Rima Marrouch writes for The Los Angeles Times:
At a time when thousands of Syrians are said to be in jail for openly defying President Bashar Assad's regime, a group of actors has produced a surprisingly candid piece of political satire lampooning the country's feared security forces, and even Assad.
They can get away with it because their video project uses hand puppets fashioned to look like anti-government protesters, pro-regime militiaman and the president, referred to by a diminutive, Beeshou.
Called "Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator," the so-called revolutionary puppet series consists of 15 video sketches being posted on YouTube.
"A friend suggested the idea back in May," said the project's director, Jamil, who did not want his full name published for fear of retribution. "We were looking for ways to talk about what is happening in Syria without revealing our identities. It is too dangerous to make theater with real actors ... talking about the revolution in Syria."
In July, Syrian composer Malik Jandali posted pictures on his Facebook page that he said showed his heavily bruised parents after a beating by pro-government militia members. They were attacked in their home, he said, after he performed a composition titled "My Homeland"at a Syrian rally in Washington.Fadwa Suleiman, an actress from the minority Alawite community, which dominates Assad's regime, is in hiding after she joined the predominantly Sunni Muslim protesters in the central region of Homs and spoke out against the government on pan-Arab satellite television channels.
"The regime is very aggressive now and exercising the most horrific acts of repression," Jamil said. "This is why I don’t want the real names of actors and artists who took part in the theater [project] to be revealed. I'm worried for family members inside the country."
The puppets were fashioned in Syria, but Jamil said he did not deem it safe to film the sketches there. Two other participants had to flee the country after taking part in demonstrations in Syria, so Jamil decided to join them in a neighboring nation.
He smuggled the puppets out in a paper bag after carefully disguising the figure representing the president with a tiny wig of longish brown hair, a large mustache and a cap. Syrian border officials searched every bag he had in the trunk of his car, he said, but did not open the one with the puppets that was with him inside the vehicle.
The worst moment, he said, wasn't at the border, but days earlier when he collected the puppets from their maker in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
"I was walking on the street when I saw four thugs ... running in my direction," he said. "My heart stopped for a moment. I thought, 'How did they find out so quickly about the project?' Luckily, they passed me."
He found out later that activists had spilled red paint in several fountains to protest the bloodshed in Syria.