Student soapbox performances around campus tackle discrimination

Laudy Issa

Students recited famous speeches and monologues related to issues of discrimination as part of a collaboration between the Knowledge is Power (KIP) project and the AUB Theatre Department.

The performers were part of Sany Abdul Baki’s “Workshop in Stage Acting” class and were spread out across campus on Monday, March 20, Wednesday, March 22 and Friday, March 24. They recited famous speeches, including “Beirut’s Welcome” (2016) by Rose from Kohl Journal and “We Should All Be Feminists” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, which were performed next to Main Gate, West Hall, Fisk Hall, and OSB across the three days.

“We were very hesitant and nervous in the days leading up to the performance, mainly because we didn’t expect a positive response from the AUB community. There’s also great vulnerability in performing out in the open for an audience who didn’t specifically come to see you, like a theatre audience,” said Nour Annan, who performed the preface to “The Essential Reader” by Nawaal El Saadawi. “[…] There is a certain thrill that comes with street performance, and we tried to channel that positively in the speech.”

The soapbox performances were the latest of the events leading up to KIP’s multidisciplinary conference on discrimination and sexual harassment in Lebanon, which is taking place this Friday and Saturday.

The conference will feature over 100 panelists from a variety of sectors, such as Egyptian feminist writer and activist Nawal El Saadawi and self-defense trainer and SheFighter founder Lina Khalifeh.

“The speeches and monologues tackled issues of discrimination as it relates to gender, sexuality, race, class, ethnicity, or other lenses of identity in order to show the intersectional nature of these issues,” said Heather Jaber, communications coordinator of the KIP project, further elaborating on the ways discrimination and sexual harassment overlap across different frameworks.

For Sany Abdul Baki, actor and AUB theatre professor, the soapbox performances were an opportunity for his students to learn and discover the difficulties faced by street performers firsthand, such as controlling vocal expression and stage presence. The performances also marked his first time directing public speeches.

“We all discovered how different public speaking is from public performance, where the actor is required to embody someone else,” said Abdul Baki. “The students had to read the speeches as if they were their own words.”

Allen von Kelaita, who performed a speech given by Jesse Williams at the BET awards, stressed the importance of connecting with an audience without invading their privacy, linking public performances with street harassment.

“It’s quite difficult performing in a space that’s not yours,” said Kelaita. “While getting the audience’s attention is difficult, it is imperative that we do not invade them and force them to listen. That would be against the point, i.e., forcing someone to do something they don’t want to do.”

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