Vancouver’s PuSh festival launches the play The Runner due to tension in Gaza

PuSh Festival said Thursday that it made the decision after listening to both those who wanted it to go ahead and others who called for its cancellation.

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Organizers of a performing arts festival in Vancouver have canceled a play addressing ethical dilemmas in the Middle East, citing friction caused by the war between Israel and Hamas.

A statement from PuSh Festival on Thursday said it made the decision to cancel The Runner ahead of its performance this month after listening to both those who wanted it to go ahead and others who called for its cancellation.

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Last week, festival organizers said they were taking a show-must-go-on attitude with The Runner despite Victoria’s Belfry Theater canceling its planned performance of the play due to war-related local tensions.

“We have heard those calling to cancel The Runner, feeling that it is a work that perpetuates the oppression of the Palestinian people,” Gabrielle Martin, director of programming, and Keltie Forsyth, director of operations, said in a joint festival statement.

“We have heard the call to present it from those who feel that the work provides an empathetic and fundamentally humanistic perspective. “We have also heard from those who believe that theater is the right place for difficult conversations and want us to resist censorship,” the statement said. “We’ve heard the call that now is not the right time.”

The one-man play, which would screen from January 24 to 26, explores reactions to an Israeli rescue volunteer’s decision to save a Palestinian woman accused of violence against an Israeli soldier.

The PuSh Festival statement said organizers have felt anger directed towards them in recent days, but their decision to abandon the work is strongly linked to the words of Basel festival artist Zaraa, who said he could not allow his work Dear Laila will be exhibited this month. with The Runner.

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Christopher Morris, who wrote The Runner and was due to perform it in Vancouver and Victoria, said in the statement that if eliminating his show is “the only way Canadians can hear Basel’s crucial voice, then it’s worth stepping aside.” “.

“It is essential to leave space for other points of view, particularly in this time of trauma and division,” Morris said in the statement. “Compatible with the anguish of the PuSh Festival when Basel shared that it would withdraw its work if The Runner remained at the festival, and when they came to the difficult decision to prioritize one artist’s voice over another.”

The festival statement said Zaraa said The Runner only “reinforces dehumanizing narratives about Palestinians.”

“Palestinians appear in The Runner almost exclusively as perpetrators of violence,” Zaraa said in the statement. “While the Israeli characters are vividly portrayed, the Palestinian characters don’t even have names and barely speak. While many voices are welcome, artistic efforts on this topic have a responsibility to reflect the reality that there is an occupier and an occupied.”

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Zaraa said she hopes to perform Dear Laila at the festival.

The festival describes Zaraa’s play, Dear Laila, as an immersive production, inviting viewers to experience a model of Zaraa’s childhood home in a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon.

Victoria’s Belfry Theater removed The Runner from its spring lineup after receiving dueling petitions calling for both its cancellation and its continuation at the venue, which was spray-painted with “Free Palestine” graffiti last month following a tense meeting community.

Since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out, protests have taken place across Canada, organized in city squares or targeting politicians.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was confronted at a Vancouver restaurant in November by dozens of people calling for a ceasefire in the war, and police later had to be called to another restaurant to help Trudeau into a vehicle among hundreds of protesters.

British Columbia Human Rights Commissioner Kasari Govender said in November that the war between Israel and Hamas had led to a wave of discrimination and violence against Jews and Muslims.

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