Theater in the Middle East
127 pages
English

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Theater in the Middle East

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127 pages
English

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Description

A new way of understanding theater in the Middle East not as geographical but transcultural spaces of performance


The collected essays from noteworthy dramatists and scholars in this book represent new ways of understanding theater in the Middle East not as geographical but transcultural spaces of performance. What distinguishes this book from previous works is that it offers new analysis on a range of theatrical practices across a region, by and large, ignored for its history of traditions and cultures, and it does so by emphasizing diverse performances in changing contexts. Topics include Arab, Iranian, Israeli, diasporic theatres from pedagogical perspectives to reinvention of traditions, from translation practices to political resistance through various performances from the nineteenth century to the present. 




The book is, therefore, concerned with not just the theatrical content of specific or range of plays in a variety of mediums, from stage to the radio, but also political implications, changing imaginaries of home and exile, and practices of identity through a range of performances in both local and translocal settings. The book argues that there are indigenous performers, ranging from actors to producers and audiences, who (re)make theatre through the reinvention of traditions, pedagogy, media, and translation. The book also shows that while all theatre is performance what precisely “performance” means is contingent to the lived context of audiences and performers who make theatre in its diverse forms and also in response to conflict, war, occupation, patriarchy, home, and exile.


Introduction, Babak Rahimi (University of California, San Diego); I. Pedagogy and Tradition; 1. Teaching Middle Eastern theatre: challenges, opportunities, and rewards, Michael Malek Najjar (University of Oregon); 2. Harem entertainers: female performers in Qajar courts, Rana Salimi (University of California, San Diego); 3. Nehad Selaiha and the Egyptian theatre, Marvin Carlson (The City University of New York); 4. The re-invention of tradition in Moroccan theatre: from postcolonial hybridity to women’s empowerment, Khalid Amine (Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tetouan, Morocco); II. Politics and Nation; 5. Artistic practice and production at the Jenin freedom theatre: the intersection of the personal and the political, Gary M. English (University of Connecticut); 6. Domestic arts: Sigalit Landau, Emily Jacir, and Israel-Palestine, Shelley Salamensky (University of Louisville); 7. Radio drama by and about Syrian refugees: reimagining the nation on Souriali, Edward Ziter (NYU); 8. No demand no supply: documentary theatre transforming the mainstream media, Sahar Assaf (American University of Beirut).

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Date de parution 27 juillet 2020
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A new way of understanding theater in the Middle East not as geographical but transcultural spaces of performance


The collected essays from noteworthy dramatists and scholars in this book represent new ways of understanding theater in the Middle East not as geographical but transcultural spaces of performance. What distinguishes this book from previous works is that it offers new analysis on a range of theatrical practices across a region, by and large, ignored for its history of traditions and cultures, and it does so by emphasizing diverse performances in changing contexts. Topics include Arab, Iranian, Israeli, diasporic theatres from pedagogical perspectives to reinvention of traditions, from translation practices to political resistance through various performances from the nineteenth century to the present. 




The book is, therefore, concerned with not just the theatrical content of specific or range of plays in a variety of mediums, from stage to the radio, but also political implications, changing imaginaries of home and exile, and practices of identity through a range of performances in both local and translocal settings. The book argues that there are indigenous performers, ranging from actors to producers and audiences, who (re)make theatre through the reinvention of traditions, pedagogy, media, and translation. The book also shows that while all theatre is performance what precisely “performance” means is contingent to the lived context of audiences and performers who make theatre in its diverse forms and also in response to conflict, war, occupation, patriarchy, home, and exile.


Introduction, Babak Rahimi (University of California, San Diego); I. Pedagogy and Tradition; 1. Teaching Middle Eastern theatre: challenges, opportunities, and rewards, Michael Malek Najjar (University of Oregon); 2. Harem entertainers: female performers in Qajar courts, Rana Salimi (University of California, San Diego); 3. Nehad Selaiha and the Egyptian theatre, Marvin Carlson (The City University of New York); 4. The re-invention of tradition in Moroccan theatre: from postcolonial hybridity to women’s empowerment, Khalid Amine (Abdelmalek Essaadi University, Tetouan, Morocco); II. Politics and Nation; 5. Artistic practice and production at the Jenin freedom theatre: the intersection of the personal and the political, Gary M. English (University of Connecticut); 6. Domestic arts: Sigalit Landau, Emily Jacir, and Israel-Palestine, Shelley Salamensky (University of Louisville); 7. Radio drama by and about Syrian refugees: reimagining the nation on Souriali, Edward Ziter (NYU); 8. No demand no supply: documentary theatre transforming the mainstream media, Sahar Assaf (American University of Beirut).

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Theater in the Middle East
Theater in the Middle East
Between Performance and Politics
Babak Rahimi
Anthem Press
An imprint of Wimbledon Publishing Company
www.anthempress.com
This edition first published in UK and USA 2020
by ANTHEM PRESS
75–76 Blackfriars Road, London SE1 8HA, UK
or PO Box 9779, London SW19 7ZG, UK
and
244 Madison Ave #116, New York, NY 10016, USA
© 2020 Babak Rahimi editorial matter and selection; individual chapters © individual contributors
The moral right of the authors has been asserted.
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Library of Congress Control Number: 2020936152
ISBN-13: 978-1-78527-446-6 (Hbk)
ISBN-10: 1-78527-446-5 (Hbk)
This title is also available as an e-book
To Nasrin Katouzian
Artist, Painter, and the kindest mother
CONTENTS
List of Illustrations
Acknowledgments
Transcription
Introduction
Babak Rahimi
PART I PEDAGOGY AND TRADITION
Chapter 1 Teaching Middle Eastern Theater: Creation, Challenges and Rewards
Michael Malek Najjar
Chapter 2 Harem Entertainers: Female Performers in Qajar Courts
Rana Salimi
Chapter 3 Nehad Selaiha and the Egyptian Theater
Marvin Carlson
Chapter 4 The Reinvention of Storytelling Tradition in Moroccan Theater: From Postcolonial Hybridity to Women’s Empowerment
Khalid Amine
PART II POLITICS AND (TRANS)NATION
Chapter 5 Artistic Practice and Production at the Freedom Theatre: The Interpenetration of the Personal and the Political
Gary M. English
Chapter 6 Domestic Arts: Sigalit Landau, Emily Jacir and Israel-Palestine
Shelley Salamensky
Chapter 7 Radio Drama by and about Syrian Refugees: Reimaging the Nation on SouriaLi
Edward Ziter
Chapter 8 No Demand No Supply: Documentary Theater Transforming the Mainstream Media
Sahar Assaf
Notes on Contributors
Index
ILLUSTRATIONS
2.1 Dancers and musicians at the Qajar court, late nineteenth century. Courtesy of Harvard University, Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies.
2.2 Forugh al-Dowleh and her daughters. Courtesy of Harvard University, Institute for Iranian contemporary historical studies.
2.3 “Appearance of a prostitute woman”; description on the Ministry of Culture card: “Two female prostitute—their clothing and makeup.” Courtesy of Harvard University, Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies.
2.4 Two women and a male impersonator in male clothes with short but feminine hairstyle and no beard or mustache. Courtesy of Afshin Arami.
2.5 “Little Girls of the Court” and “Two Women and a Girl.” This photograph belongs to the album from the Firouz Firouz Collection. Courtesy of Harvard University, Institute for Iranian Contemporary Historical Studies.
7.1 Publicity Image, We Are All Refugees .
7.2 Radio SouriaLi.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
This book owes its existence to the support of the Department of Literature and the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, San Diego. I am deeply grateful to my colleague Shahrokh Yadegari, who provided the logistical support in organizing a conference on the subject of “Theatre in the Middle East,” from which several of the chapters in this volume originate. I am also very grateful to Soodabeh Malekzadeh for her diligent work in copyediting the volume. Many thanks to Maryam Mianji for introducing me to Sayna Ghaderi, whose photo appears on the book cover. Ghaderi’s photography is reflective of the innovative form of performance art culture that this volume seeks to identify. Finally, I would like to thank the contributors who have generously provided their expertise on the subject of theater and the broader question of performance in the Middle East. Our collective hope is to (re)present the region, known as the “Middle East,” from the prism of expressive action and performative agency. Perhaps these collected essays could also be viewed as performative markers in contributing to what the late Polish playwright and theorist Jerzy Grotowski once described as “theatre’s transformative power of self-exposure” and, above all, in disclosing the secrets of the human condition.
With the aim of scholarly thoroughness and accessibility to a broader readership, the present volume adopts a system of transliteration of Arabic, Persian and Turkish inspired by the model used by the International Journal of Middle East Studies ( IJMES ), with modifications and elimination of most diacritical marks except when translation passages from the original text are included. In addition, all years mentioned in the volume relate to the Common Era unless otherwise stated.
TRANSCRIPTION

Persian and Arabic
ء
ʿ
ب
b
پ
p / -
ت
t
ث
th
ج
j
چ
ch / –
ح

خ
kh
د
d
ذ

ر
r
ز
z
ژ
zh
س
s
ش
sh
ص

ض
ż
ط

ظ

ع
ʿ
غ
gh
ف
f
ق
q
ک
k
گ
g /-
ل
l
م
m
ن
n
و
v / w
ه
h
ی
y
ة
-at
ال
al-, ʿl-
ّ
Double consonant

Vowels and Diphthongs
Long آ
ā
Long و
ū
Long ي
ī
Shortا
a
Short ُ
o
Shortِ
e
Short ی
i
َی
ai
َو
au
ِی
ei
ِو
eu
یه / یة
-ieh
INTRODUCTION
Babak Rahimi
The eerie, minimalist set design on the stage evokes the ominous unfolding of an incident. The metal staircase and a large, circular tube, covered with plastic stripes on a shadowy back wall, set the background of a stage, designed for a theatrical narrative under a cloak of foreboding. Several wooden benches, delineated with bluish shades on an unkempt floor, induce an awareness of emptiness, amplified with reflections of bright lights that float off several hanging lamps that are tied to long wires from the dark ceiling. The single piercing bluish light through the mysterious tube is the most disconcerting to an audience that has its first encounter with the play through such disconsolate scene design.
The uncanny combination of color and dark shades uniquely distinguish the brightly lit yet gloomy indoor setting of this 2016 production of Arthur Miller’s 1964 Incident at Vichy at Iranshahr Theatre, Tehran’s first privately run theater. 1 The ensemble of several men and women, sitting on a bench or standing, as they anxiously wait for their fate in detention after a police roundup of Jews, invites the audience to a tantalizing performance of a traumatic experience to be unfolded in Vichy France in 1943. The location is a metaphoric setting for the banality of evil and, concurrently, the human denial of such peril, ironically, as a means for survival. This one-act play, which has been on revival for its depiction of dehumanization and moral predicament under the shadows of the Holocaust, has undergone a translative transformation in postrevolutionary Iran. With this unique performance at the Iranshahr Theatre, the play has now taken on a new life.
On a stage that fuses realist and abstract themes, the unnerving ambiance of a chain-wired fence, symbolizing militarized detention, has a haunting effect on the audience. The dark, securitized space of detention becomes intrinsic to the performance of Iranian actors who seek to depict an “incident” of moral and universal significance, though translated for an Iranian audience. What translates is a tense relationship between the realism of human futility, best personified by Leduc, a Jewish psychiatrist, and the idealism of Von Berg, Prince Wilhelm Johann, a nobleman from Austria, whose ultimate act of courage allows Leduc to escape detention and seek a better life. There is an ostensible design of humanism in this performance, a desire for human agency and a shared sense of guilt, which has the potential for the realization of humanity, best depicted by Von Berg.
Translated and directed by Manijeh Mohamedi, one of Iran’s foremost theater directors and the lead artist of the famous Payvand Theatre Group, the 2016 staging of Incident at Vichy is significant for its dramaturgical, political and philosophical undertones. Depicting in what Miller once described as a play of theatrical linguistic significance for expressing “commonness and humanity,” the Payvand Theatre Group performers with veteran actors such as Mahvash Afsharpanah and Mohammad Eskandari display a stunning performance of an American play; its author’s more famous work, The Death of a Sales Man , saw a creative depiction in Asghar Farhadi’s 2016 The Salesman. 2 In this performance, however, Incident at Vichy combines several theatrical features that continue to permit the ensemble of actors to stage a play that can both speak to its Iranian audience and address universal themes that occur in a perceived present time.
The distinguishing theatrical features here are threefold. In Mohamedi’s Incident at Vichy , the theme of guilt, central to the play and most evident in the character of Lebeau, seems less pronounced. Miller’s Incident at Vichy was meant to bring to light not only the evils of racial and ethnic cleansing, but also the complexity of the human reaction in the form of self-blame and guilt, which leads to inaction. In Mohamedi’s Incident at Vichy , it is the human capacity for responsibility to overcome guilt that takes front stage, though mostly manifested toward the end of the performance, as Miller also intended to achieve self-determination. Moreover, there is the unique aspect of restaging the narrative based on her own translation of the play. While her translation has shortened the play by cutting out some of the dialogues, the performed dialogues are ironically overemphasized. This is used to give credibility and intrigue to the individualized life of the characters who highlight the anguish of waiting in a guarded detention room that could be anywhere, and yet nowhere.
However, the most intriguing interpretative aspect of Mohamedi’s directorial staging of the play appears with the cutting of the original 21 all-male characters down to 11, of which 3 appear as females and are played by Mahvash Afsharpanah, Farnaz Rahnama and Nastaran Paykanu. The introduction of female characters from different age groups animates an inclusive and perhaps universal depth to the 90-minute-long performance. According to Mohamedi, the inclusion of women in the narrative was meant to reflect changes in today’s social conditions and enhance the broader appeal of the performance for the contemporary audience. “It’s not important if the characters are men or women, but how they are.” 3 And by “how they are” Mohamedi speaks of characters on the “human” level, understood in terms of their quest for autonomy amid intractable conditions, a sort of humanism that she views to be central to Incident at Vichy .
Mohamedi sums up her notion of humanism in the following account, which is worth quoting:

Every single theatrical piece that I have been involved with has been directly related to the world around me. This is especially the case today since fascism has spread more than ever; and that since Hitler’s time, it has only changed in form, but the content remains the same. Accordingly, Miller’s plays pertain to our time as well and the audience is able to relate with it. Similar to [Miller’s] After the Fall , which is his most personal play, [yet] fascism is still present. The Iranian audience knows its conditions very well and adapts to what it sees and feels accordingly. To be honest, I never had heroism in mind when I directed the play. What I wished to portray was humanity ( ensāniyat ), which today’s world is increasingly moving farther away from.
There is something sumptuously candid in the above statement. Mohamedi makes explicit Miller’s universal concern for human responsibility during a tumultuous time in American history, as the country faced numerous injustices of racial segregation, the political repression of McCarthyism and the violence of the Vietnam War. Incident at Vichy also foreshadowed the anti-war movement that began in 1964 and escalated in the late 1960s when a new generation of activists sought to move beyond guilt and demand responsibility for a better world. Mohamedi’s Incident at Vichy demands the same awareness from its Iranian audience. She wants her audience, who “knows very well its condition,” to think again about their responsibility to the current times and the ever-presence of fascism and move past their guilt of inaction. Theater is more than an enactment, but a critical practice.
The Iranshahr production of Incident at Vichy , which its final shows premiered at the 35th Fadjr Theatre Festival in Tehran, identifies a theatrical ensemble that, through the performance of translation, exceeds the theatricality of the national stage. In a long tradition of translational practices that have defined Afro-Eurasia as a transcontinental zone of contact since antiquity, the postrevolutionary Iranian Incident at Vichy involves the transplantation of cultural and political frameworks beyond which a dramaturgical tradition in a specific region is embedded. 4 The dynamic relations between translated text and performance of staging and viewing a play as such attests to a porous reality that keeps aesthetics and politics in close proximity—in a performative space where experience and interpretation redefine power and resistance with contested intensity.
What the play also identifies is a type of innovative performance that part and parcel of a growing theatrical landscape in a region known in the twentieth-first century as the “Middle East.” 5 I use quotation marks for “Middle East” since the term has become common in usage only since the second half of the twentieth century; and, in its temporal-historical context and territorial conception, it has involved a performative dimension insofar as marking a distinction of an enactment based on a geographical imaginary of a Eurocentric bias with colonial historical roots. 6 The Tehran-based production of the Incident at Vichy is exemplary of a vibrant theatrical culture in a changing region with multifaceted dramaturgical traditions that can also be witnessed in Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Syria or Tunis, to name just a few countries conventionally associated with the region. 7 In such a dramaturgical context, theatrical practices are constructed in complex political-institutional dynamics and philosophical underpinnings that combine cross-fertilization of ideas, designs, performances, organizations and media productions that highlight transculturation through which theater becomes both an indigenous and a global phenomenon. 8
This book is an attempt to understand the theatrical traditions of the region not from an encyclopedic or ethnonationalist but a conceptual perspective open to a critical idea of theater as a transcultural set of practices with complex experiential and interpretative dimensions. From public-funded theatrical productions at major venues, such as the Municipal Theatre of Tunis (established in 1902) or the National Theatre of Iran (established in 1911) to street performances in Cairo or the staging of al- ḥ alqa traditional theater in Morocco, the notion of the “Middle East Theater” adopted in this volume moves beyond the ethnonational categories while focusing on diversity of performative forms, staging repertoires, “troupe” of players, directors, producers, critics and audiences linked by geography, class, gender, family, nationality, ideology or transnational ties. In fact, the very notion of the “Middle East” adopted in the following essays should be understood not as a physical-geographical concept but as a performative one, that is, enunciatory practices that change the realities they seek to depict through performance. 9 While a study of distinct theatrical traditions within a country would require in-depth sociohistorical and political analysis, it is imperative to recognize the interconnected traditions and cultural industries that transcend the geographical region. In a globalizing context, such interconnectedness brings to focus the cross-fertilization of dramaturgical practices that continue to undergo complex changes on national, (sub)cultural and subaltern levels.
At the core of specific cross-regional theatrical traditions lies historical contextuality. As it has been argued by William Beeman and Khalid Amine, theatrical traditions have been practiced in the region long before the introduction of their Western form in the nineteenth century as a result of European colonial modernity. 10 The most significant Islamic drama, Taʿzieh , performed in Iran in commemoration of the martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad in 680 CE in Karbala, Iraq, had an indigenous growth in the late seventeenth-century Safavid Iran. 11 It later developed into a full-blown street-neighborhood theater in the late eighteenth century and state theater under the Qajars in the second half of the nineteenth century. 12 The construction of the massive Takkiyeh-e Dowlat, also known as the “Royal Theatre,” commissioned in 1868 by Qajar king, Naser al-Din Shah, is a testimony to a form of religious theatrical that had state patronage but also identified in what Peter Chelkowski has famously described as “indigenous avant-garde theatre” for fusion of material and themes from history, legends, and myths and everyday situationality. 13 Other forms of indigenous dramatic performances ranging from storytelling to mythical-poetic drama date back to Pharaonic Egypt, Achaemenid and Sasanian Iran. After the spread of Islam and the rise of early-modern Islamicate empires, we witness the growth of shadow puppet drama, narrative drama, religious epic drama, “comic improvisatory drama” and siāhbāzi , improvised comic plays that feature blackface performances. 14 Shadow plays ( karagoz ), performed under the patronage of the Ottoman Sultans, grew in popularity in their imperial domains, especially in the Levant and North Africa, while puppet shows ( kheimeh-shab-bāzi ) appear to have flourished on the street and market levels in Safavid Iran and Arab Ottoman regions. 15 As for another example, the circle of storytelling drama ( al- ḥ alqa ), as described in Chapter 4 by Khalid Amine, provides a unique indigenous case of audience–actor interaction for what Amine and Marvin Carlson point out as a form of self-reflexive drama that continues to undergo change today as a type of experimental theater on a popular level. 16
The introduction of “Western theater,” and productions in their distinct form of proscenium stage in the nineteenth century, as in the satirical plays of polyglot Yaʿqub al-Sanuʿa (1839–1912) in Egypt, primarily inspired by French and Italian drama and performed in spoken Arabic, coincided with deep-seated change in the region caused by European colonial expansion that purported Westernization as a principle cultural intervention for progress. 17 The rise of a “mostly all-male” intelligentsia with modernizing missions to change local cultures mirrored a colonialist mission to downplay indigenous traditions in favor of “modern” theatrical institutions performed on a proscenium frame and marketed in the form of ticket sales and assigned seats. Islam, long considered as an impediment to the growth of dramatic arts in the region, has also contributed to how theater became perceived in key urban centers such as Cairo, Beirut and Damascus based on European models of artistic production and consumption. Yet, as Carlson has demonstrated in his seminal study on theater and Islam, the local production of theatrical works in North Africa, in particular in Morocco, saw the support of Salafi reformists who viewed theater entail anti-colonial and patriotic values, and accordingly promoted dramatic arts through pedagogical initiatives in the Free School institutions in the Maghrib. 18 Similarly, in Christian Lebanon, Arab theater saw the growth of religious drama in the 1930s and 1940s, while Jewish theater also grew in the newly formed nation-state of Israel from 1948 onward. 19
Here, the notion of “modern theater” can be contested as a form of secular drama. This is so since the meaning of the term “modern” remains open to a value-laden description in the context of the global history of secular modernity, though deeply contested based on competing projects of being (or becoming) modern in shifting (post)colonial contexts. This is particularly true in the discourse and practice of “modern theater” in the Middle East, as Carlson explains, which had a different historical formation and conception than in Europe. 20 In its European context, the development of indoor theaters with proscenium stage can be credited to the rise of post-Renaissance theatrical culture, in particular in early modern England and Spain, which saw its maturity in nineteenth-century Europe. Though with Greco-Roman roots, the proscenium frame introduced a specific spatial marker that divided the increasingly professional actors and their growing middle-class audiences. This ultimately reflected a worldview that positioned the spectator as an emerging consuming (middle) class of cultural products on the rise in the late nineteenth century when Romanticism and revolutionary frenzy gave new nationalistic impetus to its growing popularity.
In Ottoman and Qajar territories, in particular, “modern theater” was an innovative but intractable appropriation of European colonial cultural hegemony. Colonialism tied to European nationalism served as an institutional means to diffuse a perceived high culture of theater in various regions around the world, particularly in Ottoman territories such as Beirut, where figures like Lebanese-Christian Marun Mikhail al-Naqqāsh staged theatrical performances of plays by Molière (1847). 21 Also the same year in Syria, Salim Naqqāsh established a theatrical troupe by staging The Miser ( al-Bakhil ), perhaps the first Arab theater drama, performed at his house for a public audience. 22 Late in the nineteenth century, Ahmad Abu Khalil al-Qabbani would go on to introduce original Arabic plays, gaining the title, Father of Syrian Theatre. 23 The formation of the Khedivial Opera House in 1869 and later the establishment of the Al-Qardā troupe under the British colonial rule of Egypt in 1885 can be credited to the introduction of Western theater to North Africa. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when the fall of the Ottoman Empire led to further European colonial occupation in the region, key figures such as stage actor and director Youssef Wahabi and actor and singer Mounira el-Mahdeya expressed growing nationalistic sentiments through their performances. The advent of cinema, press and later radio was closely tied with rapid urbanization and demographic changes in countries such as Egypt and Iran between the two great wars. This, in turn, led to transnational networks of fans from diverse backgrounds and a growing production industry, which increasingly came to rely on mass media for the popularity of its stage directors, actors and playwrights as cultural capital across the region.
In such transcultural context, translation has and continues to play an integral role in the development of indigenous Middle East theater. 24 This has been especially important in the postcolonial period when playwrights such as Yusuf Idris of Egypt, Gholam-Hossein Saʿedi of Iran, Yusuf al-Ani of Iraq and Tayeb Saddiki of Morocco came to define a distinct indigenous theatrical literature that, along with the performance of major European works in translations, also led the creation of new plays with resonance and philosophical perceptiveness about the national, (anti)colonial and the broader human condition. 25 This philosophical current has been particularly evident in the translation of Shakespearean works into Arabic, Hebrew, Persian and Turkish. For more than a century, the Elizabethan plays have undergone creative reappropriation, rendition, and reconstruction of text, stage and production performances, defining such translations, following Jacques Derrida, as multilingual and reflexive to specific sociopolitical contexts, which the translated plays seek to address. 26 In a significant way, Mohamedi’s Incident at Vichy is a twenty-first-century example of critical transliterary theater that has developed in the region in response to changing social and political circumstances in the nineteenth century. 27 Throughout the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, likewise, one can identify numerous other examples in ways that the translation of not only European but also North and South American theaters has provided innovative critique of sociopolitical life undergoing major transformations.
By way of example, the satirical plays of modernist Mirza Fath-Ali Akhundzadeh, written in Azari and translated into Persian by Mirza Jafar Qarachehdaghi, were published in Tehran in 1864 to criticize sociocultural norms and governmental ineptitude of the Qajars. 28 Based in the Russian Caucasus, Akhundzadeh is exemplary of a playwright/activist/reformer whose writing was defined by exile and travel across a region enduring considerable transformation in the late European colonial era. Similarly, the late-nineteenth-century Turkish theatrical production led by Agop Vartovyan in Istanbul and Ahmet Vefik Pasha in Bursa saw the translation of French plays, in particular Molière’s works, into Turkish, as a social commentary on hypocrisy and greed. 29 The translation of naturalist and realist plays of Antonio Chekov and Henrik Ibsen served as a way to connect indigenous everyday life to social realities, which the new networks of translators sought to use as scathing commentary on their modernizing societies within shifting global (anti- and neo-)colonial contexts.
But the performance of indigenous plays in colloquial or national language has also flourished as a nationalistic initiative to solidify cultural identities of anti-colonial modernist expression, at times with an explicit political agenda. The 1969 short play by Sa ʿ dallāh Wannoūs, The Elephant, the King of All Times , for example, was primarily written for a postcolonial Arab audience who had experienced the loss of the 1967 War and the onslaught of the Israeli occupation as a result of the failure of secular Arab authoritarian regimes. Explicitly political, the play explores the nature of authority in the figure of the king and his disruptive elephant, who had caused havoc among the population, and demands dissent from the people in the story and also directly from its audience, as the actors address them at the end of the play for taking up responsibility to voice their resistance to oppression. 30 Wannoūs, who studied and traveled extensively in Europe, staged a major philosophical concern of the 1960s global era, which essentially questioned the relationship between society and power, and by extension, existential responsibility for political change in what he famously described as “theatre of politicization.” 31 Distinct from political theater, theater of politicization considers the “possibility of awakening the consciousness of a spectator to ask questions and to try to find answers, theoretically but also practically, meaning to try and change their destiny,” a concept that resonates a Bretchtian technique of disruption of the assumed “real” by taking action to change reality. 32 The audience, as Abdulaziz H. Al-Abdulla observes, plays an integral role by becoming aware of the political truth beyond the theatrical space and into the everyday life. 33 The Elephant, the King of All Times is one example of a political performance, among others, that continues to influence the collective consciousness of shifting Arab theatrical and literary cultures that still resonates in the post-Arab Spring. 34
Such politicization is also embedded in the contemporary reinvention of older dramatic traditions. The public restaging of Taʿzieh in (post)revolutionary Iran has seen the radical reinterpretation of the dramatic reenactment of the martyrdom of the Prophet’s grandson at Karbala from a revolutionary perspective since the inception of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Underway since the 1960s, the politicization of Mu ḥ arram rituals, which Taʿzieh originally emerged as a distinct form of drama ritual in the late seventeenth century, had transformed Shi ʿ ism into a revolutionary force by the late 1970s. 35 In its early revolutionary years, from 1979 to the early 1990s, Taʿzieh , which was banned under early Pahlavis, received state patronage as a revolutionary theater. During the 1980s, various public performances were organized throughout the year with subtle or overt dramaturgical and symbolic references to revolution and war as sources of legitimacy for state power amid the Iran–Iraq War (1980–88). 36 In its early revolutionary period, Taʿzieh became a dramatic forum for revolutionary action amid a war that was perceived as an imposed imperial ploy.
In the broader perspective, it goes without saying that the history of theater of the Middle East has and continues to reflect the socioeconomic, cultural and political concerns of a distinct period when a play is staged and consumed within a social setting. In its changing form, theatrical performances occur in diverse spatial and temporal settings, ranging from underground to experimental theater, and they do so under changing conditions that reflect both local and trans-local influences. 37 However, beyond the mere production of theater culture, one should also take into consideration the production culture of theater. 38 Practicing theater in Beirut, Damascus, Tehran or Tunis would equally require us to examine complex bureaucratic operations, administrative frameworks, infrastructural limitations, permit regulations, production organizations, writers, designers, critics, press and educational institutions nested under the intricate relationship between the state, capital and civic sphere. 39 In terms of institutional regulation, the relationship between state censorship and self-censorship in theater production is as complex and is intimately connected with state budget for cultural activities, in particular, theatrical festivals or privatization of cultural institutions, especially in the aftermath of major state-led initiatives for liberalization and privatization.
In the case of Iran, the privatization of theaters since post-2009 has seen the mushrooming of theatrical productions of various genres for multiple markets in major cities. While Samuel Becket’s 1953 tragicomic play, Waiting for Godot has seen an astonishing surge in performances by smaller theater troupes such as Goruh-e Laḥẓe, who innovatively Persianized characters such as Estragon and Vladimir for a critique of Iranian society, the 2018 musical adaptation of Oliver Twist , directed by Hossein Parsaei and staged at the spacious Vahdat Hall in Tehran, has introduced perhaps the largest private theatrical production for popular consumption in Iran. Yet “privatization” is hardly disconnected from the state apparatus, as evident also in the Levant and North Africa. 40 As in the case of Iran, the production of private theater would involve complex informal and formal networks of association between artists, actors, producers, venues, markets and consumers, through which theater could be commodified to generate identity and legitimacy. This is particularly true in the case of experimental theater such as the STAR TOO Theater Project, based in the United Arab Emirates, or the digital theater project, Gulf Stage, which exhibits the works of drama from Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia online, shared and consumed in promotion of a perceived advancing Arab youth culture around the world. 41 It is important to note that, by and large, digital experimental theater is supported by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where a conservative understanding of culture still permits the promotion of theater in the name of national cultural identity. The long-term impact of privatization of theater in relation to the state, in its uneven growth and spread in multiple countries, in years to come, remains to be seen. Whatever the outcome, the role of the state, especially in the regulatory infrastructure of arts and culture, cannot be ignored.
With the above discussion in mind, the chapters in this book seek to explore in what manner and by what processes theater in the Middle East can be redefined in its diverse social and dramaturgical manifestations. We offer an array of discussions on theater based on different frameworks of analysis that seek to identify complex practices in relation to audiences, performers, producers, educational sector, markets and state relations. While the volume does not pretend to be comprehensive, the collection of chapters, selected to present wide-ranging themes on theater, aims to provide a diverse understanding of such art form that inscribes political forces in (re)shaping identity across borders. The chapters clearly demonstrate that the people of the region, and those who continue to have relations with the region as diasporic actors, are far more innovative and complex than the stereotypical view that renders the population as passively receptive to authoritarian strictures or American European cultural modernity, assumed as a singular sociocultural historical process.
As for the focus of the volume, contributors were invited to discuss a number of thematic issues such as indigenous theater, translation cultures, political resistance and pedagogy with a focus on various case studies. The volume therefore is divided into two sections. The first section, “Pedagogy and Tradition,” looks at ways in which traditions in “Middle Eastern Theater,” as described by Michael Malek Najjar, can be taught, reinvented and experimented in (post)colonial and diasporic contexts. Each chapter explores such themes with a focus on a specific case study. In the opening chapter, Michael Malek Najjar set the theoretical stage for the volume with a broad and critical examination of the concept of the “Middle Eastern Theater” through the pedagogical “framework of teaching a course with the same title at the University of Oregon where he researches on Arab-American theater.” Najjar’s account from a pedagogical perspective is intriguing, as he allows his readers to have a unique insight on the conceptual and historical challenges in framing the study and teaching the topic to an undergraduate student body. An important observation in his study is the discrepancy in the publication, translation and production of plays in various localities and vernacular cultures. What merits special notice here is the fact that the consensus on what determines a prominent play primarily depends on the culture production of the publication and translation of texts and their audiences/consumers such as academic institutions. His account of scholarly artistic collaboration with Sahar Assaf, also a contributor to this volume, is interesting for the staging of several theatrical performances, including plays from Armenia, Israel and Turkey. Najjar’s selection of Armenian plays for his class troubles the geographical imaginary of the Middle East as an enclosed region and underscores the historical-cultural interconnections of diverse people throughout lands that stretch across the Afro-Eurasian landmass.
The modern history of theater in the Middle East is replete with examples of committed and political theater, traditions that may seem unceasing, but in truth are reinventions of older practices toward future moderns. What defines the “modern” in such practices? Though the question of modernity is complex and goes beyond this volume, we can safely begin with the contemporary perceptions of “the modern” in terms of the technological. In many ways, Chapter 2 by Rana Salimi is less about history and more about the theater of opposition through photographic media performances. Salimi’s reading of Qajar-era photographs of female performers of the court provides an intriguing account of Iranian women not as passive victims of patriarchy but as active agents, who claim identity through dance and music performance as expressive modes of theatrical action. The case of cross-dressing in Salimi’s study of Qajar photography shows how gender identity playfully came under question through performance and photographic practice that displayed it, emphasizing that media can serve as a form of theater. In Chapter 3, Carlson provides an intriguing account of the late Egyptian dramatist, Nehad Selaiha, whose profound influence as an actor and, more importantly, as an educator can be felt in the theatrical culture of Egypt. As Carlson explains, Selaiha was instrumental in establishing the first independent theater free from governmental and commercial control. Partly effective due to her al-Ahram review column on theater, since the early 1990s Selaiha had emerged to shape a new kind of Arab theater that would be experimental, led by a new network of actors, directors and playwrights, and backed by independent theater companies. The innovative Arab experimental theatrical performances, such as 66 Minutes in Damascus by the Lebanese director, Lucien Bourjeily, could be partly credited to Selaiha and the Free Theatre Movement in Egypt, which paved the path for new and original works staged in major theater festivals in the region and beyond. 42
The notion of independent theater is central to any discussion on indigenous drama. In Chapter 4 Khalid Amine offers an intriguing insight into the long history of dramatic performances as a way to retrieve, or better yet uncover, improvised, experimental and liminal processes of theatrical practices from precolonial to postcolonial contexts in Morocco. Beginning the chapter with an account on al- ḥ alqa , Amine discusses this traditional drama to underline the dynamic, self-reflexive and shape-shifting dramaturgy of various performances. In what he calls the “beginnings of Morocco’s performative turn” in its postcolonial form, Amine examines Al-Majdūb , a storytelling that revolves around hybridity of narrative performances and inclusion of improvised theater, modeled on precolonial traditions such as al- ḥ alqa to which the close interaction between actors and spectators creates an alternative site of liminality. Daily , the polemical feminist play, is another example in the use of al- ḥ alqa as the narrative-within-narrative technique and a framing device to give voice to the marginalized female in a patriarchal society. Such textual and theatrical production with the fusion of folklore and public venue for performances brings to light the interplay between memory, civic sociability and subversion, which Amine argues, projects a radical change in theatrical content and form to rearticulate the world.
The second part of the book, “Politics and (Trans)nation,” examines the relationship between politics and identity with a focus on conflict, occupation and migration. The chapters discuss the appeal of the political implication of theatricality in ways truths of trauma, loss and displacement can be articulated through enactment in national and transnational contexts. If Amine seeks to uncover the postcolonial search for alternatives, Chapter 5 of this second section examines the possibility of theater as enactment of identity in terms of resistance. In his study of The Freedom Theatre (TFT), a community-based theater in Jenin Refugee Camp, located in northern West Bank, Palestine, Gary English demonstrates theater’s potential for political resistance with actors, as community members of a marginal society, expressing their oppression through drama. Since its establishment in 2006, TFT has staged the most political form of theater as cultural resistance. In this chapter, English provides an extensive discussion on the history and dramaturgical development of TFT in the post-second Intifada Uprising. This study is original for exploring the various performances that Palestinian actors enacted as a way to redefine themselves through indigenous and local theater production, entailing sociopsychological implications under Israeli occupation. In what has been described as “creative activism,” TFT serves as a model of resistance through drama performance as an alternative political practice based on truth and its internalization of the Palestinian actors who perform it. 43
Chapter 6 by Shelley Salamensky continues the question of identity by exploring the critical potential of liminality in performing home through the staging of art installation and video performances by Israeli and Palestinian women artists. According to Salamensky, the works of Jewish-Israeli Sigalit Landau and Palestinian-American Emily Jacir question the domesticated boundaries of the homeland, associated with femininity, while also exploring complications to maintain an enduring national homeland, associated with masculinity, through conflict and war. The question of diaspora and what lies beyond it, lies in an interplay between loss and return to an imagined homeland in the creation of a new “home” that plays a central role in the discussed video theatrical installation. An important theoretical contribution of this chapter is the inclusion of video and installation art understood not only as a distinct theatrical form with a wide range of national and transnational audiences but also as enactments of ambiguous spaces of displacement that are both material and experiential, as dwelling places of diasporic existence for alternative understanding of home and beyond.
Performing diaspora is also the thematic focus of Chapter 7 and Edward Ziter’s study of Syrian refugees and radio drama, through which a new dramaturgical practice of imagining the nation is played out in the six-part series, We Are All Refugees , a story about Syrian refugees and how they can survive and enact a better future, beyond Syrian borders, through sharing of resources and collaboration. The relationship between displacement, trauma and longing for a return to the homeland is staged through audio narrative and exemplifies a type of auditory performance in which the media performance redefines as the diasporic life of a people performing their identity through information technology that is by nature dispersed and fluid. Moreover, the notion of therapeutic theater as dissident performance entails the understanding that diaspora speaks, and it does so by opening spaces of critical thought and social imaginary of home and freedom.
Lebanese academic, actress and director Sahar Assaf continues the discussion on media as a theatrical form, in the final chapter, Chapter 8, but with a focus on documentary performance. Her No Demand No Supply: A Rereading of Lebanon’s 2016 Sex Trafficking Scandal , a documentary about Lebanon’s 2016 sex trafficking scandal, which involved a group of Syrian women, is a bold and innovative attempt to give voice to the subaltern women, whose stories are performed through video interviews. Similar to Ziter, the key to Assaf’s chapter is memory, or rather re-memory: the recovery of a lost identity in remembrance or in an attempt to rearticulate oneself in a new narrative frame and ultimately provide a new critique of the present in which one is situated within. The role of memory is particularly significant in diaspora communities that reexamine self and community through innovative performances in host societies. 44 What merits attention in her account is the individual and collaborative effort in organizing and staging a documentary theatrical performance not because it offers an objective, but an emotive correction to mainstream media, and in fact, changes it into a collective awareness of a human tragedy largely hidden from the public. Moreover, the chapter also reveals how civic activism and theater can inherently overlap as an act of political commitment and human responsibility, similar to what Mohamedi’s staging of Incident at Vichy aimed to accomplish in Tehran.
The present volume is, therefore, an attempt to highlight human agency by describing theater as a mode of expression that seek to critically engage with lived reality through performance, staged or otherwise. Although our aim is not limited to the nation-state paradigm, the authors provide cases in reference to specific countries identified with the region through transcultural spaces of interactions such as translation of texts, travel of troupes, theater fairs and media practices. Due to the limited space inherent in any edited volume, the following chapters do not directly explore all related themes of significance, which would require field-based research or first-hand personal account of social practices of numerous understudied and/or new theatrical performances, including digital theater. Despite limitations, our ambition is to offer arguably the first collection of essays that examine the question of “Middle East Theater,” including non-Arab theatrical cultures, with the understanding that this dynamic region with its historically shifting national borders and diasporic boundaries cannot be reduced to a locked-up entity of cultural totality. 45

Notes
1 Stage design by Manijeh Mohamedi and her former student Mohammad Hossein Davani.
2 Robert W. Corrigan, ed., Arthur Miller: A Collection of Critical Essays (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1969), 751.
3 Manijeh Mohamedi, e-mail interview, June 26, 2019.
4 The term “Afro-Eurasian zone” is in reference to Marshall G. S. Hodgson’s seminal study of Islamic history. See Marshall G. S. Hodgson, “The Interrelations of Societies in History,” Comparative Studies in Society in History 5(2) (1963), 227–50.
5 For a study of Iran’s Fadjr International Theatre Festival, see Marjan Mossavi, “Performing and Conforming Iran’s Fadjr International Theatre Festival,” Drama Review 60 (1) (2016), 79–92.
6 The popularization of the name “Middle East” can be credited to American naval strategist, Alfred Thayer Mahan, who first used the term in 1902. In this volume we adopt the name “Middle East” to include North Africa as well. For a discussion on the historical formation of the name, see Charles Kurzman, “Cross-Regional Approaches to Middle East Studies: Construing and Deconstructing a Region,” MESA Bulletin 41(1) (2007), 24–29 and Michael E. Bonine, Abbas Amanat and Michael Ezekiel Gasper, eds., Is There a Middle East? The Evolution of a Geopolitical Concept (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012). See also Michael Malek Najjar’s discussion of the term in Chapter 1.
7 The most daunting task for an introductory piece on the “Middle East” is the delineation of its exact geographical location and inclusion of countries ranging from Afghanistan to Turkey and Sudan. In this volume, we do not pertain to a geographical discussion but maintain an open transcultural perspective, which preclude discussions on “theater” based on strict nation-state or regional limitation.
8 For the notion of “transculturation” as a set of practices that operate both within and beyond power relations, see Almut Höfert and Armando Salvatore, eds., Between Europe and Islam: Shaping Modernity in a Transcultural Space (Brussels: P.I.E.-Peters Lang, 2000); and Armando Salvatore, The Public Sphere: Liberal Modernity, Catholicism, Islam (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007).
9 For an innovative conception of “Middle East theater,” see the works of Sahar Assaf, especially her seminal article, Sahar Assaf, “Political Theatre between Wars: Staging an Alternative Middle East,” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 39(3) (2017), 65–76; A discussion on “performativity” would go beyond the scope of this volume, but in reference to performativity of geographical category, see Edward Said, Orientalism (New York: Pantheon Books 1978), especially 49–72; Gearóid O’Tuathail, Critical Geopolitics (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, 1996) and Joanne P. Sharp, Geographies of Postcolonialism (Los Angeles, CA: Sage, 2008).
10 See William Beeman, “Middle East,” in The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre , ed. Martin Banham (Cambridge University Press, 1988), 664–76; Khalid Amine, “Theatre in the Arab World: A Difficult Birth,” Theatre Research International 31(2) (2006), 148. For a critique of view that Islam prevented the growth of theater in the region, see John Bell, “Islamic Performance and the Problem of Drama,” Drama Review 49(4) (2005), 5–10.
11 The first account of Muharram ceremonies in the form of spectacles or “ tamasha-yi muhaditha ,” meaning “spectacle of grief” appears in the travel report of de Montheron in Isfahan (1641). The report from the French traveler describes the earliest use of dramatic representations and ornaments in the popular ceremonies. In the travel report of J. B. Tavernier in 1667 Muharram had become a spectacle of dramatic performance, and by 1704 (de Bryun) and 1714 (Krusinski) the commemorative ceremonies had developed into proto- Taʿzieh performances. See Babak Rahimi, Theater State and the Formation of Early Modern Public Sphere in Iran: Studies on Safavid Muharram Rituals, 1590–1641 C.E . (Amsterdam: Brill, 2012), 228–34.
12 See Babak Rahimi, Theater State and the Formation of Early Modern Public Sphere in Iran: Studies on Safavid Muharram Rituals, 1590–1641 C.E . (Amsterdam: Brill, 2012); Peter J. Chelkowski, ed., Taziyeh: Ritual and Drama in Iran (New York: New York University Press, 1979) and “Persian Passion Plays and the Iranian Theater,” in Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East (Cairo: American University of Cairo, 2010), 79–100.
13 It is commonplace to claim that Takkiyeh-e Dowlat was built after the Royal Albert Hall in London, envisaged after Naser al-Din Shah’s visit to Britain. However, there are anomalies in the historical record. Naser al-din Shah’s first visit to London took place in 1873; Takkiyeh-e Dowlat, however, was most likely commissioned in 1868. For a historical and sociopolitical account of Takkiyeh-e Dowlat, see Babak Rahimi, “The Takkiyeh Dawlat: The Qajar Theater State,” in Performing the Iranian State: Visual Culture and Representations of Iranian Identity , ed. Staci Scheiwiller (London: Anthem Press, 2013), 55–71 and Abbas Amanat, Iran: A Modern History (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017), 290–92. For experimentalism in Taʿzieh , see Peter Chelkowski, “Ta’ziyeh: Indigenous Avant Garde Theatre of Iran,” Performing Arts Journal 2(1) (Spring 1977), 31–40 and for its broader dramaturgical features, see Peter Chelkowski, ed. Eternal Performance: Ta’ziyeh and Other Shiite Rituals (London: Seagull Books, 2010).
14 See Beeman, “Middle East,” 664; see also Theodore Gaster, Thespis: Ritual, Myth and Drama in the Ancient Near East (New York: Schuman, 1950); for puppetry performances, see Shiva Massoudi, “ Kheimeh Shab Bazi: Iranian Traditional Marionettte Theatre,” Asian Theatre Journal 26(2) (Fall 2009), 260–80. The roots of siāhbāzi can be traced back to slavery in Afro-Persian Gulf regions. For an account, see Nasser Rahmaninejad, A Man of the Theater: Survival as an Artist in Iran (New York: New Village Press, 2020), 11–14.
15 For a historical account of shadow plays, particularly their spread through Ottoman zones of contact across Mediterranean–Mesopotamian regions, see Jacob M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958), 9–47; Shmuel Moreh, Live Theatre and Dramatic Literature in the Medieval Arab World (New York: New York University Press, 1992), 123–51; and Metin And, “Theatre in Turkey,” Turkish Studies Association Bulletin 7(2) (September 1983), 20–31.
16 Khalid Amine and Marvin A. Carlson, “ al-halqa in Arabic Theatre: An Emerging Site of Hybridity,” Theatre Journal 60(1) (2008), 71–85. For other examples of experimental Arab theater, especially in Egypt, see Monica Ruocco, “New Trends in the Young Egyptian Theatre: Ahmad al-’Attār and the Temple Independent Company,” in Youth and Youth Culture in the Contemporary Middle East , ed . Jorgen Baek Simonsen (Aarhus: Aarhus University Press, 2005), 56–67. For a historical account, see Philip C. Sadgrove, The Egyptian Theatre in the Nineteenth Century: 1799–1882 , Reading (Berkshire: Ithaca Press, 1996), 89–124.
17 For the historical adoption of “Western theater” in the Arab-speaking regions in particular the influence of Sanua, see Jacob M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theater and Cinema (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958), especially 65–67; Irene L. Gendzier, The Practical Visions of Ya’qub Sanu’ (Cambridge: Distributed for the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of Harvard University: Harvard University Press, 1966); and Marvin Carlson, Theatre & Islam (London: Macmillan Education: Red Globe Press, 2019), 27–31.
18 Marvin Carlson, Theatre & Islam (London: Macmillan Education: Red Globe Press, 2019), 32–44.
19 Marvin Carlson, Theatre & Islam (London: Macmillan Education: Red Globe Press, 2019), 42; For Jewish theater in Israel, see Dan Urian, translated by Naomi Paz, Judaic Nature of Israeli Theatre: A Search for Identity (Oxon; New York: Routledge, 2013) and Linda Ben-Zvi, ed. Theater in Israel (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1996). For a study of Jewish Arab theater, see Philip C. Sadgrove, “The Beirut Jewish Arab Theatre: A Question of Identity,” BRISMES Democracy in the Middle East: Proceedings of the 1992 Annual Conference , 1992, 170–87.
20 For an account, see Marvin Carlson, “Negotiating Theatrical Modernism in the Arab World,” Theatre Journal 65(4), (2013), 523–35.
21 Beeman, “Middle East,” 667.
22 Matti Moosa, “Naqqāsh and the Rise of the Native Arab Theatre in Syria,” Journal of Arabic Literature 3 (1972), 106–17.
23 Mas’ud Hamdan, Poetics, Politics and Protest in Arab Theatre: The Bitter Cup and the Holy Rain (Portland, OR: Sussex Academic Press, 2006), 56.
24 The term “indigenous” is understood here not as an essentially locked-up native culture, but a homegrown transcultural locality tied with interconnected histories and networks across local regions.
25 For an account of postwar indigenous Arab theater, see Khalid Amine, “Theatre in the Arab World,” 145–62; Khalid Amine and Marvin Carlson, The Theatres of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011).
26 See Margaret Litvin, Hamlet’s Arab Journey: Shakespeare’s Prince and Nasser’s Ghosts (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011); Avraham Oz, “Shakespeare in Israel,” Shakespeare Quarterly 30(2) (Spring 1979), 279–81 and “Shakespeare in Israel,” Shakespeare Quarterly 31(3) (Spring 1980), 404–5; Orhan Burian, “Shakespeare in Turkey,” Shakespeare Quarterly 2(2) (April 1951), 127–28; Azadeh Ganjeh, Performing Hamlet in Modern Iran (1900–2012) (Universität Bern, dissertation: March 2017); For Derrida’s notion of translation, see Jacque Derrida, “Roundtable on Translation,” in The Ear of the Other: Otobiography, Transference, Translation , ed. Christian V. McDonald (New York: Schocken Books, 1985), 91–161.
27 For a study of the Arabic translation of European theatre in the nineteenth century, see Philip Sadgrove, The Egyptian Theatre in the Nineteenth Century: 1799–1882 , Reading (Berkshire: Ithaca Press, 1996), 27–87. For a broader and theoretical study of translation and rewriting narratives in Arab, specifically Egyptian theater, see Sirkku Aaltonen and Areeg Ibrahim, eds. Rewriting Narratives in Egyptian Theatre: Translation, Performance, Politics (New York: Routledge, 2016).
28 Willem Floor, The History of Theatre in Iran (Washington, DC: Mage, 2005), 219–21.
29 Beeman, “Middle East,” 668. It is interesting to note that Molière’s works were also the first European works of drama translated into Persian in the Qajar era. See also Floor, The History of Theater in Iran , 213–19.
30 For a study of the play, especially in its contemporary educational context, see Rania Jawad, “Saadallah Wannous in Palestine: On and Offstage Performances and Pedagogies,” in Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre , ed. Eyad Houssami (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 28–41.
31 For a study of European influences on Wannoūs, see Abdulaziz H. Al-Abdullah, Western Influences on the Theatre of the Syrian Playwright Saʿd Allāh Wannūs (University of Manchester: dissertation 1993).
32 Quoted from Sahar Assaf, “Political Theatre between Wars: Staging an Alternative Middle East,” PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 39(3) (2017), 67. For a study of Wannoūs and his reconception of theater in relation with state power and resistance, see Asaad Alsaleh, “Approaching Sa ʿ dallāh Wannoūs’s Drama: The Manifestos for a New Arab Theater,” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics (39) (2019), 190–227; and Edward Ziter, Political Performance in Syria: From the Six-Day War to the Syrian Uprising (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
33 Abdulaziz H. Al-Abdulla, “The Politicization of Arab Theatre-Sa ʿ d Allāh Wannūs,” in Democracy in the Middle East: Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies , 8–10 July (United Kingdom: British Society for Middle Eastern Studies, 1992), 161–69.
34 For a number of seminal studies on theater and the Arab Spring, see in Eyad Houssami, ed., Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre (London: Pluto Press, 2012) and articles in the special issue in Theatre Research International 38(2) (2003), 84–157.
35 See Kamran Scot Aghaie, “The Karbala Narrative in Shi’i Political Discourse in Modern Iran in the 1960s and 1970s,” Journal of Islamic Studies 12(2) (2001), 151–76 and Kamran Scot Aghaie, The Martyrs of Karbala: Shi’i Symbols and Rituals in Modern Iran (Washington, DC: University of Washington Press, 2004).
36 See Amin Sharifi Isaloo, Power, Legitimacy and the Public Sphere: The Iranian Ta’ziyeh Theatre Ritual (London: Routledge, 2018), 71–115.
37 In terms of diversity of space, the notion of “underground theater” should be considered in its complex dramaturgical formation, as both experimental and conventional. For an ethnographic novelistic study of underground theater in the region, see Roxanne Varzi, Last Scene Underground: An Ethnographic Novel of Iran (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2016).
38 By “production culture of theater,” I refer to John Thornton Caldwell’s notion of cultures of production as a set of discourses and practices manifested in habits, tastes, (in)formal rules and network connectivity of media industries. See John Thornton Caldwell, Production Culture: Industrial Reflexivity and Critical Practice in Film and Television (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008).
39 For the case of Syria, see Abdullah Al Kafri, “Practicing Theatre and Playwriting in Damascus,” in Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre , ed. Eyad Houssami (London: Pluto Press, 2012), 97–102.
40 For an account of state and theater relations in the postwar era, see Jacob M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theatre and Cinema (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958), 75–124; and Salma Khadra Jayyusi and Roger Allen, eds., Modern Arabic Drama (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1995), 1–20.
41 Afshan Ahmed, “Dubai-Based Star Too’s Production Why Cross Combines Majlis and Mythology,” National UAE , May 6, 2014; and Afshan Ahmed, “Gulf Stage Project Creates First Global Audience for Arabic Theatre,” January 31, 2011. https://www.gov.uk/government/news/gulf-stage-project-creates-first-global-audience-for-arabic-theatre , accessed May 12, 2020.
42 See Lyn Gardner’s review of the play, 66 Minutes in Damascus , June 22, 2012. https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2012/jun/21/66-minutes-damascus-review , accessed May 12, 2020. For a comprehensive account of avant-garde theater in the Middle East, see Marvin Carlson, “Avant-Garde Drama in the Middle East,” in Not the Other Avant-Garde: The Transnational Foundations of Avant-Garde Performance , ed. James M. Harding and John Rouse (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2006), 125–44.
43 David McDonald, “Performing Palestine: Resisting the Occupation and Reviving Jerusalem’s Social and Cultural Identity through the Arts,” Jerusalem Quarterly 25(1) (2006), 5–19.
44 For Arab diasporic theater, see Michael Malek Najjar’s Arab American Drama, Film and Performance (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2014); and M. Litvin and J. Sellman, “An Icy Heaven: Arab Migration on Contemporary Nordic Stages,” Theatre Research International 43(1) (2018), 45–62.
45 For the most part, edited volumes on theater have focused on national traditions. Anthologies include a variety of traditions across the region, but are problematic in their geographical categorization, especially in reference to Israel and Turkey. For example, in the multivolume Encyclopedia of Contemporary World Theatre , Israel appears in the first volume in Europe. Also, can we speak of “The Arab World” (volume 4) as socioculturally distinct from Europe or West Asia, in particular, Iran and Turkey? See Don Rubin, ed., The World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre , vols. 1–6 (London: Routledge, 1994–2000). The two exceptions are the edited volumes by Sherifa Zuhur, namely Images of Enchantment: Visual and Performing Arts of the Middle East (Cairo: American University of Cairo, 1998) and Colors of Enchantment: Theater, Dance, Music, and the Visual Arts of the Middle East (Cairo: American University of Cairo, 2010). While the mentioned volumes are significant contributions to the field of performance studies of the Middle East, the present book specifically looks at theater with a critical conceptual eye on specific thematic notions such as politics, home and exile; it also brings to view non-Arabic theatrical traditions, particularly from Iran and Israel; Turkey is briefly mentioned in the introduction of this volume, but primarily in relation with the emergence of nineteenth-century Arab theater in the broader transcultural region of Ottoman modernity. The works of Jacob M. Landau, Studies in the Arab Theatre and Cinema (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1958), Sonja Arsham Kuftinec, Theatre, Facilitation and Nation Formation in the Balkans and Middle East (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009) and Eyad Houssami, Doomed by Hope: Essays on Arab Theatre (London: Pluto Press, 2012) mostly focus on Arab Middle East theater, although Kuftinec’s study is more theoretical-minded. The publication of the present volume, I hope, would anticipate the production of future studies that would include a range of theatrical cultures from a region that has and continues to dynamically borrow, exchange, cross-fertilize and ultimately (re)invent theatrical practices that are both indigenous and global.
Part I
PEDAGOGY AND TRADITION
Chapter 1
TEACHING MIDDLE EASTERN THEATER: CREATION, CHALLENGES AND REWARDS
Michael Malek Najjar
During the 2015

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