Saturday, May 31, 2008

Protest Theater: A Glance at Two Plays on Polygamy

By: Azadeh Faramarziha Friday 30 May 2008
Translated by: Azadeh Pourzand
Change For Equality

Various forms of arts have continuously served as great venues for expressing social and political dissatisfactions. Evidently, many of the genres in art, especially in the 20th Century, have come about in the midst of political movements and, at times, during revolutions. The role of political events is especially apparent in the history of performing arts. Theater, in particular, is the art of direct and live communications with members of the audience—an audience that does not necessarily consist of certain individuals or groups from pre-determined social and economic classes and it is assumed to be the general public. Therefore, given the popular nature of the art of theatre, this form of performing arts has often been utilized for expressing political and social messages and for sharing certain objections and oppositions with the general public. The power of theatre in communicating social and political dissatisfactions is so strong that it often threatens governments, especially in situations where dictatorial tactics are utilized. As a result, the art of theater has often been targeted by dictatorships and to this day, governments with these tendencies often react to the threat posed by the art of theatre severely.
As societies have become larger and more populated, social struggles and challenges of the human kind, too, have significantly increased. Therefore, artists have become more aware of social struggles in the modern world. Artists attempt to delicately perceive the world through the minds and eyes of the members of their society and to uniquely reflect what they have perceived in their art. An artist turns her/his mind into a mirror so that regular people—people like you and I—who have become blinded by the routines and habits of life, can come face to face with the flaws of our society through their work of art, analyze these flaws and react appropriately.

However, theater in Iran has always been focused on mythological and mortal-immortal matters. Thus, since the early days of theatre—with the exception of the golden decade of the 40s—the subject of plays has maintained its distance from social struggles and problems. The figure of women in mythological plays is often introduced as that of mother of Earth and her existence is considered to be beyond mundane matters and the deceits of this world. Nevertheless, recently we have witnessed the emergence of plays which pay special attention to their society and immediate environment. It was through the emphasis of recent plays on social matters that “women” are finally projected in earthly characters and their image is distanced from the mythological figures that dominated in past depictions. In this way, she is presented and analyzed as a member of society.

Recent plays depicting social issues and struggles in today’s Iran, include “Family” and “From Your Side” debuting at the Theatre Centers Festival (December 2007) and the Fajr Theatre Festival (February 2008), respectively. Both of these two plays were creatively directed and artistically performed. In addition to the quality of these plays, what makes them unique is the important subject they have chosen to depict as the main theme of their plots.

“Family” by a theatre team called “The Oppressed” (with the supervision of Ali Zafar Ghahremani Nejad and “From Your Side” directed by Azadeh Ganjeh both were produced mostly in objection to the unfairness of the Family Protection Act; and more specifically were criticizing polygamy a right granted to men. Having utilized Agusto Boal’s technique, both of these plays were performed in the format of workshops. Boal’s technique is mostly centered on arguing and discussing a certain issue with the participation of the members of the audience. In other words, his technique is a theatrical attempt to neutralize the passive nature of the audience and to turn them into actors and actresses by directly engaging them with the theme, plot and discussions of the play.

“Family” is about a woman whose husband has the intention of marrying another woman—one of his female colleagues. In performing the different scenes of this story, the actors would invite the members of the audience to have a say in the play by suggesting possible reactions to these circumstances. “From Your Side”, too, had a similar theme as that depicted in “Family” and was meant to challenge and criticize the issue polygamy—with the participation of the audience.

The interactive format that was chosen for both of the aforementioned plays made them very inspiring and engaging. This technique encouraged the members of the audience at both plays to suggest alternative approaches and reactions to the given situations. For instance, during “Family” there was a scene where a guy—from among the audience—played the role of the husband and attempted to modify his relationship with his new wife. In another scene, a woman volunteered to play the role of the first wife and she decided to take the case to the court. Following this scene, another woman, again a member of the audience, entered the play as the second wife and as soon as she learned that the man is already married, she decided to get divorced—her decision to divorce was very much appreciated by other members of the audience.
The members of both theater teams stated that they were very content with the participation of the audiences and that they will never forget this memorable experience. What was perhaps the most important result of these plays is that the members of the audience who were from diverse social, economic and cultural classes unanimously expressed discontent with the practice of polygamy. These plays are, therefore, the proof of how all forms of art—and especially theatre—can play a role in addressing important social issues and how theatre can encourage the public to think seriously about social issues and struggles that exist within their society. Our contemporary society is indeed facing numerous struggles and dilemmas and undoubtedly different forms of arts are the most aesthetic and effective way of communicating these social challenges.

Photographs by: Raheleh Asgarizadeh

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

We Are Not Men!

Excerpts of lyrics from the rap song "We Are Not Men"Written and sung by Shahin Najafi Performed by Tapesh 2012GermanyMay 2008Translation by Frieda(

Like the girl with her hymen sewnAnd the poor one in the fire thrown
Like my mother's oppressive lotSummed up in her kettle and pot
Her body yet unseenHer unveiling unforeseen
She said after life she would no doubt go to hellThere she would suffer dangling by her hair
I said, isn't heaven under mothers' feet?*Mother, heaven is busy, catch the world you meet
She said the cantor's prayer makes me shudderI said fear has become your rudder
Seventy years of womanhood is exploitationNo life but fear and degradation
A woman innocent, her existence was her crimeTransformed, beaten into submission to be made prime
What happens to a woman who hasn't been cheatingShe is the object of fifty years of beating
She has to stay prone and unheardNot even imagine an uncaged bird
Always the object of a chaperone peepingA doll, only considered good for sleeping
You smell of whips and smacksHow much longer blackmailed by Toms and Jacks?
Like Iran you have become a trampThe future is in your hands lady champ
You smell like our land shattered Gone from being flattered to tattered
We were destroyed by our manhoodPlease display your womanhood
Take a bit of your valor perfumeSpray it on us with a plume
Ma'am, we're not men, count us outTake the banner and lead the crowd

A piece about the song:


Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Simple Shift...

These past few days have been strange. I doubt I can tell you much about it, as I do not really know what exactly is happening. I cannot make much sense of it, myself--intentionally so.

I just smell "change". That is all and maybe a bit beyond.

Whatever it is, I promise you that it is not the kind of change that we distrust. I am worried. But, it is just a simple shift, I believe...maybe not that simple, but nothing too uncommon.... It must be a good change. It is not all that scary, is it?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Layered Life!

Where have you been, Azadeh? Seriously! It has been a long time already! Come one, woman! Come back and write! Haha…I know! I have been gone for too long! Well, I can’t say that life has been too hard or come up with any of similar excuses. In fact, lately my days and nights have been plentiful. I had an internship at a human rights organization these past few months and worked part-time on the side to make some pocket money.

These past few months I have been around great friends and amazing individuals. I have also been blessed with much alone time…Azadeh time….Me time. I have somehow realized that since moving to the US (about 6 years ago) I have been constantly running and hoping to accomplish more things in my new life. I have hardly ever paused and looked back at the person that I was and the person that I have become. I have mostly run! And so these past few months that I have given myself the time to somehow evaluate the new person that I am, I have faced way too many surprises to the point that I sometimes even feel alienated from myself. I guess that is what this country does to you –with all the opportunities and the hard work that you have to do to earn them. These past few months of self-evaluation have made me realize that I have become more Americanized that I had ever imagined, that I have become so absorbed in this new world that I can hardly even truly get in touch with the Azadeh that one day left Iran while holding her mother’s hand and waving good-bye to her father. And the hard part is that in becoming Americanized, you are always facing approximation of something that you will never fully become: American! I feel, this approximation and the fading away of the “authentic” self is what cause much distress and alienation from everything in the lives of many immigrants who have left their birthplace at a young age. It is as if you spend the rest of your life being nostalgic about losing you original self and feeling fake for never changing enough to fully fit in your new life. It is odd how even in a society like the US where most of the people you meet are immigrants; you still cannot really escape feelings of such nature.

While I respect all those who go through this process, I somehow have always wanted to escape much of these “immigration” traumas and that is why up until now I have mostly disregarded these thoughts that have been marching around in my mind for a while. But, as unnecessary as these wonders and internal questions of post-immigration might seem, they determine so much of the person that you are and your responsibilities in your new society and your birthplace. I mean these questions are the questions that become the tallest walls of communication when I talk with my friends in Iran. When they speak of what they face everyday, I somehow become a stranger and when I say some words about my life here, it is their turn to think of me as a person who has really forgotten the place that she has left behind.

What is really wrong with accepting the gray area in which immigrants like me exist? I have decided to embrace that unknown question about me that is: Where do I belong? In which of these societies to which I belong, am I responsible to make a difference? I have sickened myself by being constantly nostalgic about the Azadeh that I, one day, was in another world. Quite frankly, I think I belong to all the places in which I have breathed and spent good and bad days and nights. I think I am responsible for all of those lands and all of those peoples! Even if being a part of too many places is to make my life harder and more confusing, I still cannot really change the layered life that I have lived and I continue to live!

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