We have been no stranger to gruesome conflicts at borders these past years. But the Israel-Palestine conflict that still rages on has been a much more divisive matter of public opinion than the likes of the war in Ukraine. This conflict has of course been longstanding, so it is unsurprising that an artist may have attempted to capture an aspect of it even a year ago. But with tensions heightening across the sea and at home, it has been decided that there’s no room for The Runner at The Belfry.
The Belfry is a theatre company based in a refurbished church in Victoria, BC. Running since 1976, it has become a cultural institution in Victoria throughout its nearly half-century existence. One of its recurrent offerings is its SPARK Festival, an annual exhibition of “innovative and alternative work from across Canada.” The Runner was selected as part of this year’s lineup, but as of this week the company has made the decision to withdraw the play from its run.
The Runner is a play written by Toronto-based playwright and actor Christopher Morris that has been circulating over the past several years. The synopsis on its physical release reads: “Z.A.K.A is an Orthodox Jewish volunteer force in Israel that collects the remains of Jews killed in accidents. When Jacob, a Z.A.K.A volunteer, makes the split-second decision to treat a young woman — instead of the soldier she may have killed — his world is changed forever.”
There is clearly a wealth of positive intent and examination of humanity in Morris’ work, but The Belfry has been the target of multiple protests by both sides of the conflict and has begun to be vandalized in the process. Comments on their social media have been vitriolic and presume much of the values of those in charge, and, unfortunately, it seems their aim to avoid conflict through this decision has done little of that desired goal.
While the debate rages on around The Belfry about both the importance of art as an exploration of pertinent, sensitive topics as well as the Israel-Palestine war itself, Morris appears to be understanding of the decision. Despite disappointment at the absence of his work as a dialogue, he states: “I hope theatre companies and playwrights do all they can to give audiences the opportunity for dialogue and to build bridges between our silos.”