Gibran, still alive in their minds

BEIRUT: At the end of 2011, London had the chance to watch a play about life of the Lebanese writer and artist Gibran Khalil Gibran. “Rest Upon the Wind,” as the play is called, was staged London’s West End to great success.

Producer Ali Matar was in Beirut for a few days this week to cast some actors for a Lebanese staging of the work, which is currently scheduled for September 2012 at the Masrah al-Madina. He took a few moments to discuss the objectives and significance of the show with The Daily Star.

Q: What is the source material for the play?

A: “The play is written by Nadim Sawalha, who wrote it about 20 years ago, [and has been researching on Gibran for 40 years, if not more]. He did a showcase 12 years ago in London, in Chelsea. I saw the play back then in 2000. I spoke to him two years ago and asked him if he would like to take that production into a more global stage and he was interested in that.

“He rewrote the script and we made our official showcase in November 2011 in Tristan Bates Theater, in London’s West End. We sold out on the second day [of] our two-week show. We saw the popularity on Gibran.

“That’s what the play is all about. It’s about the journey, and his life, where he reached that point where he achieved to [writing] that beautiful book, [which has] sold over 100 million copies worldwide and [been] translated [into] over 44 languages.”

Q: Who has been cast for the play?

A: “The cast we have now is mainly from the U.K., British of Arab origins that live in the U.K. We try to do different casts on different continents. In the Middle East, we’ll have a couple of casts from this region. And in America, we’ll have a couple of casts from there. But we’ll always have the core cast from London, because we’ve put all the efforts in training them.”

Q: How does the play portray Gibran? Does it deify him, or depict him as a working writer/artist?

A: “It shows Gibran as a human being like everybody else and the struggle he went through ... It must have been hard for someone as spiritual as Gibran to be trapped in this world of poverty. He was a real artist. He just painted and kept on writing [until] his opportunity came. [The play] shows Gibran as a normal human being and not more than that ... It is purely a journey from struggle to success.”

Q: Have you noticed a difference in enthusiasm between English and Lebanese-English spectators?

A: “It showed that about 60-70 percent [of spectators] were Europeans and Americans, and about 30-40 percent were genuinely Arabs. In England and in America, the book “The Prophet” is extremely popular. We have a lot of fans and followers of Gibran who are from the European side. And I think the Arabs take it for granted, as in ‘[Gibran] is one of us.’

“The Europeans were more anxious to know about Gibran than the Arabs. In June, we’re going to launch the play in a bigger theater, in the Riverside Studios. The play will be shown for one week. And now, we have learned from the first shows how to target things, for people who would be really interested in Gibran.”

Q: What type of play is it?

A: “There is a lot of humor in the play, a lot of dramatic scenes. It covers all the aspects of a good production. We’re doing the right steps to take this production onto a global stage. There are different acts in there ... There is a great ending that portrays [Gibran’s] works. We have dialogues, some musical scenes, painting scenes as well.

“The director is now working on a new projection that I haven’t seen yet. Hopefully, it will be something in addition to what has already been done ... Different parts of the world require some sort of censorship. We have to move some things out and put other material in. We’ll have to edit it according to everywhere we go.”

Q: Gibran wasn’t an isolated figure but a member of the Mahjar movement, a coterie of Syrian (and therefore Lebanese) writers who lived in the Americas and often wrote in English, whose number included Ameen Rihani (1876-1940), Mikhail Naimy (1889-1988), Ilya Abu Madi (1890-1957) and Nasib ‘Arida (1887-1946). Do other Mahjar figures figure in the play?

A: “It’s purely focused on Gibran. It’s on the man, the woman and the book. It’s for people to know more about who the man was, and about people around him that made him write the book. He’s an iconic figure from this region. It’s about time we showcase it to the world. It’s not a documentary. This is a very interesting form of portraying Gibran: the way he is, in an exciting passion.”

Q: Why is Khalil Gibran still important today?

A: “I think it’s important that we acknowledge him. We do have this iconic figure, a person from this region who has changed the lives of so many people out there. [It is] to give a positive light to the Middle East and the Arab region, to show people we do have extremely talented painters, writers, and not just the negative things that we see in the media.

“I think ... this is a very good time to come out with this play. A lot of Europeans and Americans who saw the play in London were very intrigued and fascinated because it gave such a beautiful light to Lebanon and the region.”

Q: Are you planning on touring in other countries?

A: “We’re going to do a show in Beirut in September 2012. We’ll start in Beirut. And then Jordan, Dubai, Adu Dhabi, Sharjah, Doha, Kuwait and then we go back to London. And then we have Canada, USA, Australia and Cape Town. We might translate it into Portuguese to play it in South America, especially Brazil. We’re looking as well [to play it] in Paris, Amsterdam and Oslo ... [And then] in June 12-17, it will be shown at the Riverside Studios in London.”

For more information on “Rest Upon the Wind” visit

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on March 30, 2012, on page 16.




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