.

She said life in Docklands was different from her expectations.

After spending most of her life living on a farm or big suburban houses in Canada and Melbourne, she envisioned herself sitting on a water-view balcony, sipping coffee while typing into her laptop when she moved to Docklands last December.

But living in an apartment with a harbour view and a stone’s throw away from the CBD means the spare bedroom in her apartment is never empty. Her family members constantly visit and stay for a day trip in Docklands and the CBD.

As a result, Library at The Dock becomes the go-to place for Ms Sabawi to work quietly and let imagination flow.

“I can look up and see water and boats. It kind of offers me a clean slate of possibilities. There’s space for thoughts to grow and adventures to take place,” she said. “There’s also the connectivity to the city and the ability to see theatre and enjoy the richness and diversity of culture and emotions.”

Ms Sabawi is the author of the award-winning play Tales of a City by the Sea, a heartbreaking love story in the besieged Gaza strip.

Premiered in 2014, Tales of a City by the Sea was added to the Victorian school curriculum and won two Victorian Drama Awards for best publication and best production for VCE.

The play was sold out and received standing ovations throughout the tour in Australia and also enjoyed critical acclaim internationally.

Ms Sabawi is co-producing her new play THEM with Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre, which is scheduled to be staged in June 2018.

Acclaimed theatre maker Bagryana Popov will direct THEM and Osamah Sami, outstanding actor and author of Good Muslim Boy, will be the lead actor.

The play revolves around the life of asylum seekers and their confrontations with choices and displacement.

Ms Sabawi said she wanted to show the humanity of such stories through her book and theatre productions.

“Humanity comes before politics. The human side of people’s stories are powerful and beautiful,” she said.

“No matter what their backgrounds are, people are capable of dealing with diversity in the most beautiful way. Beyond the news coverage and the statistics, there are stories that must be told.”

Ms Sabawi is also a cultural ambassador for Melbourne Theatre Company and Multicultural Arts Victoria.

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