A Walk With Amal
Meet “Little” Amal, the 3.5 metre puppet and beating heart of The Walk.
WORDS BY TASH COWLEY | ONE THE ROAD | THEATRE
NOV 15, 2022 | ISSUE 8
Bari by Teatro Pubblico Pugliese
Naples by Amapola Chianese
Bari by Abdul Saboor
On paper, Amal seems like any other child. She is inquisitive, outdoorsy, loves dancing, and enjoys making new friends. However, Amal is not your typical nine-year-old; in fact, she is a 3.5-metre-tall puppet who went on an epic five-month walk around the world. Sadly, however, this lengthy journey does not set Amal apart from other children as much as we would hope. Every year, thousands of refugee children are faced with arduous, dangerous journeys away from their homes in the pursuit of safety, and on arrival, many are met with hostility and suspicion. It is for this reason that Artistic Director Amir Nizar Zuabi decided to bring Amal to life in The Walk, an epic theatrical odyssey which aims to unite communities through compassion, art, and wonder.
Zuabi began his career as a theatre practitioner in Palestine. Born in East Jerusalem to a Jewish mother and Palestinian father, Zuabi stresses in a TEDMonterey talk that “the refugee experience runs very deep in [his] DNA.” In 2015, the refugee crisis was at its peak, and Zuabi determined that he needed to develop an alternative theatrical mode to properly represent those affected. As a result, Zuabi came up with an innovative concept which took “the theatre” into the very streets that refugees had walked, physically placing the story in their path. Zuabi soon began collaborating with Good Chance Theater Company (The Jungle) and following a series of workshops in South Africa and the UK, The Walk found its feet.
Amal was built by Handspring Puppet Company, the South African outfit responsible for the structurally majestic creatures in War Horse. A team of 12 puppeteers give her breath, dexterity, and life, employing extraordinary stamina and skill to carry her into and through each new community. Divided into three teams of four, each group is trained to master her nuanced gestures and physicality. Whenever Amal was in motion, there was a puppeteer on each arm, one supporting her back, and one more “walking” her on stilts, simultaneously manipulating the “harp” of internal strings that animate her face, eyes, and head.
As an event, The Walk was entirely unique; an international “rolling arts festival,” endurance event, and humanitarian project in one, it shone a spotlight on the lived experiences of displaced people around the world. Amal walked 8,000km over five months. Her inaugural steps were taken in Gaziantep on the Syrian-Turkish border, and she concluded her journey in Manchester, England in November 2021. Along the way, she passed through 65 cities, villages, and towns, across eight countries, attending 120 individual artistic and cultural events that were developed especially for her, representing each new community
Bari 4 by Teatro Pubblico Pugliese
To those who were interested in welcoming Amal, Zuabi asked the following question; “Amal is a nine-year-old girl that will pass through your city. She’s alone, she’s afraid, she’s vulnerable. How would you like to welcome her?” The sheer volume of thoughtful responses to Zuabi’s brief was astonishing; Amal met with arts representatives, humanitarian organizations, mayors, faith leaders, refugee artists, and many others. In Turkey’s Fistik Park, Amal was invited to a Kitchen Workshop, where local women shared stories of female empowerment over hot stoves and good food; in Italy, Amal played hide and seek with other children in the narrow, cobbled village streets of Genazzano; and in Recklinghausen, Germany, tiny painted pebbles bearing messages of welcome were arranged into the symbol of a constellation, wishing luck and safe passage to refugees everywhere.