BEIRUT: In Lebanon the summertime is turned over to performance. The term embraces both the yearly slate of seasonal festivals – in Baalbak, Beiteddine, Byblos, Zouk Mikhael, etc. – and the security unrest that not-infrequently competes with them for media attention.One feature of the country’s summer festivals is that – in an effort to lure a broad demographic swathe of well-heeled bums into the bleachers – organizers draw upon “mid-career” (sometimes pre-retirement) talent.
Performing arts enthusiasts with a yen for youth, however, might be intrigued by the Lebanese American University’s impending International University Theater Festival.
Now in its 16th year, the festival is, as its name promises, built upon the exertions of still-amateur international thespians – though the 2014 edition will feature more from here than elsewhere.
“I am so proud of the LAU faculty and student body for what it’s become,” commends festival founder Maurice Maalouf, a former faculty member of LAU’s Communication Arts Department.
In the 1970s, Maalouf dreamt of extending his passion for theater beyond the country’s robust dramaturgical institutions of which he was a part – the Modern Theater and the Middle East Theater Circle – by creating a long-term workshop-cum-exchange program at LAU (then called Beirut University College).
That initiative was the germ of the IUTF.
“I wanted theaters to be more active in Lebanon and I wanted LAU to become a ‘theater city,’” Maalouf recalls. “Interest in art had started to be more widespread and I knew LAU had the financial potential.”
This year’s program features shows by five local troupes – from LAU, the National Orthodox School, Akkar, Lebanese University, Beirut Arab University and Antonine University. Complementing them will be four guests from abroad – Turkey’s Yeditepe University, the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre, Syria’s High Institute for Performing Arts and the Theater Academy of Rome, Sofia Amendolea.
One of the highlights of this year’s event will be the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts’ staging of Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.”
“We are looking forward to this performance,” says festival supervisor Mona Knio, a communication arts department faculty member.
“The institute has always delivered high quality performances, and it seems like this is going to be a colorful one.”
LAU faculty members are involved in the festival but they want to stress its student identity.
“The students themselves run the management of the festival from A to Z,” Knio explains, speaking on behalf of faculty members Lina Abyad, Martin Loyato and Hala Masri, who are also involved.
“Our priority for this event is to teach our students discipline and commitment when working with teams they have never met before.”
The festival sends open invitations to various countries with a strong theater framework, and depending on the students’ availability. Selected teams come at their own expense.
“We are dividing [the students] into groups and each group is responsible for a specific function,” expands Nour Fakhoury, from the festival’s student management team. “We are responsible for everything from airport pickups, hotel bookings, set construction, sound engineering and lighting to stage managing and scheduling. We have to be ready for whatever the teams ask for.”
“Exploration is a key element in the program,” Knio says. “For those who have already attended student productions at LAU, [they] will not be exposed to the same experience.”
“Carte Blanche,” a 45-minute political satire, with an obnoxiously loud character named “El Sitt Marzouka” (“Blessed Madame”), which LAU students staged last month in the Irwin Theater, will be revived in an outdoor setting.
The festival encompasses music as well. “Web,” an experimental musical performance, places two vocalists inside a web-like structure set against a projected backdrop of moving images.
“We are one of the best-equipped theaters in Lebanon and we take pride in hosting this festival on our premises,” Knio boasts. “We look forward to exposing our students to different schools.”
The International University Theater Festival runs June 18-22 at the LAU Beirut campus. For more information visit www.eventscal.lau.edu.lb