Since February 2011, Khayal is hosting danish artists, coming to Lebanon to achieve a puppet theatre play in collaboration with Lebanese artists. Director, puppet designer, scenographer, puppeteers and musicians took part to this joined production, and the outcome is a word-free play for children about prejudices, ‘’But they started’’.
This project was made in different phases, through several travels to Denmark and Lebanon. There was first a meeting between two theatre companies, the Lebanese Puppet Theater (LPT) and Passepartout Production, 4 years ago, in the festival “Voices of Middle East” in Denmark. The idea of a collaboration came then. After a lot of administrative work to find fundings for the project, an actress from Passepartout Theater Production came first to Lebanon in November 2010. Then an actress from the LPT came to Denmark in january 2011, followed 3 weeks later by the lebanese puppet designer. In february and march 2011, two actresses, the director and the music composer from Passepartout are in Lebanon. They will play in Beirut and lebanese regions until the 19th of march. The project will be concluded in Denmark and Sweden, where all the group will be perfoming for three weeks, in april.
The story takes a look at a family of people with round-shaped heads (the Cyl family). For as long as anyone can remember, this family does not get along with people who have square-shaped heads. One day, a new family of square-headed people (the Squew family) moves in next-door and friendship develops between the children from both families. When this friendship is threatened by prejudices from their elders and is about to be destroyed, the children decide to discover the origin of the conflict between different-shaped people and find a solution.
The puppeteers and the director will tell us more about their work. Liene Hummelshøj (L.H) and Anya Sass (A.S) are puppeteers from Denmark. Jacques Mathiessen (J.M), danish theatre director, is the starting point of the project. The puppeteer Katherine Dakroub (K.D), is originally russian, but has been adopted by Lebanon 8 years ago. Walid Dakroub, puppet designer, is from Lebanon.
How did you come into this project ?
L.H : I knew Jacques since 2004. About 3 years ago, we did a performance together. At that time he already had an idea about the creation of this performance with the LPT, so he asked the persons from this collaboration if they would like to join this new project.
A.S : Jacques asked me the same question 2 years ago. We had known each other for 10 years already. He knew how both Liene and I worked with puppets, and our energy. We already had an idea about how to work together.
Katherine, pupeteer, then Walid, puppet designer, both from the Lebanese Puppet Theater, came to Denmark in January 2011, to start working. What did you do then ?
A.S : the whole idea of this project is that, apart from the creation, it is a cultural exchange. So acclimatization was the first challenge for Katherine, as it was extremely cold (with the wind, it felt like minus 20), and she was away from her children and husband. All these feelings and emotions were within her work. In the first 3 weeks there were a lot of exchanges with the scenographer, lots of calls and sms with Walid who was still in Lebanon, before even starting rehearsing. It took a lot of time. Then Walid came to Denmark, and actually saw what was the result of his previous work and the exchanges we had with him. The whole work is not only in the rehearsal room, there’s a lot going on out of it and everywhere. The part of the work in Denmark was mainly technical, practical exercises with the puppets, more than the actual rehearsals. It’s very exciting but also very tiring.
The big rehearsing work was kept for the lebanese phase.
Liene, you came to Lebanon on a first visit in November. Did you get inspired from that trip ?
L.H : the main goal of that trip was getting to know Karim Dakroub, who is leading the Lebanese Puppet Theater. And I got a much better idea of how it was going to be to work here, of the way of thinking, thanks also to some theatre and music shows I saw. It was sort of a step towards a better understanding of how things work here.
A.S : Liene saw also what the lebanese audience was like, their lively reactions during the shows… I saw it the other way around, as when the LPT came in a Danish festival in 2006, they were very surprised with the calm of the audience, and with what the children DIDN’T do.
So what are your expectations about the Lebanese audience?
A.S and L.H : we’re very excited and curious about the way the children will take all the posing, slow and quiet moments of the play. We wonder if we will manage to tell the story with this style.
Our creation is like showing a picture and not telling the people how they should see it, and let them make their own stories, emotions and decisions about what we’re showing. We’re not pushing them into one direction. But the music, as a great mixture of occidental and oriental influences, is very inspiring. For the children the music will be very recognizable, and the whole thing will probably be very weird to them, as it is such a different way of acting with the puppets.
How did you work together ? Can you define the impact did the cultural exchange have on the way you worked and the content ?
J.M : concerning the story, the collaboration of Katherine and Walid was very helpful in telling us what wouldn't work in Lebanon, what could fit to the culture and what couldn't.
Do you have an example ?
J.M : yes, the war. In the story, there's a big conflict between the 2 parents. In Denmark, following my first idea of picturing a war, with bombs and grenades, would have been acceptable. For danish children, war is a kind of game, something they see in cartoons. While here, war is very close to people, it's still very sensitive. So we had to find a different way to tell the war between the two families. To tell the war without showing it.
And how different was your way to work, because you were a culture mixed group ?
A.S : it's not only Denmark and Lebanon present in this project, it's also Russia !
J.M : yes ! In Denmark, we have a very democratic way of work between
the actors and the director. Every one of them can tell his opinion, give ideas and disagree. In the end, it's the director having the last word, but it's a real collaboration. It's a kind of big soup. Everybody is at the same level. Whereas is Russia – I've been working in Russia before – the director says something, and the others follow. It's very disciplined. Nobody is asking for the opinion and feelings of the actors. So in Denmark, Katherine realised she could have a say. It's been interesting.
K.D : yes, with Jacques, we talked a lot about the story, the way to work... Jacques is not bossy, he takes into consideration everybody's opinion and ideas. For example we took away 2 characters of the story, even though the puppets were made already ! But I honestly think the way to work is about people, not about country ! It's different directors, that's what really makes the difference.
In terms of differences of culture, of course, being in Denmark was a total different experience for me. Everything was new : the way they eat, live, think, work, the timing, the energy. It's about the weather also ! When I was there we kept talking and joking a lot about square and circle people, comparing each other and putting ourselves in those categories.
This project was very interesting and important, it's a great experience for me.
J.M : something else, on the creation point of view, was that my style in theatre is showing pictures, very simply and precisely, and letting the audience have their own interpretation. Whereas what I saw here and in Russia is much more full of energy, telling feelings very obviously. The puppets could just start singing to tell “I'm in love”, like in the musical. In my way, the same content would be very lightly visible, just by very simple moves and a certain eye contact.
A.S : another thing. In Denmark, for everything concerning the salary, the working hours, the production plan, etc, the actors are used to rely on an institution which is doing all the contract negotiations for them. Our director is not our boss. He can't tell us what to do. We are responsible for ourselves. It's a whole different way to think here. Also, we're used to getting paid monthly, not per show.
L.H : yes, that has been an important difference between the two ways of working until now.
Tell us more about the story
J.S.M : It's a very simple and common story. Two families don't like each other, this based on stereotypes, and they don't accept that their children do not follow those stereotypes. It's a Romeo and Juliet story. It's good that it is a very common story, because it is easy to understand without words. This was an must for us, because this play should be able to be performed – inch'allah – all over the world.