Morocco theater school wages battle for young minds

Mon Jul 12, 2010 8:49am EDT
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By Zakia Abdennebi and Tom Pfeiffer

SALE, Morocco (Reuters) - It seems hard to object to Mohamed el-Assouni's street theater school, set up on a patch of scrubland between a rail line and a huddle of slums on the outskirts of Morocco's capital Rabat.

But the idea of young boys and girls gathering to learn somersaults, dancing and walking a tightrope was too much to bear for the radical Islamists living nearby, he said.

Assouni dug a 200-meter trench to bring water and power to the school's tent.

"The bearded ones ripped out the pipe and cable in the night," he said. "Yes sir, we are in conflict with those people. We don't deliberately disturb them, but they say we corrupt the local children."

Judging by the numbers thronging the tent on a recent Sunday, the Islamists seem to be losing the argument.

Learning to trampoline, make puppets and take part in street parades is a big draw for the children, many of whom already work to supplement their parents' meager income, leaving little time for play. More than 260 have enrolled but not all turn up.

Pupils who rebel against the workshop's quiet discipline are sent away and frustrations can boil over. Boys have thrown stones at the tent and one slashed it with a knife.

"Even when the school is shut you'll see lots of the kids nearby, practicing their dance moves or stilt walking," said 25-year-old dance instructor Khalid Haissi, who turned down a circus job in Europe to join the school.   Continued...

<p>Children practice an acrobatic figure as others watch during a workshop at the Nomadic Theatre in Rabat July 8, 2010. REUTERS/Eve Coulon-Pfeiffer</p>