بينما كُنت أنتظر
While I Was Waiting
€ 16 / € 13
Arab > NL / FR
Meet the artists after the performance on 25/05
Omar Abusaada is an independent Syrian theatre maker who lives and works in Damascus. At the Kunstenfestivaldesarts and in collaboration with playwright Mohammad Al Attar, he will create a new performance: While I Was Waiting. A story about a tragic incident serves as the starting point of a narrative piece that probes the impact of war on the life of a family in Damascus. In the coma of the main character, Abusaada sees a metaphor for the situation in Syria today: a grey zone between life and death. The subconscious mind as the ultimate means of resistance against the oppressive forces. Abusaada, Al Attar, and the actors depict the absurdity of life in a war zone and question the chaotic reality in which they find themselves. While I Was Waiting is vigorous theatre as rescue operation in a shredded reality.
Mohammad Al Attar
Amal Omran, Mohammad Alarashi, Nanda Mohammad, Fatina Laila, Mouiad Roumieh, Mohamad Al Refai
Bissane Al Charif
Reem Al Ghazzi
Samer Saem Eldahr (Hello Psychaleppo)
Sylvain Georget & Patrick Vindimian
Henri Jules Julien
Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Théâtre la Balsamine
Festival d’Avignon, Napoli Teatro Festival, AFAC (Arab Fund for Art and Culture), Pôle Arts de la scène - Friche La Belle de Mai Marseille, Theater Spektakel Zürich, Onassis Cultural Centre Athens, Vooruit Gent, La Batie Festival de Genève, Les Bancs publics / Les Rencontres à l’échelle Marseille, Festival d'Automne à Paris
With the help of
La Criée Marseille, Le Tarmac Paris
Subtitling with the support of
While I Was Waiting
I first discussed the story of While I Was Waiting with Omar in October 2015 whilst we were in Tunis working on a theatre play with children from a marginalised area on the outskirts of the old city. Our journey with the children of the Al-Khariba neighbourhood was primarily a search for hope in extremely difficult circumstances. They came from poor families whose parents worked hard to earn a living in harsh conditions within a socially conservative environment. The questions we were pondering were: How could these children break the vicious cycle that conditioned their lives? How could they keep hoping and resist their harsh fates? Answers came successively as we worked with them, through games, stories, dreams, and imaginations that had not yet been tamed by the pessimistic realism of the adults. Once more, theatre was our means to comprehend the grim reality around us in a different way and to push for change, even a little bit. Among the Arab countries that witnessed the Arab Spring, Tunisia is the sole example of a successful attempt at political change. Yet it was clear that the situation there was still difficult and its stability fragile. However, the process of change had started and was worth building on.
In parallel, the situation in Syria was becoming increasingly complex and was worsening. The regime’s excessive violence against protesters transformed the peaceful revolution against the most brutal dictatorship in the region into a fierce war, which soon turned into a proxy war waged at an international and regional level without involving the Syrians. In this horrible picture there are still Syrians in the country or in the diaspora who are trying to resist death and displacement. Their resistance, in its most instinctive form, lies in their insistence on surviving and in their refusal to give up the dream of positive change; they refuse to choose between Asad’s military fascism that has ruled the country for half a century and the religious fascism represented by ISIS and the like.
For Syrians such as Omar Abusaada and myself, theatre is our way to cling to hope and to resist despair. This has given us a renewed impetus to reflect on the meaning of theatre today: what can it say and how? Before Tunis, we had performed the play Antigone of Shatila in Lebanon, another exquisite journey with Syrian and Palestinian-Syrian women living in miserable camps on the outskirts of Beirut. For more than three months we worked with the people, with the intention of presenting a contemporary adaptation of Antigone of Sophocles. The women had been forcibly displaced from different parts of Syria, during which they lost their most precious possessions. Some of them lost sons and brothers. Today they live in extremely harsh conditions in miserable camps. Despite this, their work revealed an insistence to resist these conditions and create a better reality for themselves and for their families. The similarity between their stories and part of Antigone’s story did not inspire any of them to follow their tragic fate. “With time, I understood that the part of Antigone that is inside each of us was the stubborn part that wanted to live, not to die”, says Esraa, one of the actors, during the performance.
If theatre is our space within which to defend hope without embellishing reality and our tool to fight despair without ignoring facts, why then we are performing a play about a ‘coma’? Why have we decided to start from a premise that might appear pessimistic? A young man in his late-20s falls into a lengthy coma after having been brutally beaten by unknown assailants in Damascus. I think the answer lies in the question itself. The more our reality deteriorates and the scenes in Syria become increasingly violent and bloody, the more we need to know about the conditions of ordinary people hiding behind the images transmitted to our television screens. Let’s assume that those who attend the performance in Europe will ask themselves these questions before entering the theatre: ‘What do we know about Syria today? What’s really going on there and why?’ I am confident, following my recent move to Berlin, that most of the answers will come from the info conveyed via news channels and newspapers. Syria features in videos and images of murder and destruction and of ISIS, the scarecrow that all forces know how to use for their own interests. Syria is, of course, about the refugee crisis, which is portrayed in the media as a crisis without context and cause! We read about thousands of people who risk their lives to cross into Europe, but we only discuss how to organise their reception, what borders to close and what borders to open. We only discuss how to get Turkey to curb the tide of refugees and the best integration policies for those able to reach Europe. However, we rarely talk about how to end the crisis at its origin. How can warplanes and helicopters continue dropping primitive bombs or barrels of TNT on civilian communities in the 21st century? Everyone seems to master the management of the war and to figure out how to contain its repercussions, but no one is really interested in ending it.
While I Was Waiting is an attempt to tell the story of a people who are still trying to survive – the story behind the images on screens and in newspapers and beyond the complex political analysis, all of which often ignore the fate of ordinary humans and the deep transformations happening in their lives, thoughts, and beliefs. This is a story of a middleclass family, similar to many families in Damascus and Syria in general. Its members are trying to survive during a time of violence, war, and social change. In this quest, they greatly transform as individuals; some of them decide to engage in long-deferred confrontations while others are content to observe.
It is also the story of the city of Damascus, whose centre has remained under horrific security control by the regime while overwhelming bombardment and siege take place on its outskirts. The city has witnessed countless wars, invasions, and fires throughout its history and is currently witnessing new seasons of violent change. It’s the city in which I was born and grew up, without ever feeling that I understand it well. Omar still insists on living in Damascus and travelling to and from there. As for me, I left against my will in early 2012 and cannot return as long as the Assad regime is in power. My entire family still lives there and the city still lives within me wherever I go. The images of Damascus have been present in my long discussions with Omar and in our tireless attempts to understand its transformations and the future that awaits it. In this endeavour and in our continuous attempts to understand the changes in Syria through theatre, the story of the coma seemed to be the most appropriate framework for comprehending our absurd conditions. Throughout the coma, reality’s cruelty and roughness can merge with our dreams and imaginings, which are our only escape from the harsh reality. The coma also seemed to be an entry point from which to think about the tens of thousands of Syrians who forcibly disappeared or were imprisoned or whose bodies lay somewhere without graves. Taim, who is lying in a coma, watches his family members and friends struggle with the idea of losing him as well as a reality that is becoming fiercer every day. He’s awaiting his fate and trying to understand what he could not understand when he was among them. Waiting may be the only thing that unites them. Like all Syrians, their fate does not appear to be entirely in their hands. They stand in a fragile state between life and death, tears and laughter, survival and departure. Yet they have not completely surrendered to despair, not today at least.
Omar Abusaada (b. 1977) is a Syrian theatre director. After finishing his studies at the High Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus in 2001, he remained in the city and started work as a dramaturge and director. In 2004 he co-founded a theatrical troupe called Studio Theatre, and after creating the first piece, Insomnia, he went on to direct L’Afish (2006), Forgiveness (Samah) (2008) – an improvisational work with a group of boys in a juvenile prison, and Almirwad Wa Almikhala (2009). Later, he directed Look at the Streets, This is What Hope Looks Like (2011), Could You Please Look Into the Camera? (2012), Intimacy (2013), Syria Trojan Women (2013), and Antigone of Shatila (2014). Abusaada introduced into Syrian theatre different ideas in contemporary writing and documentary. He also worked for many years in remote villages and local communities in Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, and has run several workshops on writing and directing contemporary theatre. His works have been presented at various international festivals.
Mohammad Al Attar (b. 1980) is a Syrian playwright and dramaturge. He graduated in English Literature from Damascus University in 2002 and in Theatrical Studies from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in 2007. He also received a Master’s degree in Applied Drama from Goldsmiths in London in 2010. His theatrical works include: Withdrawal (2007), Samah (2008), Online (2011), Look at the Streets, This Is What Hope Looks Like (2011), Could You Please Look Into the Camera? (2012), A Chance Encounter (2012), Intimacy (2013), Youssef Was Here (2013), and Antigone of Shatila (2014), performed in Damascus, London, New York, Seoul, Berlin, Brussels, Edinburgh, Tunis, Athens, Beirut, and elsewhere. Some of his works have been translated and published in English, such as Withdrawal (Nick Hern Books, UK) and Could You Please Look Into the Camera?, which featured in The Drama Review journal (MIT Press, US). Al Attar has written for numerous magazines and newspapers, with a recent focus on the Syrian uprising. Besides his writings for the stage, he continues working on theatre projects with marginalised groups across the Arab world.Back to top