3. Konferenz in Bethlehem 2013

Introduction to the theater in Palestine

by Ma’moun al Sheikh – Ministry of Culture

The Palestinian knew the theater for the first time by the different artistic activities held before the existence of the theater in the area such as the narrator, the shadow theater and others. Secondly, it was by the religious missionaries. The theater in its modern concept was introduced to the Arab region by Maroun Al- Naqash in 1847 in Lebanon, then to the neighboring Palestine and other Arab countries in the fertile crescent.

The theater development in the Arab world was normal and did not pass through what the Palestinian people had lived from the disaster to the displacement as a result of the Palestinian land confiscation by the Zionism and imperialism. The condition of instability, scattering and split which the Palestinian lived and is living led to dissimilarity in dealing with the theatrical phenomenon and its cohesion in refining the national Palestinian identity which produced different kinds of theatre. Some of them were in 1948 territories by the Palestinian dramatists who lived under the Israeli occupation. Another kind of theatre is the one established in the Diaspora for the Palestinian voice to reach the international media and cultural tribunes around the world. Both kinds of theatres rely on the obsession of the dispossession of the land, man and identity. These two theatres do not have expression ability that allows them to discuss the Palestinian real problems because of the strict media censorship in the occupied territories and the reflection of the governmental media discourse in the Arab countries under which the theatre was established and was trying to promote their political point of views. There must be democracy and freedom of expression for the theatre to rise. An artist cannot reach to the people’s worries without tackling the real problems that they suffer from.

The theatrical culture:

All this led us to ponder on the Palestinian theatre problems in the occupied land and Diaspora to reach to the convergence elements and to study the points of intersection that the political situation imposed on the Palestinian artists. This is why, the theatre remained theoretical and elitist art practice far from the Arabs daily life. The Arab communities have transferred from being the community of the villages and tribes to that of the city and state including the transfer in the people’s imagination and their collective memory which had witnessed great symbolic changes in the way of thinking and practice especially with its openness to the western world. This change was no more limited to the cultivated and political elites, but affected the marginal people, thanks to the media globalization that dedicated interactive spectacles on the satellites and TV channels which are considered one of the most popular social telecommunications. In spite of all this, the city remained abstracted from its most important architectural and aesthetic components. So what are the reasons, as the critics and playwrights explain this emptiness that turned the city to a body without a soul, and made the Arab city and Palestine in particular live a crisis of artistic identity? Between the Arab traditional way of thinking in general and their objecting  to change and modernization in its widest horizons, the crises did not spare even the cultured people who called for an Arabic Islamic theatre, and others who considered the theatre a western practice and a secular extraneous. In addition, writing scripts was associated in the Arab world in general and the west in particular with an imposed systematic isolation limited to the theatre in its narrow dimension. This was through watching performances, writing creative theatrical scripts, translating or adapting scripts which did not reach out to the community or to the theatre through the society due to bringing the social sciences closer and considering that the community is a big theatre as Shakespeare said. It seems for many normal audiences that the theatre is an entertaining tool only, and that it remained elitists for a certain social group because of cultural, political, social and economic reasons. Very few and even among Arab dramatists know that the theatre has affected greatly the social sciences and western sociologists to a point that the creation and development of the social role goes back to the theater. If we look at the western cultural map focusing on the city as an area of development and as an interactive social space, we will find that the theatre is an important, essential component in the cultural and social infrastructure. That is because the western culture depended for centuries on art, art of revealing, criticism, dialogue practice and bet on what is called cultural psychoanalysis. It is the analysis that made the west insists on seeing his face, his culture and his real society in a mirror that is found symbolically in arts: cinema, dancing, theatre… etc. These arts with the theatre make the social political criticism accessible to all, and make the man’s life, his happiness and freedom the only holy thing in the cultural record. The theatre has really become a symbolic, social practice that reflects the social status and deals with it aesthetically in the western arts before it invades the cinema which could not damage the built relationship between the theatre and the city audience. We should emphasize the dialectical relationship between the community and the theatre in general because the latter one is art and not a technical tool or a metaphysical, political or pedagogical dimension. This art is the result of the permanent and overlapping efforts to a creative group who belongs to the same community itself. It’s an informative communicative means that depends on displaying imaginative situation employing the language. This relation is not by accident and the importance of the theatre in the conscious of the city is not for entertainment as it is in the Arabic culture especially in its folkloric dimension. So the theatre, the temple, the house and the public square are all horizons embodied by the city history. Some considered every space in the city or house a space that adds a dramatic role to the different social, cultural and economic roles. The city is as a big house; the house as a small city. The theatre becomes a city and becomes a house that its history is linked to the city history culturally and economically. The theatre and the city lived together in a double status era: a realistic status, an ideal status, a living status and a dreamed of status, so we find that the ideal city is one possible form for the theatre  exactly as the dramatic place is one picture of the possible picture for the ideal city.

         The strong relation between the city and the theater is not born today, but it is a continuous product of accepting the old culture, the Greek, and being connected to it. Everybody knows the value of the theatrical space in it which we find clear in the description of Frederic Van Sheller. He said that the Greek tragedy taught the Greeks how to practice their freedom. Therefore, it was necessary according to this theoretical, historical view for the theatre as an art and an aesthetical practice to be socially and culturally important for the city to celebrate the theatre and dramatists. The theatre is one of the most city components because the theatre is not only a building, a stage and scenes, but social and cultural roles that could not be separated from the symbolic interaction in the daily life of the human beings. That is because the theatre has a social cultural role that clarifies and reveals the depth of the falsehood of our interactions and the ugliness of the roles that we choose to perform for the sake of the cultural, political and social layout that contradicts with the core of humanity which is summarized in freedom, love and differences. There is similarity between those who live in a society and the actors on the stage. The first ones perform limited roles that occupy distinctive positions. If it is asked from the actors on stage to respect the script, therefore, within the community, the large theatre, the people have to follow the criteria and be committed to the laws of those who are in authority, whether it is the power of money, means of production, or the strength of rulers. This has changed the human being to a merely disfigured, oppressed body. It has changed the city to buildings and geometrical shapes in order to oppress the body and discharge the authority violence according to a hybridization strategy that had taken away the city spirit and made its imagination meet with the imagination of the oppressed body to a degree that the city has become a symbolic unconscious equal to imprisonment and hybridization. It is a symbol for authority, violence and prison. The theatre has become alive. This art out spring as doctor Younis Lolady said: “A beautiful creation from an aesthetical experience and it plays the role of a live experience because the social life in the city is not only by recruiting techniques, like the psychodrama and the socio-drama, but through the psychological and social creation that some plays perform where it is possible to sublimate above the instinct and to reveal the hidden potentials. These dramas are considered healing experiences in the city and here we can compare between the sessions of a psychologists pushing his clients towards replaying their roles in their dreams with the role of the theatre either for the actors who live their roles in a complete merge or for the audience who free themselves from the pressures of their daily life. This reminds us of the idea of purification which Aristotle spoke about long ago. Don’t all creative genres represent these roles in the life of people? Do not +writers, readers and dreamers free themselves from their daily problems?

            Finally, the theatre must be built in the city squares in a place where many can reach easily, read, meet, drive and keep the safety of the pedestrians. The theatre must look beautiful from the external and internal. These suggestions are the product of a new opinion about the city where there are many cross roads, street, squares and where the balance between the order and variety is achieved.