Moving Identities and the Fixed Gaze: Notes from Personal Experience
‘In the 1990s, we were the rich tourists; in the 2000s, we became the evil terrorists; and now in the 2010s, we are the poor refugees.’ This paper examines the complexity of staging identity to foreign audience in the postcolonial perspective. It discusses how identity is perceived and desired to be a fixed truth, and how this perception is distorted according to several reasons, among which are the difficulty of encapsulating cultures, the contrast between integration and multiculturalism, and the sustainability of cultural stereotypes.
Key words. Theatre, Europe, Middle East, Identity. interculturalism, stereotype
’The place of intellectuals' The Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus between dictatorship and the market
This paper explores how the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts (HIDA) in Damascus achieved an exceptional degree of prestige in Syrian cultural life. Although operating under a dictatorship in a conservative country, HIDA still enjoyed unusual margins of curricula autonomy and free expression in a country that repressed other cultural and educational sectors. Like in many socialist countries in the Cold War, Syrian intellectuals were challenged by several factors, chief of which was the ability to confront the dominant status quo without being accused of disloyalty. Yet, while the theatre institute became ‘the place of the intellectuals’ at the national level, the interpretation of intellectualism provoked controversies inside the institute between the acting and the theatre studies departments. It is argued that the rise of commercial television and the success of accomplished alumni were among the reasons that gave the institute its prominent position in Syria and in many other Arabic-speaking countries. These two antithetical developments – the rise of serialized television drama, and the changing status of the intellectual – played a significant role in shaping the image of the institute, its curricula and in determining the image of the intellectual in Syria.
Keywords: theatre studies, acting training, dictatorship, intellectualism, star system, socialist bloc,
Flying above Bloodshed: Performative Protest in the Scared City of Damascus
Do we exist? Asked the Syrian protesters.
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 theater 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 theater 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.
Keywords: catharsis; heroism; lightness; protest; spectatorship; theater
The Local Otherness: Theatre Houses in the United Arab Emirates
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.
Keywords: Theatre houses, architecture, authenticate theatre, otherness, identity.
The Opera House in Damascus and the State of Exception
In this article Ziad Adwan examines the relationship between the Opera House in Damascus and the Al-Assad dynasty. Hafez Al-Assad ordered the building of the Opera House but it remained unfinished at his death. His son Bashar opened it after three decades of construction. Leaving the institution unfinished was, it is argued here, 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 the enmity. No theatres were built during the reign of Hafez Al-Assad, and while the Opera House was a hope for many Syrians, it also played a role in dividing them. Adwan concludes that the exceptional design features and location of the Opera House have marked its activities and that in relation to the Al-Assad dynasty it has become a critical focus in the Syrian war.
Keywords: Al-Assad dynasty, censorship, performance spaces, spatial politics
The New out of Nothing. The Workshop between the Liminal and the Liminoid.
This paper attempts to read the term ‘workshop’ and to explore the mechanisms that
enable this form of gathering to function. Our contemporary utilization of the term
associates it with education and developing skills, yet it is neither a class nor a
rehearsal. What happens in this exceptional space? What makes a certain group of
people interested in gathering and participating at a workshop, which does not
promise work or profit?
It is argued that the terms liminal and liminoid suggest an understanding of how
workshops function. Both terms are removed from quotidian representations and they
divide the time to pre and after. Victor Turner explains that liminal is where one works
and liminoid is where one plays, thus the liminoid, which is a matter of choice, is free
than the liminal. In the context of theatre, when theatre events become ritualized in
terms of production and reception, and when attending a play becomes firmly coded
to economic and social forces, workshops become a space to try new forms and
techniques, and where one can choose without being judged academically or
Keywords: workshop, theatre, ritual, structure, activity, liminal, liminoid.
Imaginary Theatre Professionalising Theatre in the Levant 1940-1990.
This paper examines theatre education in the Levant, i.e. Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and Palestine, between late 1940s and early 1990s. As a relatively new phenomenon in the region, Western-style theatre has always sought, but not always found, political, religious, social and artistic recognition. In addition to institutional and “professional” theatre initiatives, this era also witnessed the academic approaches to theatre in the region. Introducing theatre to the Levant was dependent on wealthy citizens who afforded trips to Europe and returned to spread theatre in their cities. Later in the 1970s, and influenced by Brechtian Epic Theatre, Social Realism and the Theatre of the Absurd, governmental and academic theatre practices and literature rebelled against the existing theatre models, including the theatre makers that were glorified as national symbols. It is argued that theatre makers and theatre institutions in the Levant adopted an ideal description of theatre that was hardly recognised locally. Associating theatre to noble issues in order to promote “serious theatre,” lessened the credibility of local experiences. The dependence on socialist and nationalist ideologies assisted in legitimising theatre in the region, but simultaneously, idealising theatre separated this new art from the existing practices, and consequently mystified it in the region.
Keywords: theatre, education, Middle East, Levant, Socialist Bloc, individual / cultural center