Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet representing a 10-year-old Syrian refugee, has traveled to a dozen countries, visited London’s Royal Opera House and other landmarks, and even met the Pope.
But this fall, Amal will embark on a whole new adventure, crossing the Atlantic for the first time on a trip to New York designed to promote open communication with refugees and immigrants.
Amal is scheduled to arrive at John F. Kennedy International Airport on September 14 and plans to visit all five districts, visiting children, artists, politicians and community leaders along the way, according to a Walk Productions report Thursday. , who co-produced the visit with St. Anne’s Warehouse.
Her initial 5,000-mile journey from Turkey to England last year, which included visits to migrant camps, was meant to draw attention to the plight of the millions of Syrian refugees in Europe who have traveled long distances across the continent to escape the country’s civil war. This was where the project should have ended, said its artistic director Amir Nizar Zuabi, but about two-thirds of the way through, the creative team realized that Amal could have a future outside of these specific geopolitical circumstances.
“She became an occasion for communities to come together and be kind to a foreigner,” Zuabi said, “and in doing so, to understand something about themselves – to understand what can be celebrated in their communities.”
The towering puppet, controlled by three people, including one on stilts, will visit St. Anne’s Church and will be joined by several other New York City cultural institutions, including the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Lincoln Center and the Classical Theatre. Harlem. The visit, which has a budget of more than $1 million, is scheduled to end in early October with a visit to the Statue of Liberty.
In 2018, the St. Anne Theater presented the off-Broadway production of The Jungle, which inspired Amal. First staged at the Young Vic Theater and then moved to the West End, The Jungle is based on what its creators, Joe Murphy and Joe Robertson, observed when they created an interactive arts center in a migrant camp in Calais, France. The performance will return in Sainte-Anne next February.
Susan Feldman, artistic director of St. Anne’s, said she first saw Amal impress the public during a trip to an elementary school in the suburbs of Paris last year, where students started screaming and following her as soon as they saw her.
“She became something of a Pied Piper,” Feldman said. “It was very magical.”
While Amal’s presence is not overtly political, Feldman said she believes the visit to the United States will send an important message to a country where immigration has turned into “political football” and migrant children face precarious living conditions.
For Feldman, Amal’s visits to Europe seemed like a parade of innocence and hope. “Putting it on the streets in a prominent place can be very beautiful,” she said.
Created by the South African puppet company Handspring, Amal is quite fragile — her arms and upper body are made of bamboo canes — and required a lot of care during the months of travel, Zuabi said. Earlier this year, she visited young Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
But New York is unlikely to be her last trip: Amal has had requests to visit countries around the world, he said, and has plans to travel to other places in the US next year.