The Raft goes deeper than refugee crisis headlines, actor says

Despite three of its cast members being denied visas in early September, The Raft is on the bill of this year’s Impact theatre festival.

The play tells the story of Arab and African refugees escaping North Africa on a raft, travelling across the Mediterranean toward Italy.

“People embarking on these boats, they’re just told one day before that they need to be prepared. So, it worked somehow in my imagination,” said Zied Touati of Montreal, who is filling in for one of the missing actors.

He received his script just four days before joining the cast for a performance in Halifax earlier this month.

“I saw videos of the show and I tried to do my best,” he said. “I think it went well.”

When he was asked to join the production, Touati knew three of the original cast members – one from Tunisia and two from Benin Republic in West Africa – had been denied visas to come to Canada for performances in Halifax, Montreal and Kitchener.

“I knew they were in trouble,” he said. “So, the first thing I’m thinking of is to help. Then, once inside, it’s nice to do things like this because it pushes you more and more to see how far you can go.”

Beyond the headlines

Besides memorizing his part in the play, Touati had to learn how to sing a song in one of the main languages of Benin.

“Since it’s music, there’s melody,” he said. “It’s not like I’ll be having a discussion with someone else. Then I wouldn’t be able to do it. Since it’s a song, it’s much easier.”

‘It’s more deep than this image of people trying to get to the northern side of the Mediterranean.’– Zied Touati

He also had to find a way to make his character – a refugee fleeing North Africa in a raft – someone the audience could relate to, which is not an easy task when images of refugees are scattered over the news and social media every day.

He said we get used to shocking images of refugee crises, like the image of Alan Kurdi washed up on a Turkish beach.

“In the play … you get familiar with the people – their background, what they’ve been doing, what they’re aiming to do,” he said. “So it’s more deep than this image of people trying to get to the northern side of the Mediterranean.”

Impact 17 runs between Wednesday and Sunday. It features productions from New Zealand, Mexico and Tunisia, as well as theatre and dance from Vancouver, Halifax, Whitehorse, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and local pieces.

CBC News

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