The Opera House in Damascus and the State of Exception/ Ziad Adwan
This article examines the relationship between the Opera House in Damascus and Al-Assad dynasty. Hafez Al-Assad ordered the building of the Opera House but it remained unfinished till he died. His son Bashar opened it after three decades of construction. It is argued that leaving the institution unfinished was due to uncertainty regarding its identity, place in the bureaucratic hierarchy, and meaning in a totalitarian regime. Theatre institutions were driven to take oppositional positions against one another, and the Opera House intensified this model of enmity.
No theatre houses were built during the reign of Hafez Al-Assad, but theatre directorates increased with no space to host their productions. Syrian practices and discourses of identity prioritise the need to defeat the enemy that has no tangible trace in the Syrian life. These aspects intensified enmity among theatre makers and theatre institutions. The Opera House was a hope for many Syrians, but it played a role in dividing the Syrians too. It is concluded that the exceptional trait and the location of the Opera House have left many significances on the building and on its design as well as on its activities and that the Opera House, in relation to Al-Assad dynasty, has become one of the critical topics during the Syrian war.
The Local Otherness: Theatre Houses in the United Arab Emirates/ Ziad Adwan
This article examines the function of theatre houses in the United Arab Emirates. The article attempts to give answers to several theatrical controversies in UAE; such as why theatre, as an institution, has not developed in the same way other sectors has developed in the emirates? And what does theatre mean to the sheiks and the ruling classes? It is argued that theatre, as an activity and a building, is one of the rare venues that function to preserve the local identity.
Writings on theatre in UAE normally adopt historical and chorological approaches. The article adopts a geographical approach in order to relate theatre houses to the cities they are built in, and to relate theatre movements in the UAE to its bordering countries in the Arab Peninsula and to the ideologies in the Arabic speaking countries.
It is concluded that theatre in UAE is firmly associated with tradition, folklore and heritage. This association seeks to harmonise theatre with local culture and to correspond to Arabic ideologies that aim to authenticate theatre in the Arab culture.
Theatre Education in the Cold War Era in the Middle East / Ziad Adwan
Having theatre as one of the main platforms to spread national identity, the paper explores the relationship between theatre education and the formation of the nation states in the Middle East.
The cold war was signified in the clash between young theatre tradition that was established in the cities and theatre ideologies that came from the countryside. The formation of the nation states was accompanied by a massive immigration from the countryside to the main cities in the Middle East. Theatre in the new-born nation states was one of the means to educate the public and to intensify the Arab and the socialist identities. However, theatre itself was a new art form in the Arabic-speaking countries. Therefore theatre became a practice that needed to be taught and to educate at once.
Theatre and drama institutes in the Middle East did not exist till late 1970s. The earlier decades have been neglected locally and internationally. It is argued, in the paper, that the apathy generated from the ideologies that opposed the tradition of bourgeois theatre in the cities. Social realism as well as European theatre movements that criticised the bourgeois theatre, such as Brecht and the Theatre of the Absurd, were among the theatrical backgrounds that fed the theatre movements and theatre education in the Middle East.
Flying above Bloodshed/ Ziad Adwan
Performative Protest in the Scared City of Damascus
Syrian activists adopted the flying demonstration protest form in 2011 during the Arab Spring. A flying demonstration occurs for a few minutes, and then the demonstrators run away. Protestors mainly chose this form to avoid deadly confrontations with the regime’s secret police. This article examines how flying demonstrations challenged the Syrian state’s media allegations that no demonstrations were taking place. Action, spectatorship, aftermath, and catharsis were key concepts from the theatre and performance fields that allowed Syrian activists to intensify the demonstrations and achieve certainty, making flying demonstrations a consistent phenomenon in the capital, Damascus. Although demonstrators were not considering theatre during their protests, I conclude that flying demonstrations’ theatrical characteristics were essential to making this phenomenon visually compelling, encouraging more participation, and, to some extent, guaranteeing safety during deadly Syrian events.