Special Events

Walk With Little Amal To Offer Support For the Plight of Refugees

Little Amal in her Harvard Yard stop
Little Amal in her Harvard Yard stop Photo by The Walk Productions, Courtesy of Alley Theatre

This Thursday, starting right outside the Alley Theatre, there will be a rolling street closure right downtown — and no, it's not for one of our sports teams.

It's a celebrity of a different sort. Little Amal, a 12-foot puppet of a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl will start  at the Alley Theatre before ending up at the new Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts. Amal has traveled across 13 countries since 2021 with the aim of helping people better understand the plight of refugees.

As part of her cross country journey across America, she's making three stops in Houston.

Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, known for creating the horse in War Horse on stage, designed her and operates her in collaboration with the not-for-profit company The Walk Productions, known for presenting large scale participatory public art.

And you have a chance to walk with her. For free. Of course, they welcome your donations as well which they say will go toward education, food, shelter, emergency medical care and legal assistance for refugee children. Choose Love, Inc. collects the donations and they are trying to raise $5 million for refugee children around the world. (According to Charity Navigator they get a three star rating meaning "you can give with confidence.")

Can't make it just after lunch downtown? Three different groups are partners in the local walks. Besides the Alley Theatre area, another starts later that afternoon in the Gulfton area and the third that night in the Third Ward ending in Emancipation Park.

Little Amal's message: to promote understanding of immigrants, many of whom are children displaced from their homes. Operated by four puppeteers, her journey in the United States started in Boston with an ultimate destination of San Diego on November 5.

"We were lucky enough to hear about it and jump right in," said Brandon Weinbrenner, associate artistic director at Alley Theatre. "There's us and Ensemble and DiverseWorks. It was a no-brainer for us to want to be part of something so important as this."

At 1 p.m. in the section called Searching for Mariachi, the Alley Theatre and the Orange Show play hosts. The start of the walk will be at the northwest corner of Louisiana and Texas. The start is right in front of Alley Theatre, will weave around the building and end up in the new Lynn Wyatt Square for the Performing Arts.

At 3: 30 p.m. she travels to the Gulfton area for Finding My Team,  where local artists and neighborhood groups will welcome her to a game. Sponsors include DiverseWorks, Brave Little Company, Afsaneh Aayani, Adam Castaneda, Sherry Cheng, Asia Society of Texas, Madres Del Parque, Connect Community, Culture of Health – Advancing Together, Apollo Chamber Players and WindSync.

At 6:30 p.m. she'll be in the Third Ward starting at 2519 Holman and ending at Emancipation Park. Hosts for the segment entitled Light My Way include The Ensemble Theatre, Project Row Houses, The Pan African Library Urban Souls, U.S. Dream Academy, U.S. Dream Academy and S.H.A.P.E. Community Center.

"We're asking anyone downtown to join us in welcoming Amal to Houston," Weinbrenner said. "There's a mariachi player who she sees in the distance and she wants to walk toward the fanfare and excitement of it, but it keeps eluding her. It keeps running away from her. And as she moves towards wherever the mariachi player moves to she has different encounters with Houston iconic things such as six giant bat puppets that will come and swarm her that she makes her way through.

"There is a series of water waves that she makes her way through and then finally she's approached by art bikes, a big gang of art bikes. Then she realizes these bicycles are decorated like giant flowers, these are friendly artistic types and nothing to be afraid of. Then finally se reaches the big mariachi celebration that will be in Lynn Wyatt Square Park."

Over in the Gulfton area there will be "fast-moving soccer players, skateboarders, and dancing flowers, choreographed by Adam Castañeda, will lead Little Amal through Burnett Bayland Park to find a game just her size," according to the DiverseWorks website.

Ensemble's Artistic Associate Rachel Hemphill Dickson is leading the Ensemble Theatre effort the concludes at Emancipation Park. The description of Little Amal's trip there is: "She encounters sound (Artists with Koumankele) that she does not understand. Those (artists with US Dream Academy) pushed from their homes try to support her as they all encounter obstacles (artists from The Ensemble Theatre) that try to block their path.

"The ancestors (artists from Carver High School) arrive to remove the obstacles. Amal and the children will follow the North Stars (community members) toward safety. The community will LIGHT HER WAY at the entrance of Emancipation Park to a communal celebration of resilience (dancers with Urban Souls). Those attending can stand anywhere along the route and FOLLOW Amal once she passes you or stand near the park entrance where you will LIGHT HER WAY!"

Weinbrenner said all three Houston groups were working with certain parameters set by the traveling production. "For instance, Amal can't go up stairs. She needs a route that is this length. Then it's up to each of the producing partners to come up with what their own celebration looks like," Weinbrenner said .

With its route "smack dab in the middle of downtown," Weinbrenner there were some special challenges for the Alley, Weinbrenner said. "We're on city streets. The city of Houston has been so flexible with us and has agreed to help us with this rolling street closure. The police will be there making sure everybody's safe an for about an hour we'll take over the Arts District in downtown Houston." 

Strategic planning included figuring out where the giant puppet would be assembled, where would she be disassembled, he said. "I reached out to the Orange Show to get contacts with the Art Bike Brigade. Then we contacted a local mariachi group to perform. We commissioned Afsaneh Aayani  to create the bat puppets for us. And then we ordered the fabric."

And, he added, "For us, what we're really trying to promote is the whole sense of community that Houston is so famous for. And trying to welcome her as a stranger in a new place as often refugees are that the community that welcomes her in Houston is nothing to fear but something to celebrate. We're celebrating through music, through art, through a crowd coming together to lift up Amal."
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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
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