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'Life gave me another chance': 2 plays written by Syrian refugee, playwright open in Toronto

Ahmad Meree wrote and and is starring in two one-act shows called Suitcase an Adrenaline. They're both based on his experiences as a Syrian refugee, and they're are running as a double bill at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Alexandra Park until Feb. 1.

Ahmad Meree’s two plays, Adrenaline and Suitcase, run at Theatre Passe Muraille until Feb. 1

Ahmad Meree came to Canada as a Syrian refugee in 2017. He wrote and stars in two productions playing in Toronto until Feb. 1, including Adrenaline. (Courtesy of B-Rebel Communications)

Ahmad Meree remembers everything shaking and buildings crumbling around him when the Battle of Aleppo began in 2012. 

He grew up in the eastern part of the city with his parents, and he watched as entire neighbourhoods were destroyed.

For months, the death and destruction continued relentlessly. 

"You get up from your sleep. The bombings wake you up," he told CBC's Our Toronto.

"I feel it's very crazy and absurd how I survived … It was just about timing, a few seconds. If it was earlier a little bit or later a bit, I wouldn't be here now, talking and doing this play." 

In Toronto now, Meree is dealing with a very different kind of rush.

He's written and is starring in two one-act shows called Suitcase/Adrenaline — both based on his experiences as a displaced person. They're running as a double bill at the Theatre Passe Muraille in Alexandra Park until Feb. 1.

Each show illustrates a different part of the Syrian refugee experience. Meree's goal is for Canadian audiences to better understand what he and others have gone through and to create greater empathy.

Our Toronto host Marivel Taruc spoke with Ahmad Meree ahead of his Toronto premiere. He said he's happy to be living out his dream of working in theatre, saying it's 'one of the best things that’s happened to me.' (CBC News)

"Maybe someone will reconsider thinking about the way they treat refugees," he said.

The productions are huge milestones for Meree, who at times over the last decade didn't know how he'd persevere. 

"I didn't want to survive after all this pressure and the trauma, but every time I want to end, I think about, like, ending my life, I remember what I have been through when I was there in Syria," he said.

"I feel that life gave me another chance. I got another chance, so I shouldn't waste it."

'She wanted to say something'

Meree told his story to Our Toronto host Marivel Taruc before the premiere of his show.

Syrian playwright turns experiences into plays

4 years ago
Duration 7:05
Ahmad Meree came to Canada in 2016 and has now written and starred in two one-act shows called 'Suitcase/Adrenaline.'

He said to get to this point, and to Canada in the first place, he had to overcome huge obstacles.

Fleeing the destruction in Syria, he ended up in Egypt and began taking acting classes at the Higher Institute of Theatrical Arts.

Without a job, he spent several nights homeless and without food, but he continued to go to class.

Then, he came up against another obstacle. His documents for Egypt had expired and so had his Syrian passport. 

He couldn't stay, and he couldn't go home.

"I was just waiting for the unknown, I don't know what is going to happen," he said.

He connected with a Canadian refugee organization who raised the funds to sponsor him, and he arrived in Canada in 2016.

As fate would have it, one of his co-sponsors was a theatre director who's now working on his new production.

'One of the best things that's happened to me'

When Meree arrived, he immediately began writing Adrenaline, a story about a Syrian man spending his first New Year's Eve in Canada.

The character is forced to look back on what he's been through the past year when the fireworks remind him of explosions. 

Meree said the play presents a question: "what is more difficult — to stay in danger with loved ones or to live safe, but alone?"

Each play is based on Meree's own memories.

In Suitcase, he examines the experience of a refugee leaving home.

He wrote the first page of the play back in 2016, inspired by a photo of a woman in Aleppo he saw online.

"Her face was covered with dust, white dust, and a red blood line from her forehead, and she's looking at the camera, and I felt she is talking to me. She wanted to say something," he said. 

"It's about the result, the consequence of the war. What happened to the people."

While Adrenaline is a one-man production, Suitcase stars both Ahmad Meree and actress Nada Abusaleh. (Courtesy of B-Rebel Communications)

At the same time, for those able to flee, he said it's a heart-wrenching process.

"What about feelings, memories, belongings, friends and your gatherings and everything in your memory? The cars in the streets, your neighbours. Do all of these fit in the suitcase?"

After everything he's been through, Meree said it's a relief to be able to tell these stories. More than that, he said he feels a responsibility to let other people know about what Syria and its people have gone through.

"When I was in Syria under bombing … at that time I didn't know if I would make it," he said, but he told himself: "If I survive the war, I'm going to tell the world what is going on."

So far, reaction to the productions is positive, but Meree said the greatest gift is just having the opportunity to live out his dream.

"I'm excited, nervous, confused, you know, I don't know," he said. 

"I think this is one of the best things that's happened to me in my life."

With files from Marivel Taruc