Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Palestinian approaches to plays

When Nobody Returns - Iman Aoun as Penelope
In a talk we did on Saturday, between the two Plays of Love and War, Palestinian writer Ahmed Masoud suggested that Palestinian theatre-makers have a very distinct approach to dramaturgy and playwriting.  The reason there are no famous Palestinian playwrights, he said, was not that there are no good writers, but that they work collaboratively with actors and directors.  Perhaps, we speculated, this has something to do with the huge importance of building community in Palestine.  And perhaps it also relates to the resistance to authority that comes with that community's oppression.

On one level, this collaborative approach to dramaturgy is very close to what we have been evolving at Border Crossings for some time - we balance devised work with authored plays, and we deliberately work with writers like Brian Woolland who have a collaborative approach to authorship and are open to changes, sometimes very radical changes, as a result of the rehearsal process.  Brian has already written about the evolution of the plays on the dedicated blog.

Working on these plays has been even more complex than we're used to rehearsals being - and I found Ahmed's comments very helpful in understanding what we've been engaged with.  For a Palestinian company like Ashtar, there is a huge political meaning in every action that we present on stage.  It is not enough that something is dramatically potent or psychologically truthful - there is always the sense that the audience will read something in relation to their position under occupation and the way they respond to that.  So, when a character emerges from warfare covered in blood, that could be read as suggesting he is a maniac - a smaller amount of blood suggests he is engaged in violence at a level where he can retain some rationality.  It's very complicated and nuanced.

Time and again in rehearsals we have found ourselves asking "What are we actually trying to say?"  In many situations, I would regard the question as invalid - if we could say what we wanted to say, we wouldn't need the play, with its ambiguities and contradictions, through which to say it.  But, in this case, it was very often exactly the right question, because it allowed us to weigh our actions and decisions in relation to the wider political context.  What will the audience - this UK audience in London - feel about the Middle East and our own role there at the end of these performances?

Tomorrow is press night.  After that, we may know the answer.

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