Monday, 13 July 2015

Cinematic Dramaturgy: Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh @ Edfringe 2015

Summerhall, Upper Church Galleries
8th – 30th August (Weds off). BSL Interpreted performances on 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th August
10.45am (50mins)

19 August 1978. Cinema Rex fire, Abadan, Iran. 422 dead. The year of Superman, Saturday Night Fever, and an act of terror that sparked a revolution. Who will remember the dead?

ZENDEH – an award-winning theatre company - present the world premiere of CINEMA at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with Northern Stage at Summerhall. 

Cinema is created and performed by UK based Iranian performer/director Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh and written by Steven Gaythorpe.
On the night of 19 August 1978, 700 people sat down in the Cinema Rex, Abadan, Iran to watch Gavaznha ("The Deer"). During the film, fire broke out, and as 278 people escaped, 422 were trapped and killed. The attack was later claimed by Islamic Militants and lit the touch paper for huge political upheaval in Iran. The terrorist attack is one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in modern history.

CINEMA follows one of those who escaped – the cinema cat, Shahrzad. When the cat returns to the building, she searches for her friends and regular cinema goers. Her motives are simple. Her discoveries horrific. We watch Shahrzad – feral cat, teller of tales – plead with Death for one more life. To have another saucer of milk. 

To tell the stories of the dead.

How do things look through the eyes of a cat tiptoeing through scenes of devastation - a chance to retell her nine lives. Something more complex and inexplicable emerges than the space front pages of papers around the world can afford to another tragedy: the real people, lives, plans and hopes are uncovered.


*REX CINEMA FIRE: According to Daniel L.
Bynam in the Washington Post in 2007, the fire was "the second-deadliest terrorist attack in modern history," after only the September 11th, 2001 attacks; it has since been surpassed by the 2007 Kahtaniya bombings in Iraq, which killed 796.

The Fringe

What inspired this production: did you begin with an idea or a script or an object?
Nazli Tabatabai-KhatambakhshCINEMA is the third in a  series of new political plays weaving in classics of Iranian Dramatic Literature and UK Dramatic Literature that come under the title of "Between the Law and Religion are our Stories - A 20th Century panorama of the social and political shifts of Iran and the relationship it has with the UK and US".

The first in the series is called FLOCK 2013 Tour (The Conference of the Birds by Attar, Constitutional Revolution of Iran - Early 1920s), the second is HEART 2014 Tour (The Epic Leili 'o Majnoon by Nezami/ Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare set against Coup d'etat of 1953 now known to have been backed by the UK and US, not by an Iranian majority) and the third is CINEMA Tour 2015 - The story of the Cinema Rex Fire (1000 and 1 Nights, set against the Mass Incineration of 100s of people in the Cinema Rex 19th August 1978).

I have been waiting for the right time artistically and for audiences to create CINEMA with my colleagues at ZENDEH, and the especially curated team of creatives that I have collaborated with through the ZENDEH Method. What I mean by the "right time" is both in my development as an artist and in terms of the social relevance of the play in light of turbulent times here in the UK and with our relationships overseas in particular the Middle East.

Why bring your work to Edinburgh?
ZENDEH's first show was at Edinburgh in 2005, and so ten years on it seems timely to be celebrating with a homecoming with CINEMA to where it all began for us with an Amnesty International Commendation of our production of Isabel Wright's Waiting Room with performers Sian Mannifield and Victoria McAliden, it was staged at Scotland's Theatre Gateway at part of a Scottish Arts Council and Queen Margaret University culture initiative. 

The opportunity to share our work with our peers and contemporaries is important to us in discovering more about the role we play in developing the art form of theatre, it is also about future touring opportunities - and of course that it is a brilliant festival to be part of in a brilliant City that has my heart. 

What can the audience expect to see and feel - or even think - of your production?
For me since I am the performer in this solo piece of theatre it is important to me that the the quality of my relationship with the audience is; intimate, playful, soulful, and moving without betraying the trust that I hope they have in ZENDEH and the artists that we collaborate with. I want the audience to take the time to consider what is the meaning of their existence, the character I play Shahrzad is a after all a cat, and she has her own morals that may chime true with the values of our diverse audience - it is also about survivor guilt, and yes to some extent about being altruistic but also craving another saucer of milk.

There was a brilliant moment in our production meeting that took me right back to why I wanted to make CINEMA - it was about a lust for life. What happened was our Rehearsal Director said "the key message of this show is In Praise of Living, Not Dying" and I thought yes, I couldn't agree more and it is the theme that we will work with to progress CINEMA from our Preview Tour in May 2015, to our premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with Northern Stage at Summerhall.

The Dramaturgy Questions

How would you explain the relevance - or otherwise - of dramaturgy within your work?
The ZENDEH Method is how we make our work, so it encompasses Experimentation, Exploration, and Touring through a commitment to Creativity, Diversity, and Equality - so yes in short Dramaturgy plays an important role in our work and is built into the craft of each person involved, and we do also make space in the creative team for a Dramaturg most recently with Ben Ayrton on CINEMA, and throughout the last few years our Chair Person Gez Casey continues to be a brilliant support to me as Artistic Director (CEO).

What particular traditions and influences would you acknowledge on your work -  have any particular artists, or genres inspired you and do you see yourself within their tradition?
ZENDEH sets out to compliment and to shift the UK canon of theatre by making original new work-writing productions. My Associate Writer Steven Gaythorpe and I work closely - our approach is that I choose a socio-political event and weave into it inspiration from an Iranian and a British Classic - from there I look at contemporary contexts here in the UK to explore the kind of characters that I want to audiences to fall in love with who will excite them and take them on a journey. 

I love the work of many artists and art forms but in particular at the time of writing this I am most drawn to: Kneehigh, Gecko, Need Company, Mehr Theatre, Bjork, Hitchcock, Ballet Lorent, and the work of the Scientists leading the Philae Project.

Do you have a particular process of making that you could describe - where it begins, how you develop it, and whether there is any collaboration in the process?
The ZENDEH Method is how we make our work, it is a process of experimentation, exploration, and touring - I lead it as Artistic Director holding the space and through this I work with our Associate Writer to open up our process into a collaborative, dynamic, and progressive way of working that involves, artists, the public, technicians, and creatives. 

The ZENDEH Method spans over a year in seven stages and is a blend of New Work processes and New Writing processes taking inspiration from a range of international sources, that have been shared with me either by academics, artists, the public, and in conversation with audiences. 

What do you feel the role of the audience is, in terms of making the meaning of your work? 
ZENDEH is an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation based in a city we adore, Newcastle. We are also part of a national community in relationship with a shifting and evolving public of the 21st Century - as well as being part of an international community through online and digital technologies. The audience in the ZENDEH Method for me as Artistic Director (CEO) of ZENDEH always has an imaginary chair set out for it, and it becomes a real one when we meet the public - I am accountable to the public as we are funded by the public, but I take this further ZENDEH does belong to the Public, and through this we must have a meaningful relationship in representing 21st Century Britain. We test our work with the public as part of the ZENDEH Method and I have a particular interest in the experience of Migration, Diasporas, Exile, Transformation, and Transnationals. 

Are there any questions that you feel I have missed out that would help me to understand how dramaturgy works for you?
From where we stand as a touring theatre company and looking over the horizon I continue to see dramaturgy as an integral part in our the work of ZENDEH is crafted, and I look forward to continuing to develop and embed this further into the ZENDEH Method through new experiences and further research. 

I would offer this question: For every piece of theatre that has a dramaturgical process what are its siblings in other art forms, in other words CINEMA as a piece of theatre what other siblings does it have in other art forms and or museum/library collections - how might this palette process might unlock and unleash new ways of defining dramaturgical trends in the making of theatre?

Set to be one of the most significant pieces of theatre to explore identity, opportunity and freedom, CINEMA will honour the memory of hundreds of individuals.
ZENDEH specialise in unforgettable theatre that connects the personal with the political.
The story of Iran - the country we recognise from newsreels and loaded political soundbites - is so much more: rich, complex, diverse and human. Come with Shahrzad, and hear those stories.

On 19 August we invite you to join us commemorating the lives lost in the cinema fire exactly 37 years ago. We look forward to providing more information on our plans for that date.

Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh

2001 – 2002 Trained at Leicester Haymarket Theatre under the joint Artistic Leadership of Paul Kerryson and Kully Thiarai.
2002 – Staff Director, Derby Playhouse
2003 – 2007 Visiting Director and Lecturer at Queen Margaret’s University
2004 - Nazli founded ZENDEH with the support of the Scottish Arts Council. 
2005 - Awarded Amnesty International Commendation for Waiting Room by Isabel Wright at Edinburgh Fringe Festival
2005 – Onwards Nazli began to develop and author the ZENDEH Method as her directing work took her into international partnerships with Visiting Arts and the British Council, in Scotland, England and Iran. 
2006 - 2007 Associate Director at Theatre Workshop Edinburgh.
2012 – ZENDEH becomes one of 100 new ACE NPOs and one of 7 NPOs in the North East region
2013 – ZENDEH are commissioned by ACE to be the North Area Lead Organisation for the Creative Case for Diversity. This work continues today.
2015 – Onwards ZENDEH will be guided by Nazli into three years as an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation with a special focus on the Craft of Small Scale Touring, New Economic Models for Theatre, and The Creative Case for Diversity.

Recent performance appearances include: White Rabbit, Red Rabbit by Nassim Soliemanpour, Whatever Gets You Through The Night by Cora Bisset; Horizontal Collaboration by David Leddy.

Directing for ZENDEH: Waiting Room, Khaki (Edinburgh Fringe), Tales of the Arabian Nights, Search, Paper Dolls, Politics in the Park, Silk, Found, Flock and Heart.

Created and Performed by          Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh
Written by                                          Steven Gaythorpe
Rehearsal Director                           Simon Startin
Dramaturg                                          Ben Ayrton
Production/Stage Manager         Stacey Choudhury-Potter
Composer                                           Mariam Rezaei
Costume Designer                           Harry Witham
BSL Artist/Choreographer            Nicole Vivien Watson
Documentation                                Matt Jamie   

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