Student play gives voice to struggles of Syrian refugees

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Photo Credit: Chase Karacostas | Daily Texan Staff

In the upcoming student play “A Singularity,” audiences will follow the story of a Syrian refugee trying to find her home and her identity as a woman, a refugee and an individual after losing everything to war.

“A Singularity” is a student-written play by Carleigh Newland, Kelsey Linberg and Tess Jackson premiering on April 10th at the Cohen New Works Festival. The play follows a Syrian refugee, Amena, and her family as she comes of age, dreams of becoming an astronomer and finds a place in the world.

“I want this play to hit people and make it where these refugees are not just numbers on a page,” Linberg said. “They are real people. They laugh; they smile; they hug their mom; they get in fights with their brothers; they have crushes; they fall in love.”

Newland, the production lead and co-writer on the project, said she wanted to focus on the refugee crisis after spending last summer interning at The Refugee Project in Houston, a nonprofit that helps women refugee communities integrate into American society. She said she learned a lot and developed a deep passion to help raise awareness about the
refugee crisis.

“A lot of people enforce these really negative stereotypes on (refugees),” Newland said. “They are just families wanting to pursue their dreams and trying to resume the lives they had in different places.”

Like Amena, Newland is fascinated with space and astronomy. One book that inspired her during the writing of “A Singularity” was Carlo Rovelli’s “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” because it shows the way math and science intertwines in human lives. Newland said it was important that Amena’s dilemma was placed in the context of the world and the galaxy to allow her story and the story of refugees to seem universal.

“I wanted to watch a girl go through discovering how beautiful and great the world is while also having to push through the conflict of her specific world,” Newland said.
The writing team was worried that since they were writing about a culture which they had no direct connections, the play would seem disinegneous. So, they cultivated a dramaturgy team of five individuals with backgrounds in Middle Eastern and Arab culture to review the script and oversee the rehearsal process. Nayzak Najm works on the dramaturgy team and plays the part of Jodee. She said it was important to her that the play authentically reflected the reality of the culture and the crisis.

“Every time we hear something (that doesn’t fit with our experience, and), we add Arabic phrases,” Najm said. “Every rehearsal, we add something new.” Najm said she
volunteered to be a part of the play because it gives people a taste of a culture that is so often mischaracterized by the media.

“The main point of this project has been to humanize a group of people that has been constantly, through media (and) a variety of forms, ... dehumanized,” Newland said.

Newland said after “A Singularity’s” premiere at the Cohen New Works Festival, they plan on expanding upon the concept and scale of the play. They hope to add more technical elements to further the intergalactic aspects of the story on-stage, and hope to blend interviews from actual Syrian refugees into the play. Ultimately, they hope to make “A Singularity” a story larger than the galaxy despite its physical bonds to the stage.

“I am really excited to see where (“A Singularity”) can go from here,” Newland said. “We are hoping that through talking with (refugees) we can mold it into something that is less of my voice and more a form for other people’s voices.”