Saturday, June 15, 2024

Belfry Theatre cancels controversial play told from Israeli perspective amid rising tensions


Two weeks ago, on Tuesday, December 19th, a group of local activists launched a petition to have Victoria’s Belfry Theatre remove the play The Runner from their schedule due to the perspective from which the story is told. 

The Runner, by Toronto-based playwright Christopher Morris has won several awards and has been critically well-received so the Belfry included it in their programming for this year’s SPARK Festival in March.

The play’s plot follows a member of an Orthodox Jewish volunteer force whose role it is to collect the remains of Jewish Israelis killed in conflict. 

In the story, the volunteer decides to treat a wounded Palestinian woman instead of tending to the Israeli soldier she may have killed and this is a life-changing moment for the Israeli protagonist.

In The Runner’s description, it claims to be a “powerful thriller that explores the beleaguered psyche of a noble man charged with attending to the remains of harrowing acts of savagery.”

However, many individuals are concerned with the messaging of the play given the strife Palestinian people are facing in Gaza. 

Local activists lekwungen 2 Palestine, highlighted the following excerpt from The Runner in a social media post to demonstrate their concerns with the play:

“And there’s only three ways for this to go for the Arabs around here: those who want to accept our rule can accept, the ones who want to leave can leave, and those who want to fight can fight, but we’ll defeat them. Every encounter between a soldier and enemy must end with an unequivocal decision.”

lekwungen 2 Palestine said they are shocked to see the Belfry trying to go ahead with this play and saw it as dehumanizing to the Palestinian and Arab lives that have been lost in the current conflict. 

“We are currently witness to the ongoing genocide in Palestine that has killed 20,000+ people including 7,800+ children, and we struggle to understand why the Belfry would choose to center the voices of the oppressors instead of the oppressed,” they wrote on Instagram.

Since the petition’s launch, a protest was organized outside the Belfry and the steps to the theatre’s entrance were defaced with a spray painted “Free Palestine.”

As of this publication, the petition has garnered over 1,260 signatures of its 1,500 goal. 

On Tuesday, January 2nd, the Belfry Theatre posted an announcement saying they will indeed be removing the play from their schedule after hosting a community dialogue night for concerned individuals to be able to voice their concerns with the controversial play. 

“The Belfry Theatre presents contemporary work, with ideas that often generate dialogue. That is why, a year ago, we decided to bring the much-acclaimed play, The Runner, to Victoria,” wrote a Belfry Theatre spokesperson.

“However, we believe that presenting The Runner at this particular time does not ensure the well-being of all segments of our community.” 

They said that because of the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, they feel that the play might further divide the community.

“This has not been an easy decision, and we are grateful to our community for sharing various perspectives which added to our understanding,” they concluded. 

The Belfry has not yet announced what play will be taking The Runner’s place in the 2024 SPARK Festival lineup.

Curtis Blandy

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