Wed 21 Aug 2019

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Theater Troupe Defies Darkness on Stage in Idlib

Scene of the play (Enab Baladi)

Scene of the play (Enab Baladi)

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Three gallows, and red drenches the stage amidst anticipation by the audience. In the background, men with automatic rifles fire their weapons.

This is one of the scenes of the play Dungeon of Death, which was presented in the city of Idlib in late March. The play tackles the issue of detainees and those forcibly disappeared in regime prisons.

The theater is packed with people who later give a lengthy round of applause to the heroes of the play, which had given a voice to their feelings and suffering over the long years that had passed.

Dozens of theater experiences, which have been held in Idlib since its departure from regime control, challenge all authority that the city has been subject to since 2011. Every time young people emerge, carrying the dream of change on their shoulders, the tremendous cost of the freedom they demand they pay in blood, death and displacement.

Singer: This is the Idlib of al-Maari and Hassib Kayali

Mowaffak Najjar, the main singer of the play, said to Enab Baladi that the play organized by the band Baydaq came in response to other works of art that have distorted the face of the city. “This is the Idlib of al-Maari and Hassib Kayali, and many others,” he said, noting that the importance of theater in times of war lies in the role art role in facing death and bloodshed. He emphasized that it is possible to develop theater in the city of Idlib today, if capacities are available, especially that artists “feel free to fly” when he emerges from under the hammer and the censor, and of religious and military authority,  as he described.

As for the difficulties his team faced in returning theater to its glory, Najjar said they consist of the lack of technical capabilities, as some stage pieces are manufactured by the actors themselves. Additionally, he mentioned the preoccupation of some members of the troupe with their daily jobs, apart from the constant threats of bombardment of the city. He indicated that the play Dungeon of Death required five full months of rehearsal and preparation.

However, all of these hardships and challenges dissipate when seeing the play’s success on the faces of audience members. Theater, unlike other arts, gives you an immediate result, Najjar said.

He also said that seeing the showroom as crowded as it was despite the deteriorating security situation, gave him unbridled joy. He stressed the importance of continuing theatrical production, due to people’s thirst to see real art which discusses their issues and pains. This, he said, was sufficient for him to attempt a paradigm shift in theater, at least in liberated Syrian areas.

As for the role of theater in human life, he said, “In the end, we must not lose sight of the role of art and the theater. It is a very important platform, especially when you come across a screenplay which tackles the reality in which we live. In theater, you can to great lengths to expose the human condition through provocative, and even shocking, acts which break the reality of the viewer. When you rely on spectacle and shock, and deliberate pacing, you can focus the attention of audiences, and they will enjoy the show until its conclusion, and even ask for more.”

Theater has always played an important role in the lives of nations. Najjar elaborated this point by saying, “When we look at the histories of ancient nations and civilizations, we find that they have given great importance to theater, and have built both the theaters and their troupes. Theater is a source of enlightenment for people, and unfortunately it has been marginalized, despite the fact that it poses issues and messages that society is experiencing. It’s amazing for audiences to witness their reality enacted in front of them on stage!”

Idlib is Capable of Creativity

Hassan Abdel Al, who played the role of executioner in the play, pointed out that one of the most important goals of this production is “for all of us to say that Idlib and its youth are capable of creativity, even with the most modest means available after eight years since the revolution.”

Theater is a place where you can channel your thoughts, and reflect the social realities, both positive and negative, according to Abdel-Al. He emphasized that difficulties always lie in the security situation of the city, in addition to the financial difficulties faced during production.

He also combined artistic and political goals. “Idlib is the last stronghold of the Syrian revolution, and we must prove that revolution is present in all avenues of life,” he said, stressing that these works will succeed and grow with the efforts of these young people, be it Baydaq or any other theater group.

Hassan Abdul-Al is acting for the first time in a play directed for adults. Naturally, he experienced some pressure and stress throughout, but he was overcome with joy when he saw people’s reactions to the production. “This is what gets you to reach self-satisfaction, by pushing yourself to the limit,” as he put it.

Theater Erases Darkness

Mohammad Al-Zir, one of the troupe’s members who played the role of a detainee gone mad, said that they are working in theater because they had a message they wished to express. Their main aim is to erase darkness from the city of Idlib, stressing that theater and the arts are very important means of conveying ideas and expressing freedom, referring to the ability of the troupe to be a voice for detainees through their theater work.

Al-Zir pointed to the troupe’s confinement to a small space, the city of Idlib, as a hindrance to their work. He also indicated other financial and logistical difficulties, hoping to overcome these issues for the sake of people’s need for art.

About the inception of the idea, Mohammad said that it began with the three young men who played the roles of detainees, before their dream came and they managed to perform their work on stage. He stressed the importance of discussing detainees, because this issue has caused suffering for everyone, as he described.

Al-Zir also pointed to the diversity of the troupe’s members, who belong to all the Syrian governorates, as an important factor in the success of the production, as each of them complemented the other.

Theater in the Face of Death

Dungeon of Death was written and directed by Ibrahim Sarmini, and stars the Baydaq theater troupe.

Through its acts, the play tells stories of the death, torture and forced disappearance of detainees in regime prisons. It expresses the longing of those missing for freedom and reuniting with their children – even for a moment.

“For the sake of those who live beneath the earth, for the sake of the one who is absent from this world and buried in dungeons in its depths,” Mowaffak Najjar, the play’s singer, dedicated this play on his Facebook page.

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