ALEPPO, Syria — Theater is slowly returning to Idlib, through plays for children and a shadow puppet show performed by the newly founded Syrian Troupe for Theatrical Arts.
The troupe of 12, founded in November, hopes to continue performing at least twice a month. On Dec. 6-7, the troupe performed for children at the Arab Cultural Center in Idlib — the first theatrical performance in years in the armed opposition-held areas in Idlib.
Speaking to Al-Monitor, the troupe's director, Dia Asoud, said that these performances were “the first step toward reviving the theater culture,” despite the limited resources available to put on plays.
Asoud noted that some members of the team had worked in theater in Damascus some 10 years ago. “The Syrian Troupe for Theatrical Arts is made up of experienced and young team members — some of whom worked in theater in Damascus 10 years ago. We are presently a team of 12, but talented young people are welcome to join us,” he added.
He said that they had been encouraged by the reaction of the audience. “[Their positive welcome] will encourage us to present more plays in the future, such as performing an average of two theatrical shows per month,” he added. “I am currently working on a play for adults that focuses on social issues. The troupe is also rehearsing for another show at night at Idlib’s cultural center. This play will be ready in early January.”
Speaking of the two plays the troupe has already performed, Asoud explained that one of them, "The Mind and the Monkey," is a shadow play that is known as Karagoz, or Karakoz, around the Middle East. The two characters — the naive Karagoz and the wise Eiwaz — often exchange wits in songs and prose.
On Nov. 28, UNESCO added Syria's shadow puppetry to the List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding, saying that the number of shadow plays in Syria declined due to the war and the spread of new technologies and digital forms of entertainment. On the same date, UNESCO also placed Egypt’s hand puppet theater, Aragoz — also from the same tradition — on the Intangible Heritage List.
The second play, “A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body,” is a play for children that aims at teaching healthy eating habits and an active lifestyle, Asoud said.
Abboud al-Shami, the director of the two theater performances, told Al-Monitor that there is a possibility to develop theatrical works in Idlib and in the areas under the control of the Free Syrian Army in the northwest of Syria — provided that there is support and institution-building, such as the establishment of a syndicate for artists and an institute of theatrical arts.
“As an emerging troupe, we are not receiving any support from any party now,” he said. “Theater is one of the most beautiful forms of art for people to express their ideas, concerns and stories. There is a great deal of freedom in Idlib, which was lacking under the Syrian regime’s rule. Theatrical shows can be utilized to tackle major issues, countering war and violence with arts and creativity and bringing joy to the people. The people here are eager for theatrical works, and future shows at the Idlib cultural center are expected to attract a large audience.”
Fayez Kosara, the head of the culture directorate in Idlib, told Al-Monitor, “We gave the troupe an opportunity to present its shows at the cultural center in Idlib. We are offering many facilities for the development of this form of art. The troupe is rehearsing for the next play, and we hope this art form evolves and theatrical troupes will perform more often in the opposition-held areas.”
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