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MDX academic teaches stand-up comedy in Jenin refugee camp

03/05/2018
In January 2016, Dr Sam Beale received a call from comedian Mark Thomas asking if she was interested in teaching stand-up comedy to students in Palestine

Credit: Jenin Freedom Theatre

Having known the comedian Mark Thomas for over 25 years, Dr Sam Beale, a Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts at MDX, wasn’t surprised by his phone call in January 2016 asking if she was interested in teaching stand-up comedy to students in Palestine.

“I was aware that Mark had walked the length of wall and had spoken to people on both sides, Israelis, Palestinians, settlers and officials so I knew he had a strong connection to the region. Mind you theatre, and in particular comedy, is complex and I wasn’t sure how this project would be received, especially in Jenin which is a conservative city in Palestine.”

However, the phone call was followed up with a visit in May 2016, a three day workshop in January 2017 and then almost a month of teaching which culminated in twelve Palestinian students putting on performances in May 2017, one in the Freedom Theatre and another in the city of Jenin. Two of these students have just completed a UK tour with Mark Thomas ‘Showtime from the Frontline’.

Sam and Mark taught twelve students in the Jenin camp in Palestine in the northern West Bank - home to around 17,000 people and about a square kilometre in size.

“Comedy has a unique role in challenging taboos and authority and I was concerned that this would not be possible in place with such conservative values.  However the experience re-confirmed my belief that comedy has the power to open people up, both the comedian and the audience.” Dr Sam Beale

Four of the students were female and given Sam has a particular interest in women and comedy this was really important to her and provided an interesting snapshot of what life is like for women in Palestine.

She said her main fear was that that the project would fail: “Comedy has a unique role in challenging taboos and authority and I was concerned that this would not be possible in place with such conservative values.  However the experience re-confirmed my belief that comedy has the power to open people up, both the comedian and the audience.”

The project leaves behind a strong legacy with a number of the students continuing to perform comedy, even staging their own comedy nights in Palestine.

Sam used the same teaching methods at MDX and Jenin and says her overriding take home message is that whatever the political situation young people are generally the same. “I thought I’d spend a lot of time talking about politics and the history of the situation but the students in Palestine were the same as my students in Hendon. They wanted to talk about love, sex, and their futures. You just hear background gunfire in Jenin”.

Learn more about studying Theatre Arts at Middlesex.

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