Tunisia's Theatre Laboratory
Moez Mrabet takes performance arts to the next level, outside the theatre halls and out to the people.
It has been nearly two years since bringing down Ben Ali’s dictatorial regime and Tunisia is in a political deadlock. Confusion and immaturity has marked the performance of our political parties and rulers. Dispersion and demise has been the fate of our opposition activists. The growing influence of the counter-revolution is increasing in the face of the intellectuals’ failure to enforce it’s views and to bridge the growing division between ideals and realities. The Tunisian Theatre Laboratory is a series of ‘itinerant workshops’ organized to take place in different parts of the country (north-west in Sijnan, center in Qafor, south east in Bani Khaddash) in order to facilitate interaction with the Tunisian people amidst their ‘typical’ environment and ordinary social milieus. Citizens will be invited to engage in performances and practical exercises in the manner of the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ school and techniques.
The Laboratory is only one part of an ambitious program called the “Theatrical Circle of Tunis” founded recently as a collective to promote creative projects in experimentation, production, events, capacity building and research about theater practice. My aim is to create a platform for a post-revolutionary language within the field of acting and performing arts as a necessary part in digesting all that has happened. Movement, imagination, rhythm and emotion will all be explored as techniques and as a new esthetic, one that could properly carry the meanings and reflect on the newly upturned structures of the “here and now”.
The most recent play I’ve been performing is called “Yahia Yaiich”(Amnesia), written by Jalila Baccar and directed by Fadhel Jaïbi. It was presented for the first time in Tunis in April 2010, a few months before the revolution. It talks about the fall of an important man of power who is then put on trial by the very regime that promoted him. We lived an incredible moment with this play, when almost one month after the escape of Ben Ali and while the country was still rumbling, we were performing at Le Mondial Theatre in the heart of Tunis and a confrontation broke out, just outside the theatre walls, between demonstrators and the police. Mid-performance, we were hearing gun shots and tear-gas was seeping into the hall! The scenario we were performing on the stage was ridiculously similar to what was happening right at that moment out on the street! What incredulity and confusion! There will never be a more memorable moment for me. Theater suddenly made perfect sense, not only because it can capture reality, but also because it can control it, analyze it, and transcend it, opening it up very wide, towards unexpected prospects. I finally understood theatre as the opportunity for making the impossible possible.
I am convinced that theatre must be able to change the world around it. For me, The Tunisian Theatre Laboratory is the best frame through which to explore and to develop innovative approaches to art and theatre in society. I started doing this theatrical ‘field’ work in 2008 when I founded the first Arab Laboratory for Dance-Theater. I had applied for funding from AFAC back then and was able to include twelve young performers from Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Egypt and Morocco in the project where they worked together for about one month and explored in depth the techniques shared between dance and theater.
Now, in the aftermath of the regimes’ fall and the ongoing political deadlock in Tunisia, I feel a huge need to do something that could move people towards self-empowerment while calling on citizen maturity and tolerance. I applied again for funding from AFAC Express in August 2012 to launch a new edition of the Theatre Laboratory for Tunis aiming to target the non-urban areas of the country. We wanted to introduce them to the power of theatre as a form of self-expression and creativity, relational exploration and change. AFAC’s support has been essential at a time when the influence of the counterrevolution is increasing and the government suppression of the arts and cultural practitioners has been terribly disappointing. I refuse to give up on the role of intellectuals and cultural practitioners in promoting rational viewpoints and responsible citizenship in a way that could bridge the growing division in the country.
The Tunisian Theatre Laboratory is based in Tunis but includes a series of ‘itinerant workshops’ organized to take place in different parts of the country (north-west in Beni M’tir, center in the region of Kasserine, south east in Bani Kheddash) in order to facilitate interaction with the people within their day-to-day environment. People, particularly the youth, will be invited to engage in performances and practical exercises in the manner of the ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ school and techniques. Some other workshops will target children specifically, allowing them to play act and explore different aspects of their personality. Acting sessions and debates will be held in each region in order to create a space for dialogue and encourage participants to experience first-hand the transformative power of theater.