To my Beirut

Á mon Beyrouth…

“A Grain of Sand – in the eye of the sun” – an interview with Nagy Souraty

“A GRAIN OF SAND in the eye of the sun” is a representation of a scientist/scholar who has become blind because he was able to “see”. He refutes accusations that he had impaired his own vision, and explains that he lost his sight because of what he saw. He confirms that there are no regrets, and he invites us to experience his journey, bearing in mind that we would become blind.

We are as vast as the universe, but because we have limited control over our brain and energy, we become limited in our understanding and control over the elements. The scientist/scholar had the opportunity to unlock the limitations by traveling to and from time, to and from himself, and transcends the world and its heavens.

What if both the vast universe within us, and the universe beyond us are one and the same? And what if we are all interconnected, simply differing projections of the same truth? Our past, our present and our future reduced to a grain of sand.

Inspired by texts written by Etel Adnan, Nagy Souraty’s creation of “A GRAIN OF SAND in the eye of the sun” is a philosophical trip.

A GRAIN OF SAND in the eye of the sun

“There, in the wastes of the soul, within its repetitions, where we wonder if there are differences between the minds inner chambers and the imagination’s outer realms, there, lies the confrontation between the self and itself.”

“From the desire to see, we arose and built nations didn’t we? Then we were visited by a creature not named by any of the gods and we named it blindness, and it took power over us.”

I had the pleasure of an interview with my former theater professor, Nagy Souraty on his recent play and his view on theater in the Arab World. Although I have used some of the pictures we were given through the press release, the temptation is too great not to place a picture of the Nagy we know behind the scenes.

We sit in the most comfortable place he loves, the steps of the Al Madina Theater, with his trademark cigarette and unfamiliar smile, that we mostly got to know once we graduated. Or perhaps I should speak for myself. 🙂

How long did it take you to work on this play? 

To prepare for it, a lifetime. To work on it, around three or four months. There are two phases when you work on a play. Even when I say I am not doing anything,  I am working on something at the back of my mind. The first phase is when you share what you have with the people you are working with. And the second phase is when you are ready to share it with the public who are coming to watch.

It is the kind of play that needs to be watched more than once, I think.

It is not the first time I hear that comment. (laughs)

What inspired you to work on this play? 

Change. The concept of change.

Something happened in the world. My first idea was the idea of change. Does science cause change or does change cause science, I don’t know. But I believe that science is here to promote change. There is the same concept only temporary change and explosion like the atomic bomb that caused a case to provoke change and provoke chaos. Until now we are still suffering from radiation because the earth did not regulate itself back to normal. Also what is happening in the Arab world; in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Syria. The change from chaos, to temporary calm to chaos again is what worries me.

I take most of my texts from the writer Ethel Adnan who is a good friend of mine and I have constantly used her texts in the past. The terminology that she uses could not be more perfect for the scientific yet philosophical expressions I needed.

You have used the concept of the sea in your play and in the art direction of the set. What does the sea mean to you?

The sea is everything to me. If I don’t pass by the sea at least once a day, I feel that there is something terribly wrong. I did not really realize that until I was in London and I lived there for a while. I had taken the bus once and fell asleep. When I woke up I found the sea in front of me, I felt I could not breathe anymore and I had an amazing urge to tell everyone in the bus that this is what I get to see every day in Beirut. The sea changes with the tide, they cleanse our feelings with the waves.

I did not intend for the set to look like a laboratory. If you noticed this play was an amalgam of all my past plays; the cubes, the pyramids, the water, the sand, the fish. Those who work closely with me and know my work well, would realize that every element that I use, every word that I spoke related to everything I have done before and now I am questioning the matter of change.

There was some criticism that you did not emphasize enough on the use of arabic language and included too much of French and English.

I agree. But I did what I know and the translation of the text into Arabic wasn’t very good. So I created sections in Arabic, English and French. But there are some things that is utterly fascinating when you translate into English sometimes, from the perspective of a French educated person. It is that you translate words into such meaning in English that English people cannot do. For example, the term “on the edge of the sea”, in French literally means “au bord de la mer”. It is a simple term in French, but when you translate it into English, it gives such a strong definition to express what I am trying to say when I refer to the foam of the ocean and what I mean by it that I cannot understand how else I wish to express what I mean when I say the edge of the sea. It cannot be said in any other way, so what words I use from every language always has a strong emphasis as to why I say it as such.

What was it like to direct a play you acted in with your troupe? 

I never thought I would do anything like this. To direct a play I act in?!? It was one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life, let alone my work. It is not like a movie where you do every scene alone and get it over with. I would not have been able to do it without the cast and crew that I had. As an actor you are very subjective and I had to concentrate on that while I work in objectively as a director. At many times when I viewed the play as a director, there would be parts that I would not realize where the other actors’ positions were, when at the same moment my position as an actor they would be standing just right next to me. And I could not realize that by myself. The play was full of incidents like this. It really was enormously difficult.

You are worried about the future of the region. What about theater, the closing down of some theaters. Aren’t you worried about its future in the Middle East, with the rise religious fundamentalism? 

I worry a lot about the Arab World. I learned not to worry about theater. Someone once said, “Things happen, then wait till theater talks about it.” It reminds me of a fascinating play I have seen once in Europe by a troupe of Afghani actors. Honestly, I had not even known that theater was alive in Afghanistan. And it simply started on September 11, 2001, and ends today, referring to the invasion from the claws of the Taliban or the claws of the United States of America. And by the end of the play you realize that the claws are not that different from the other.

I do not worry about theater for a very simple reason. It is true that some theaters which have been around for a long time are closing. And it is true that we have signed a contract with “Masrah Al Maddina” (Theater of the City), till 2024. But if they choose to destroy this building one day, the papers become obsolete. Theater is already a miracle in Lebanon, because no cultural institution supports it, no governmental department works with it. It is very much independent in Lebanon, and look how it is bustling with life, how many plays have been done this past few years! Theater can be done anywhere, on the streets, on stage, in the corner of some part of the city, in the park. It is full of life and has been for so long without any support and that in itself is a miracle. Theater is very much here and fighting for its existence more than ever.


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