Friday, February 18, 2011

Shambeh again (The Last Day of Theatre-going)

A young woman, by Estabragh Mousavi Fard

1) Awoke to receive an email from Avaaz asking for a donation to blackout-proof the protests in the Middle East. Never have I been in a place where i have better understood the importance of communication. The link is here - i urge you, gentle reader, to support this campaign:

2) Another anti-regime demonstration is set for tomorrow - right about at the time that the final ceremony of the Fadjr Festival will take place. Art and life are existing side by side in a new way for me.

3) Today is the last day of the festival programme. I will have seen 20 plays in 8 days from across Iran and 5 other countries (Germany, Estonia, South Korea, Czech Republic, Italy). Much of it has been political, in a roundabout, or sometimes not so roundabout way. Much of it has been sub-par, in terms of the level of most international festivals. But much of it is also young - university students making work with an incredible energy. Perhaps the most astounding aspect of this festival is its audience - masses and masses of young people - every performance is jammed, every performance has enormous line-ups. There is a hunger here for theatre that is unlike any place i've been. As Heiner Mueller once said, dictatorships are good for theatre.

4) I meet zee Germans at breakfast. Wolfgang and Sven tell me of an added performance of an Iranian physical theatre show this afternoon at 3pm. For some reason, I decide to add this to my day.

5) I meet N. and we go to an art gallery in North Central Tehran that specializes in young artists. I have read that Iranian visual art is among the hottest in the art world, and I see why. There is an energy, sophistication and power among these artists. I see some things that kind of blow me away. In a back room, I am also shown some photographs that are illegal in Iran - huge prints of nude women in chadors, posing in front of reproductions of Western Fine Art nudes, the Iranian women with eyes blacked out with rectangles, like criminals (the chadors covering all the naughty bits - but nonetheless...!). These are amazing. Other photos mix images of Disney with Iranian family photographs, other paintings are giant reproductions of world currencies, with other images juxtaposed on top (like a pair of red high heels where the Ayatollah's face should be). I decide to buy something (a powerful graphite of a young Iranian women - a face that could be from the audiences I've been in, or the demonstrations I've seen). I think about buying two. We will meet again tomorrow, and I'll see what I can afford. One amazing thing at this gallery is that one of the people who works there speaks very frankly about the art - some of the art he sells he doesn't like, and he explains why. It is refreshingly honest. The idea of Art trumps the idea of Selling. In this country - what you think,  the quality of your thought, and the art you make from it, is all important. I am deeply impressed.

6) I see the Iranian physical theatre show. Dumb ass wankery. zee Germans have led me astray!

7) I see two more shows. A Woyzeck from South Korea - a very physical, almost danced version. Extremely precise, inventive and a bit soulless. I appreciate the skill, while remaining unmoved. The next, and LAST (!!) show is from Iran, and is more interesting. It is an adaptation of a Lorca play about revolution in Spain. The main character is a woman whose lover is a resistance leader. He escapes, and she is captured, and tortured. The play is a very direct examination of revolution, and the progress towards this woman's choice to sacrifice her life, rather than lie for the sake of state propaganda - a choice that seems inevitable in the world that Lorca, and the Iranian adaptor, paint. A real-life choice made yesterday here by the brother of a dead protester echoes this exactly - a man chooses to tell the truth about his brother, that he was actually protesting the regime, not supporting it, and this wins him a trip to prison. Sitting in an audience of Iranians, on the eve of another banned mass protest in Iran, gives this drama a relevance that is haunting. Terrifying. Especially since one of the lives lost a few days ago was from this Drama faculty. Theatre does not get more political than this, and I wonder if more lives will be lost tomorrow - even from this very audience.

8) The jury now retires to deliberate. We are locked in a conference room at a building a few minutes' drive from the City Theatre. We are fed, and we hash out the winners, and nominees. Some of the choices are very easy, others difficult, and there is much debate. In the end, though, I think we make a fair selection. Tomorrow we will present the prizes, likely as tear gas is being used outside.

9) The foreign members of the jury return to the hotel at about 1am. We long for a beer, but settle for tea. Tomorrow is Sunday. What will happen, I wonder...

At a gallery in North Central Tehran

The cast of the last show of the 29th Fadjr Festival takes a bow

New pal-o-mine, Anisa, on the eve of her departure

The jury deliberates - Sayeed, N. and Mashoud

Our translator, N., Lambros and Mashoud (sneaking a smoke)

Andrea and yours truly

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