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Calgary play explores refugees – from Canada to Syria

Sleman Aldib is switching up the narrative in his play ‘بالعكس / The Opposite.’

Instead of a Syrian refugee crisis, there is war in Canada and civilians are forced to flee to Syria. Aldib is a Syrian refugee himself who has called Calgary home for the past 4 years.

When he arrived in Canada, he began to realize that people didn’t really understand where he came from or what he had been through.

“We had people asking us, do you use a cell phone? Do you have malls in your country? They also asked us why we left. So, we decided to do a show to explain what it was like for people,” he said.

“There wasn’t much understanding about how difficult this is, to start your life again from zero, literally from zero. You can’t speak English; you have no experience here and you have to find a job.”

The Opposite is an interactive experience

Aldib has written, directed and stars in this immersive theatre experience and hopes that it will shed some light on the challenges faced by Syrian refugees now making their home in Canada.


But he isn’t just having actors tell stories to an audience that just sits in their seats and listens. ‘بالعكس / The Opposite’ puts the audience in the same situation as Aldib went through and has them play the role of the refugee.

They will enter a refugee camp and get their papers and be processed.

The play is based on his experience and the experiences of those around him.

“I asked them, what did you feel when you were going through that process, what bothered you? We sat down and we wrote it all down,” Aldib said.

“We talked about being delayed for 9 months, moving from city to city, waiting for your second chance at life. You don’t have anything with you, and you can’t go back to where you came from because you don’t know what’s going on there. What do you do?”

Aldib wants people to go through a small part of the journey of being a refugee, putting them in the same situations. He wants to put them “in the most difficult place” and give them, if only for 45 minutes, the feelings that he experienced when he came here.

Calgary theatre company wanted ‘thought-provoking’

That’s the kind of production, Swallow-a-Bicycle was hoping to deliver in Calgary.

“Swallow-a-Bicycle’s mandate is to create productive discomfort through the arts, and The Opposite is exactly the kind of challenging and thought-provoking work that we want to support,” said Mark Hopkins, Artistic Director of Swallow-a-Bicycle Theatre.

“Audiences at the 2018 IGNITE! Festival walked away shaken and moved, with a deeper understanding of the refugee experience, and we expect that this production will be even more immersive, chaotic and disorienting.”

‘بالعكس / The Opposite’ is co-presented by Swallow-A-Bicycle Theatre and Kawalease ACT and features an all Arabic cast of mostly Syrian refugees. It runs Dec.10 to 15, at 7:30 pm with a matinee at 2 p.m. on Dec. 14. All showings are held at 707 – 6 Street SW (the former location of Masters Pub).

It’s pay-what-you-will, but the suggested price is $15.