Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Your Love is Dramaturgy: Rafat Alzakout @ Edfringe 2017

Your Love is Fire

Main Hall, Summerhall, 4 - 27 August 2017 (not 7, 14 and 21)  | 11:30 (12:40)


This searing new work is directed by exiled Syrian artist Rafat Alzakout and focuses on daily life in the midst of the Syrian war, telling neither a heroic nor victimised story of the current conflict. 

The play, whose full cast and creative team are in exile in France and Germany, traces the stories of those who wait and remain silent in light of the developments in their country, those who don’t take a stance but are eaten up by their inner conflicts and about the illusion that change is around the corner.

What’s the inspiration behind the performance?

Well, the performance realistically covers six years of events, from the beginning of the revolution and then it turning into a civil war in Syria. It also touches on the horror and disgust felt by many Syrians all over the world. That’s very generally what it’s about. 

The events of the play span 24 hours and delve into the lives of three characters that are trapped in Syria during the civil war. It’s delivered in a dark comedy structure that has a very tragic feeling to it. 

It’s built on the personal story of having to leave Syria at the beginning of the revolution due to the dire safety conditions involved. 

It’s impossible to include everything in the story; and that’s something that the performance touches on: how it was very difficult and complicated for the writer to channel everything around him into a coherent story. The end of the story could be really taken into various directions, as the story provides more questions than it does answers on the matter. 

What was your experience like in Syria at the beginning of the revolution?

It started off with a tremendous amount of optimism for the possibility of change. We took to the streets having enormous positive energy during the revolution’s first year. It was very similar to the situation in Egypt. 

The unprecedented violence, though, forced me to move to Beirut right as the situation was getting out of hand. I faced a lot of legal problems at first, just like many artists with activist backgrounds. I stayed in Lebanon for years, but then, the treatment of Syrians got worse there, just as it did all over the Arab world. I moved to Germany, and I’ve been there for a year and three months up to this point. 

Did you face any struggles in turning such personal experiences into a black comedy piece?

The situation is very dark. Sometimes, you feel that it’s beyond hope. I’m an optimistic person, but there are people in the Middle East who will do whatever it takes to remain in power. You can’t deal with a situation as miserable as this without black comedy. Sarcasm is a strong method of expression. 

On the whole, the performance has a lot of black comedy in it, but also features a decent chunk of tragic elements. I was hoping to do something purely comedic, but this is unfortunately our destiny. 

We were born in a very difficult geographic area that needs a lot of work as it doesn’t really respect people. As an artist, all you could really do is add a voice against all of the oppression that’s there. 

Is the performance a good space for the public discussion of ideas?

The performance poses a question more than it delivers a message. It asks the audience to examine what the differences are between human beings as well as examining the right of people to not be limited in their dreams or ambitions. It poses questions about refugees, war, and the true value of the human life.  

The show examines that by using Syria, Lebanon, and Germany as case studies. It’s really about the difference between the Middle East and Europe. In asking these questions, we’re really curious to learn about what people’s answers will be to gain a needed perspective in dealing with these thorny topics. 

I’m an artist that always views art as an escape from life’s many stresses. With this performance, I’m trying to move the dialogue away from the stereotypes propagated by the media, instead examining the life of the average Syrian through dreams, love, sex, and the desire for a better future.  

Do you feel that the Edinburgh audience will appreciate such a Middle Eastern story?

We’re not talking about ideas; we’re discussing human emotions. It’s not a political lecture; it’s real flesh and blood. The good reviews garnered by our shows in Germany have definitely given us optimism. 

There were a lot of discussions after them, and people generally seem to be taken back by the ideas. That obviously gave us a huge push and reminded us that at the end of the day, theater audience is really all the same around the world.
There are some details that people might understand and feel more empathetic to than others, but real portrayals feel the same for everyone. The quality of the work is all that matters. 

We don’t have any fear of the audience; we’ve lost so much already, it feels like we don’t have much else to lose. The show is daring and very deceptive in its depth. There are ways that the show could be improved, sure, but there’s also a very general feeling of satisfaction for everyone involved. 

What do you love the most about theater?

My favorite thing about theater is the unique bond that ties the entire team together, from the production crew to the director to the actors. There’s a very tight connection there, because everyone’s work is completely based on their unique personalities. You don’t have any instruments; you only have yourself and your work. That breeds a state of complete honesty and emotional nakedness that reveals everyone’s truest nature. 

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