A partnership between British Council Jordan and Haya Cultural Centre (HCC)
By Mike V. Derderian

Window sills interconnected with wood panels and scattered frames created an intricate structure. It was like a drawing taken from the pages of a children’s book.

Silvery pipes were everywhere; above and below. One was also able to see white curtains dropping from the wooden frames. 

A woman, armed with a glue gun, was diligently piecing what is to become a set for an upcoming play at Haya Cultural Centre (HCC). 

The delightful architectural invention was set on a stage, where journalists were given a sneak peak of the production.

Minutes earlier Diala Khamra, the Chief Executive Officer at Haya Cultural Centre, and May Abuhamdia, the Deputy Director at British Council Jordan, signed the papers of a strategic partnership that will help build the capacity of the HCC in the area of children’s theatre.

The three-year partnership will connect the venerated cultural centre, through the British Council, with reputable children theatre companies from the United Kingdom.

Haya Cultural Center is the first cultural centre for children in Jordan. It was established in the 70s by His Majesty late King Hussein and was named after Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein.  After years of closure the centre reopened its door following massive renovation and reconstruction supported by Her Royal Highness Princess Haya Bin Al Hussein.

Headed by Diala Khamra, and its executive board, Haya Cultural Center is now committed to establishing a professional theatre department that offers quality theatre work and performances for the children in Jordan and the region.

“Even though the centre has been inactive during the period of renovation and reconstruction that does not mean that our artists were inactive as well. Through a partnership with theatre companies from the UK, and our own experience, we will be able to raise the quality of our theatre work, “said Diala Khamra prior to the signing.  
According to Khamra, who thanked the British Council, the Haya Cultural Center is an open space for all artists that  aims to encourage the movement of art and theatre in the Kingdom.

“I wish to second everything Diala Khamra said in the pride we take in this partnership. It is very important for the British Council to find like-minded partners, who see the same vision as ours. Our primary vision is to support open and inclusive societies,” said May Abuhamdia, Deputy Director at British Council Jordan, adding, “and art is one of the main media to do this.”
Choosing puppets and puppet theatre, according to Abuhamdia, is something that transcends generations.

“Show me someone who does not like a puppet show!” intoned Abuhamdia, who went on to say, “the UK is going through the same thing as Jordan and every other country is going through, which is: ‘how do we engage audiences? How do we connect people with each other and celebrate differences?’ This is what cultural exchange is all about.”
Early in 2014 Haya Cultural Center approached British Council Jordan to utilise its wide connections to British theatres and facilitate its capacity-building programme.

At the same time, British Council Jordan initiated an assessment exercise in 2014, bringing in a professional UK expert to assist the centre in mapping what they need, and exploring collaboration opportunities with the UK, with a specific focus on children theatre.

“Not only are we reaching out for the UK for expertise but they will also come here and see the valuable culture and heritage preserved by the Haya Cultural Center,” added Abuhamdia, explaining the cultural and artistic exchange aspect of the signed agreement.

In turn, Khamra flew to the UK to scope potential collaboration between the centre and children theatres from England and Scotland.

All of the above led to the moment of signing the co-funded three-year collaboration agreement on January 21, 2016.

“We are proud to have signed such an agreement with the Haya Cultural Centre, the first of its kind for the British Council in Jordan, in the field of children’s theatre,” said Alaa Qattam, Arts Projects Manager at British Council Jordan.

Qattam added that the partnership will allow the transfer of experience and expertise from British children theatre companies to Jordan, which will in turn help in presenting quality children theatre.

Two projects have already been agreed upon and initiated with two children theatre companies.

The first is with the London-based Unicorn Theatre whose artistic director has already concluded a site-visit to the centre in Jordan, during the summer of 2015. The purpose of the visit was to facilitate the presentation of a performance during the centre’s first-year anniversary celebration.
The second is with the Edinburgh-based Vision Mechanics, known for its extensive puppetry work and experience, and with whom a two-year agreement has been agreed on to provide technical support. Both the centre and Vision Mechanics are to co-present a joint puppetry performance in 2017.

British Council team and Haya Cultural Centre team
Observation of children’s puppets workshop as part of the MoU signing ceremony
Children are designing their puppets