Country Syria

Discipline Theater

Audience Youth | Adults

Recomended for +14

Duration 90 minutes

Language Arabic, with Spanish subtitles

Dates January 4, 5 and 6, 20.30h

Keywords Current issues | Drama

While I Was Waiting is about the oxymoron of permanent crisis, in which ordinary characters face ordinary problems in a world gone mortally absurd

The New York Times

Wars are not only fought on battle fields and in devastated cities, but also in homes, those places where chaos and death affect the family dynamic. Director Omar Abusaada and playwright Mohammad Al Attar risk describing the tragedy destroying their homeland of Syria – embroiled in a cruel military conflict since 2011 - from a different perspective. The piece stars Omar and Taim, two victims of the war who, for different reasons, end up in comas. Taim is lying in a hospital room and his mother, girlfriend and best friend talk to his inert body. They are guilty of surviving, of having argued and of making painful revelations, all buried during the last few years. Then there’s the guilt of those who emigrate or who feel they’re accomplices to the horror even though they’re not, which comes through in these dialogues. The play’s a metaphor for a country that, just like its stars, is in limbo, somewhere between life and death, hope and despair. This play confirms theater’s importance and raises it up as an act of resistance, taking an intimate and routine look at one of the most worrying humanitarian crises of our times, against a political and social backdrop.

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Direction

Omar Abusaada

(Syria)

Omar Abusaada is a theater director and playwright who has been developing theater with a strong political seal and social conscience for two decades. In 2002, he co-founded the Studio Theater company and, in 2007, he met playwright Mohammad Al Attar, whom he partnered with to create documentary plays firmly rooted in Syrian reality. Fusing traditional Syrian theater with its contemporary Western counterpart, his pieces have been performed at important festivals and theaters in cities such as London, New York, Seoul, Berlin, Edinburgh, Avignon, Tunis and Beirut. He currently lives in Damascus.

Dramaturgy

Mohammad Al Attar

(Syria, 1980)

Mohammad Al Attar is a writer and playwright, considered one of the most outstanding young voices in Syrian theater today. Since the outbreak of the war, he’s been tackling the crisis in different plays, including Could You Please Look Into the Camera (2012) about torture and a trilogy on women refugees. His work has been performed at important venues worldwide, such as the Festival d’Avignon and the Lincoln Center in New York. In 2007, he began exploring documentary theater, working with director Omar Abussada. He currently lives in Berlin.

Directed by Omar Abusaada | Written and adapted to theater by Mohammad Al Attar | Staging Bissane Al Sharif | Lighting designer Abdulhameed Hhalifa | Video artist Reem El Ghazzi | Music Samer Saemaldaher (Hello Psychaleppo) | Technical director Souhair Hamzaoui | Actors Mohammad Al Rashi, Nanda Mohammad, Reham Alkassar, Mustafa Kur, Kinan Hemdan | Co-produced by the Festival d'Avignon; the Napoli Theater Festival; the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture (AFAC); Pôle Arts de la Scène - Friche La Belle de Mai (Marseilles); Theater Spektakel (Zurich); the Onassis Cultural Center (Athens); Vooruit (Gent); La Bâtie Festival, Geneva; Les Bancs Publics - Festival Les Rencontres à l'Échelle (Marseilles) and the Festival d'Automne in Paris | With the support of La Criée Théâtre National de Marseille, Le Tarmac (Paris) and Montévidéo Marseille | In collaboration with RFI, France 24 and Monte Carlo Doualiya Radio.

  • Cultural production in Syria is very scarce, if not inexistent: it’s a country that has been embroiled in a civil war for seven years and it’s estimated that more than 10 million people — half the population — have had to emigrate. That’s why it’s a privilege for Chilean audiences to be able to watch this play, which, as well as being one of the best pieces in Middle Eastern theater’s repertoire, is also a first-hand account of the tragedy that’s currently occurring in Syria. Abusaada and Al Attar break down clichés and misconceptions about the war and relate what life is like today both in the country and in people’s homes.

  • As a result of being performed at the Lincoln Center in New York, the Festival d’Avignon in France and at other important venues in Europe, the play won rave reviews from important media, such as The New Yorker, The New York Times and Le Figaro.

  • While I Was Waiting hasn’t been able to be performed in Syria itself, because of the risks involved with putting on a play of this type. That’s why the piece is, in itself, a form of resistance. In the words of New York Times critic Jesse Green, "You have to believe that theater is worth a lot if people are willing to risk so much to make it. But then, if you’re Syrian, perhaps you have to value life in the same way: as a terrible risk worth taking”.

  • Talking about the play, the director explains: "I wanted to show how a family goes about the daily business of looking after someone in a coma at the same time as they live day-to-day in a city at war, which also causes their routine to change”. It’s not just a play about Syria though, he says. “I’m one of those people who think that there’ll be no kind of social justice in my country if the same isn’t achieved worldwide. The state of coma in the play is also related to that awareness”.

  • The team behind While I Was Waiting has experienced firsthand the tragedy the play talks about: Mohammad Al Attar left Damascus against his will in 2012 and settled in Berlin and Omar Abussada is still living in Damascus but is forced to spend more and more time in Germany. When touring the play, the company’s members have had trouble at immigration control, all part and parcel of having Syrian nationality today.
  • The civil war in Syria is a military conflict between the armed forces of the Arab Republic of Syria, led by President Bashar al-Assad and a series of armed rebel groups, several of whom joined the ranks of the self-proclaimed Islamic State. Rioting began in 2011 during the Arab Spring protests and today, seven years later, the consequences of this war have been brutal, creating more than 10 million exiles, causing around 350,000 deaths, devastating cities and a creating a wave of refugees the likes of which hasn’t been seen for decades. The direct and indirect intervention of countries such as the United States, Turkey, Russia and the European Union hasn’t managed to appease a conflict for which there’s still no visible way out. It’s the worst humanitarian tragedy of the twenty-first century.

  • Documentary theater. This concept goes back to the second half of the twentieth century, when there was an interest in bringing political and historical themes to the stage, thus blurring the lines between fiction and reality. This kind of theater not only uses documents but also collects testimonies, presenting not only the facts themselves but also a more intimate, touching and personal side to the story. In the case of While I Was Waiting, research involved interviewing family members whose loved ones were in comas because of the war, as well as doctors to understand this state of unconsciousness better.

  • Life in Syria. Omar Abussada, who still lives in Damascus, explains what it’s like to live in a country that has been devastated. “The war has completely changed our lives. It’s difficult to get together to work, there’s no electricity and transport is practically non-existent. Due to the type of stories I stage, I’m not safe. Some of the people I work with can’t go back to Syria, because they risk being arrested, interrogated and prosecuted”.

«A play about a country in coma (...), a metaphor for Syria, (a nation) paralyzed by war but surviving in what the play’s director has called the ‘grey zone’»

The New Yorker

«Six Syrians take to the stage to reminisce about their country and try and erase stereotypes (…) (The play) goes beyond violence, providing little glimpses of life»

Le Figaro

«(The company) gives new life to the idea of political theater by showing us how it may look a lot like domestic drama, as seen from above»

—The New York Times

While I Was Waiting is about the oxymoron of permanent crisis, in which ordinary characters face ordinary problems in a world gone mortally absurd

The New York Times

«A play about a country in coma (...), a metaphor for Syria, (a nation) paralyzed by war but surviving in what the play’s director has called the ‘grey zone’»

The New Yorker

«Six Syrians take to the stage to reminisce about their country and try and erase stereotypes (…) (The play) goes beyond violence, providing little glimpses of life»

Le Figaro

«(The company) gives new life to the idea of political theater by showing us how it may look a lot like domestic drama, as seen from above»

—The New York Times

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