The Tribe, Belvoir Theatre’s latest production, will be nomadic. It will forego the traditional theatre space and instead be staged at a different Surry Hills backyard each night. Every night, much like a tribe hunting for new grounds, theatre-goers will meet in the foyer before walking to a one-night-only stage, and hearing a story inspired by writer Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s experiences as a third-wave Australian-Muslim immigrant.
“For the past two decades the representation of Arab-Australian Muslims has been coloured by media reports of terrorist conspiracy, sexual assault, drug-dealing and drive-by shootings,” says Ahmad.
Adapted from Ahmad’s autobiographical novel of the same name, The Tribe is a one-man play starring Hazem Shammas as Bani. Accompanied by Oonagh Sherrard on cello, Bani tells the audience about the generational frictions between himself and his grandmother who fled to Australia before the Lebanese Civil War. The Tribe debuted at last year’s Sydney Festival with Urban Theatre Projects. Ahmad and director Janice Muller were motivated by a sense that the Arab-Australian community is both under and misrepresented on Australia’s screens and stages. “The Tribe is an attempt to step beyond simplistic images and to offer a complex and humanising portrayal of a community and culture,” Ahmad says. While Australia’s attention to cultural and racial diversity is getting better, we’re often still quagmired by stereotypes or cheap jokes – look no further than the online criticism surrounding Channel Nine’s new primetime sitcom Here Comes The Habibs!
For Ahmad, these cultural representations are important because they shape how people think and feel about Arabs and Muslims, especially as Islamic refugee immigration becomes a divisive topic in Australia and abroad. While Donald Trump is proposing to ban non-US-born Muslim’s from entering his country, The Tribe is Ahmad’s active attempt to present Arabs without the stigmas and hyperbole which drowns out their voices.
But if The Tribe is an insight into a community that isn’t often centre stage, why did Belvoir decide to stage it among the patios and Hills Hoists of Surry Hills?
The intimacy of the evening, complete with pre-orderable picnic hampers from Bourke Street Bakery, references a tradition larger and longer than Belvoir’s theatre; it cannot be contained on stage, but will be, hopefully, right at home in Australia’s backyards.
“The Tribe was written in a rich oral storytelling tradition, unique to the Bedouin poets of the Arab world,” Ahmad explains. “The outdoor setting is an opportunity to experience The Tribe in its natural form, tapping into a history of storytelling that rightfully belongs under the stars.”
The Tribe, directed by Janice Muller, will be backyard-hopping from January 19 to 7 February. For information on accessibility needs, contact the Box Office when ordering tickets.