Tania El Khoury’s Gardens Speak was an immersive audio experience exploring the horror of Syrian protestors in the midst of war. Upon entering the Abe Burrow’s Theatre, an instructor told us to remove our shoes and socks. She proceeded to give each audience member a clear, long raincoat, a flashlight, and a postcard with instructions on how to navigate the environment. The instructor then escorted the ten-person group to the main room meant to evoke the feeling of a cold, dark grave. A huge trough full of fresh dirt and lined with tombstones filled the space, and the cards directed us to dig in front of the gravestones with the corresponding words in Arabic. There the audience lay in the cold dirt and listened to one of the ten graves in the dark theatre.
After my experience at Gardens Speak, I was furious. I thought it rude of the theatre company to make me lay in the dirt without first telling me. I was afraid to get my clothing dirty, a petty small problem next to these heartbreaking stories. My listening position in the dirt was less important than salvaging my clean clothes, and I didn’t hear much of the story. I resented the production for not presenting such an important topic in a way that was easier for audience to consume.
But, reminiscing and discussing the experience has changed my opinion of this immersive work of art. In the midst of my rant my classmate, Arisa, made a very important point: “The production was about the emotions provoked from laying in the graveyard. When do you ever lay down on the ground, rest your head on a grave, and listen to the voices that live underneath?” From this perspective, the purpose of the production was to connect the presence of the dead with their stories, rather than provide information about what is specifically happening in Syria. I realized that my reaction to Gardens Speak was in part because I was personally uneducated about the Syrian conflict. It was not Gardens Speak responsibility to educate me, only to invite me into an experience. The more I learned about the Syrian situation, the more I have come to appreciate Tania El Khoury’s installation. I am humbled by my experience, which has provoked me to do further research about Syria and their Regime.