Video of our conversation at BU

BU’s media services people used a new program called Echo 360 to capture the conversation in Boston last Wednesday between Sulayman Al-Bassam, Graham Holderness, and me.  Watch it here: : http://echo360.bu.edu:8081/ess/echo/presentation/7a568a3f-fce4-45ba-b2a1-9c119488e55e
Apologies for the weird focus on the video – I think everyone is still getting the hang of the new technology.

Preview – Speaker’s Progress in Boston

“How do you make a play about an abstract idea like change?”  Sulayman Al-Bassam speaks to the Boston Globe.

Judging by the dress rehearsal I saw last night, there are still some technical things to be ironed out before tonight’s opening (never mind the idea of change – the real issue is that these guys are scrambling for provisional closure, editing to the last minute!), some meanings to be nailed down, but the play has an amazing energy.

Boston people: come see the show and any of the myriad post-show or para-show events at ArtsEmerson! Reminder: you can also see Sulayman and me in discussion with Graham Holderness at BU this afternoon, 12-2.

Al-Bassam at BU

Excited that this informal event at BU is actually happening!

The “Arab Shakespeare Trilogy”:
Staging a Region in Tumult, 2002-2011

A conversation with dramatic examples:
Kuwaiti theatre director Sulayman Al-Bassam
and Prof. Margaret Litvin (MLCL)
Born in Kuwait and educated in Britain, Sulayman Al-Bassam founded the Sulayman Al-Bassam Theatre (SABAB) in Kuwait in 2002. He has directed his Shakespeare adaptations on four continents, including at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the Kennedy Center, and BAM. SABAB productions are characterized by a radical approach to text, bold production styles, and playful, provocative combinaons of content and form. The Speaker’s Progress, the final play of Al-Bassam’s “Arab Shakespeare Trilogy,” opens at ArtsEmerson in Boston on October 12.

   Wednesday, October 12, 12-2pm
The Castle, 225 Bay State Road
Lunch will be served before and during the talk

Sponsored by the Peter Paul Development Professorship, the Department of Modern Languages and Comparative Literature, and the Arvind and Chandan Nandlal Kilachand Honors College

Al-Bassam’s "Speaker’s Progress" in Beirut

Sympathetic review of The Speaker’s Progress in The Daily Star suggests that the overall design works but there are still some surtitle glitches to be ironed out.  I’m not surprised, since Sulayman Al-Bassam, a compulsive editor and re-editor, was probably tinkering with the script until ten minutes before the curtain went up.

…the surtitles are projected above and to the back of the stage. This is a problem as one cannot possibly simultaneously read the translation and observe the on-stage action. Forsaking either diminishes the viewer’s experience of the performance, because the strength, wit and entertainment of this play definitely lie in its combination of text, acting and set design.
The envoys commence the performance nervously, on a stage surrounded by bureaucratic apparatus and presided over by The Speaker and a censor who sounds an alarm whenever dialogue is improvised or the action drifts from its state-sanctioned course.
A meter stick is amusingly employed to ensure that the official 90-centimeter distance is maintained between male and female players at all times.
As the play progresses, the spirit of the theater begins to take over. Digressions from the approved performance increase in regularity. The set, lighting and costumes evolve from bleak greys, whites and blacks to colorful oranges, reds and yellows. Eventually the cry rises, in English, “Defect!”
While the momentum is building, alas, the surtitles are falling apart. As they lapse several lines behind the onstage dialogue, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand who is saying what, especially when there are more than two members of the 10-man cast engaged in conversation. It becomes frustrating.
Meanwhile the progressively absurdist nature of what’s happening beneath the translation also grows challenging to follow.

Ironically, Beirut may be a less welcoming audience for this show than Boston and New York (coming up next month!).  In Lebanon, from what I gathered last May, no one wants to hear too much about the Arab Spring.  Further, Al-Bassam doesn’t get any “exoticity discount” (do you know what I mean?) for directing a show in Arabic.  And he has discovered before (with an ill-fated musical Tartuffe adaptation that was cleverly intended for Gulfi audiences who were summering in Lebanon but that ended up playing instead for sophisticated Beirutis, who were underwhelmed) that it can be a tough market to gauge.

Al-Bassam on Speaker’s Progress in The Guardian

Sulayman Al-Bassam has a little article in The Guardian on how his current show, a very pessimistic frame story incorporating an Arab adaptation of Twelfth Night,
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has changed in production because of recent events in Tunisia, Egypt, etc.
speakers_progress-0139
More photos from the production previews here.
The show is coming to BAM in New York next fall.