It is important to ask: why
Rabih Mroué is a theatre director, performer and visual artists. His interdisciplinary works have been presented besides theatres also in various galleries and at prestigious festivals. His projects often reflect the conflicts in Lebanon where he comes from and the theme of media wars. He comes from Beirut and has lived in Berlin for the past 5 years. The interview was conducted by Dominika Široká, the editor of the festival Magazine and festival dramaturg.
Rabih, you've lived in Berlin for already 5 years now but you come from Lebanon, right? Why did you actually moved to Berlin?
The reason for moving was a fellowship at Freie Universität Berlin. It was supposed to be just one year but it got extended to two. Moreover, my wife Lina Saneh (also performer – Ed.) was awarded the same fellowship a year earlier and fallen in love with Berlin. So we decided to stay. But I have to say that after 40 years living in Lebanon with all the conflict and violence, it is not a bad idea to move somewhere where there is a little less of the tension. It is not peaceful but nicer, which is good.
Do you see a difference in being an artist in Berlin and in Beirut?
I know Beirut very well, I know the language and despite being physically far away I am still very connected to my home country. But it is not as intense as it was before. I am happy I can work on productions about something else than Lebanon. I feel freer. Themes connected to the region where I've grown up are very complex. Conflicts and wars are part of everyday life. Living in Berlin broadens my horizons. At the same time it is not that simple to grasp the new worlds that have opened after I moved. In order to be able to work on local themes I need to learn much more.
You speak about not focusing on the Middle East after moving to Berlin. Yet tomorrow at the Flora Theatre Festival we are going to see your performance talking about IS propaganda videos.
Sand in the Eyes is much more connected to the place where I live now. Both worlds meet there actually. I talk about terrorism and at the same time about war on terrorism. Both videos of terrorists and those who fight against it are featured there. They both share one thing: they document the act of killing. What I was interested to know was the question why we do not want to see the videos of the so-called Islamic State and why we have no problem in seeing videos where drones kill. Sand in the Eyes offers a reflection with no solution; it is not claiming one is better than the other one.
Recently, Oliver Zahn has made a performance in Munich called “Situation mit Zuschauern” (Situation with Viewers) where the audience has a chance to either watch a decapitation executed by IS or leave the theatre hall. Are you also interested in the ethics of watching videos of such kind?
I do not want to solve the question if such videos can or cannot be watched. I personally believe that nobody should watch them. Documenting of killing is simply a crime. But I do not want to forbid it. This does not solve the problem itself. I am more interested in making sure people know about these videos and think about why they are the way they are. Why do the terrorists want us to see them? They are not people from another planet. They are often Europeans who speak the same language, have the same education. They know everything but nevertheless, they want to be barbaric. They sometimes do it on purpose, to shock us and let us taste the fear. It is important to ask: why.
During your talk yesterday you spoke a lot about the principle of reduction in theatre. Why are you interested in the phenomenon of theatre minimisation?
This is something very personal. Lebanon went through a lot of wars and until now there is corruption. The arts is not a priority for our government and there is basically no support for artists. We have to find our own way to finance our projects. Therefore I have learnt to make theatre with minimal budgets. Later I saw it as a method to keep my independence as artist. This way I can work where I want and how I want. Even though I work in different city theatres I am still able to work without them. What is amazing is the fact that after long years I can finally make my living by doing theatre.
Where did you work before that?
For more than 15 years I have worked in TV full-time and made theatre in my free time. Today I ave the opportunity of free work. Theatre directors are giving me financial resources that I do not know how to use. It is waste of money in my opinion.
You come from Lebanon, live in Berlin and now you are at Czech theatre festival with production made of theatre in Wiesbaden.
At the Flora Theatre Festival I am part of the German section of the festival (within the Gegen die Wand program section – Ed.). It often happens I am invited to festival as a representative of the so-called “Arab world” or so-called “best Lebanese artist” or whatever. This is something I have been facing my whole career and I hate it. I do not want to be invited just because of my identity but because of my work. My identity should be of an artist who does interesting work not his origin.
Rabih Mroué (1967)
Is a theatre director, performer and visual artists. His interdisciplinary works have been presented besides theatres also in various galleries and at prestigious festivals. His projects often reflect the conflicts in Lebanon where he comes from and the theme of media wars. He comes from Beirut and has lived in Berlin for the past 5 years.
The interview was conducted by Dominika Široká, the editor of the festival Magazine and festival dramaturg.