The contemporary reality of performing artists in lebanon

A notable fraction of the people immersed in the field of theater do not hold a degree in performing arts.
by Salma Yassine

14 March 2020 | 18:00

Source: by Annahar

  • by Salma Yassine
  • Source: Annahar
  • Last update: 14 March 2020 | 18:00

This photograph portrays a dancer in Beirut’s Grand Theatre that was considered a cultural icon but currently remains unused. (AP Photo).

BEIRUT: Unlike a plethora of worldwide countries, the modern reality of performing artists in Lebanon harbors a distinguished façade.

Despite the prevalence of various factors that play a pivotal role in hindering Lebanese performing artists’ path to success, the latter endeavor on finding their own means of expressing their art. Thus, they overcome these barriers through breathing life into an art that might be rendered demise if not revived by the efforts of a theatrical hierarchy ensuring its survival.

One of the major elements sabotaging the flourishing of this particular art in Lebanon is censorship. Prominent film and theater director Lucien Bourjeily told Annahar that his most recent play entitled “Beirut Syndrome,” which he wrote as part of a play-writing workshop with the Royal Court of London, was banned from public performance in Lebanon and that it was his second play to get banned in the country.

“Censorship is very dangerous for the arts; it threatens the local art scene and its potential. In my opinion, I can see Lebanon becoming a cultural hub in the Middle East if only we topple the current oppressive sectarian regime ruling us. Instead, we shall install a more inclusive, democratic, secular, and progressive one," he said. "Art, in its core, is all about free thoughts and rebellion against existing norms; historically speaking, it is noted that it can rarely coexist and strive while being subdued by an oppressive and regressive regime.”

Bourjeily further hinted at the weight of the financial aspect of theaters in Lebanon. He stated that there are many platforms and theaters in the country, but governmental funding and support should be the main pillar strengthening these venues, making them available at more affordable prices for artistic projects.

“We are unfortunately seeing theaters such as Babel and Beirut’s Grand Theater close mostly due to financial difficulties that could be easily avoided with some state support. These platforms and venues are crucially important for the country’s cultural scene and they can also help improve cultural tourism; the latter would be very beneficial for the economy as a whole,” Bourjeily told Annahar.

Michel Al Dawalibi, a physiotherapist and an actor, stated that the Ministry of Culture should play a crucial role in supporting theater in Lebanon both morally and financially. He mentioned that plays’ production is quite expensive due to rental stages and studios for rehearsals being costly. Thus, most actors do not get paid enough or not at all, resulting in acting becoming a side job or a part-time one for many; this also is the reason behind the immigration of many others who aim to seek better opportunities in foreign lands.

A notable fraction of the people immersed in the field of theater do not hold a degree in performing arts. Instead, they resort to rigorous trainings and workshops that gear them up with the required skills to fulfill the practical side of their passion.

“I work in the fields of advocacy and communications, yet I adopted theater as a hobby towards, which I have an immense passion. A problem I personally face is the scarcity of casting opportunities, and this directly and negatively affects actors, especially amateur ones. To be frank, the only institution that constantly provides actors with a platform through which they can be part of a production is the Lebanese American University given the richness of its Performing Arts program,” Mona Daoud said.

On the bright side, Mona stated that more people are appreciating the art of theater.

“Theatre is flourishing in a yearly manner, since we are witnessing an increase in the birth of numerous grand theatrical performances that attract wide audiences purely interested in this art," she added.

However, Hagop Der Ghougassian, the Technical Director of Monnot Theatre since 1997, the founder of troupe Collectif de l’ACT, and a theater instructor at the Lebanese University and University of Saint Josef believes otherwise. He stated that another dilemma that curbs the blooming of this domain neither encompasses the financial burden that hovers upon it nor the artists and the art they produce. It is rather focused on the audience not being theater oriented.

“We must educate our audiences on the prominence and purity of theater as well it being a need in life and a vulnerable reflection of it. It doesn’t all have to revolve around comedy to be categorized as a “valuable” work. Theater provides us with keys to the questions left unanswered," he told Annahar. 

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