Gardens Speak and the Challenges of Efficient Storytelling
In response to political unrest in Syria, families of activists and protesters have taken to burying their loved ones in gardens (at home or gardens of close friends); a beautiful ritual of peace.
Tania El Khoury’s Gardens Speak, though described as immersive theatre, is only prefaced in an “immersive” fashion. The small audience of ten was asked to walk down a dark hallway into a antechamber where a guide awaited us. There, the guide handed each audience member an instruction card with a deceased's name, a small flashlight, and asked us to put on lab coats and take off our shoes. At our own pace, the guide directed us to another dark room where a large rectangular graveyard stood in the centre. The graveyard was filled with cold earth and lined with murmuring tombstones inviting us to find our designated tombstone, where the story of a fallen Syrian Martyr was whispered to us from deep within the earth.
The act of walking barefoot on cold, moist dirt, which immediately causes your feet to sink into the dampness of the earth evoked death. In this sense, the sensuous nature of the piece“immersed” audience member in the fear and morbidity of war.
One of the many challenges that western societies face in trying to generate awareness and empathy about horrors happening in other areas of the world comes from the one-notedness and repetitive forms through which we tell these stories. The Syrian Civil War has been heavily reported since 2011. It is a constant on international news reports and still we don't take notice of its gravity. Gardens Speak, though framed in the form of a somber and experimental ritual, recounted the actual stories, (to me the core of the piece), in traditional “monologue” form. The absence of interactivity or immersive freedom within the stories themselves thus caused Gardens Speak, like a news broadcast, to be limited in its arousal of empathy and its invitation to become emotionally moved.