Ashkar hopes ‘Tanfisa’ to return to the stage soon

BEIRUT: The good news is, those unable to watch Awad Awad’s “Tanfisa” at Masrah al-Madina Saturday evening may be able to do so at some point in the future. The bad news, that General Security stopped the entertainment’s second performance, was just a misunderstanding, says the theater.

“We presented out show on Friday, with an audience,” Masrah al-Madina founder and director Nidal al-Ashkar told The Daily Star. “Then on Saturday afternoon two young people from the Amn al-Aam came to ask about our permit [to stage the play]. As it was a workshopped [work], I didn’t think we needed a permit. It turned out to be 70 minutes [in length], a whole play.

“I told them, ’Okay, we won’t give a second show.’ We’ll present it to the Amn al-Aam and stage it again when it’s ready. They asked Awad to go to the Amn al-Aam where they asked him a few questions. He signed and he came back ... We’re going to do what's necessary and give it to them, and we’ll put it on, soon I hope.”

“Tanfisa” had been programmed for the 2021 edition of the theater’s Mishkal festival. Designed as a showcase for young and emerging artists in the performing arts and cinema, the festival’s activities are this year largely confined to afternoon workshops. “Tanfisa” was Mishkal’s sole public event.

Mishkal’s press represented it as “a kind of a play,” musical sketches about contemporary Lebanon. As Awad’s work was effectively still in development, Ashkar remarked there was still room for polishing.

“Most of it was really interesting,” she said. “One third of it was not, visually or musically, but most of it was really good. It was fun. The songs and the music were good. We enjoyed it but it was a bit long.”

Cultural events require permits before being presented to the public and Lebanon’s censors have been known to take particular interest in the country’s theater. A number of playwrights have shared tales of their meetings with General Security about their scripts, and some have joked that the experience at times resembles co-authorship.

“The sketches were improvised to start with and were then scripted, but they were still improvising until the last minute,” Ashkar explained. “Everything they said on stage has been said on the street – against all the rulers, against the electricity blackouts, against unemployment, demanding their money, water, everything.

“But, you know, when you’re on stage, words take on deeper meaning, they resonate, even if it’s something ordinary, like what people have been demanding on the street these months. That’s what was good. They were very angry, with lots of energy.

“What is important for me is that these young people be able to express themselves freely. But, you know, we’ll never attain a kind of free speech in Lebanon. It’s not possible, especially in the theater. You know for 50 years we’ve been working to get rid of [these restrictions]. Every sect has forbidden subjects.

“I think we must fight more for freedom of speech in this country, especially in the theater. When you limit the freedom of speech, you restrict the imaginations of actors and creators. There is no creativity.”





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