Amir Nizar Zuabi
The Playwright Giving Refugees a Voice
Celebrated playwright and artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi has spent much of his career exploring the relationship between family, culture, connection and food. A Palestinian who grew up in the predominantly Arab city of Nazareth in Israel, Amir has also has worked hard to shine a light on the plight of refugees by spreading hope and challenging the existing narrative on refugees. “Refugees and immigrants bring added value to our societies,” he said in an interview with Atlas of the Future. Refugee voices “should be heard — not in a charitable sense — because those voices are crucial in today’s tapestry.” In his efforts to champion displaced Syrians, Amir ended up pioneering a new type of theater, one that exists in the same streets where the refugees were walking.
Launched in 2021, in partnership with London-based Good Chance and Handspring Puppet Company, Amir’s The Walk is a theatrical journey that follows a 9-year-old refugee girl represented by a 12-foot-tall puppet. “Little Amal” is so tall because, Amir points out, refugee children are invisible and he wanted to make the child “as big as he could technically.” So far, she has traveled more than 6,000 miles to 97 cities and towns in 15 countries — and her current journey in the U.S. will take her another 6,000 miles, with free public events to welcome her along the way. Other recent works include the play This is Who I Am, which debuted in November 2020, and centers around an estranged father and son — one in Ramallah and the other in New York City — who come together over Zoom to cook the same family recipe in real time. Amir’s 2017 show My Sweet Land, a one-woman show set in community and private kitchens, also used food — here, to address the Syrian refugee crisis and to show that we are all in this life together.