Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Jogging Dramaturgy: Hanane Hajj Ali @ Edfringe 2017

Hanane Hajj Ali 
Jogging 
Demonstration Room, Summerhall, 15 - 23 August 2017 (not 21), 11:50 (12:50) 
EDINBURGH FRINGE PREMIERE 

Alone on a bare stage and dressed in black, Hanane, woman, wife and mother, lifts the veil on her identity in expressionist performance Jogging

The 50-something Lebanese performer jogs every day to avoid osteoporosis, obesity, depression and anxiety. Her route takes her through her own personal space and the public spaces of Beirut, revisiting and contemplating roles, characters, desires, aspirations and disappointments along the way.



What’s the inspiration behind your performance?

The inspiration comes from an overlap between my roles as a citizen and artist. It is based on my daily life in Beirut and the workouts that I did to resist stress and osteoporosis. There are really two things that I do to allow me to maintain my relationship with the relentlessly transforming Beirut: sport and theatre. I always think about my dreams and disappointments in my daily runs in the city. At the same time, I notice how Beirut is being radically transformed and I try to figure out my role in it. A major part of this, of course, is in my role as an actress. 

I’ve always been enamored by the character of Medea (a fictional ancient Greek character that kills her children following her husband’s betrayal). I’ve always wondered about what it would take for a mother to even think about killing her children. I started feeling the same emotions, though, when my son dealt with a very dangerous form of cancer when he was seven. 

I started having dreams about killing him to relieve us both from the pain and suffering that we were going through. I started thinking about the parallels between my story and Medea’s as well as considering what her equivalent be in 2017 Beirut. 

The city currently features numerous restrictions on freedom of speech. Censorship on artistic productions has been imposed since the 1975 Civil War. I wanted to take my story and represent it without restraint in an agora of the realest proportions in the performance. I wanted to use it as an avenue to affirm that if our minds are repressed in any way, then one can’t really do theatre, or be a good citizen for that matter. I named it “Jogging: Theatre in Progress” because in my mind, theatre needs to remain as an open avenue for discussion, critical thinking, and experimentation. 

How has the audience reaction to it been in your various screenings thus far?

The common element in all of my performances in Lebanon has been shock. Another commonality that I noticed was that the show really bonded together all economic classes and stirred in their minds a whole bunch of things. It’s almost like the show was directly communicating with the hidden thoughts that they had buried deep inside of them about political and social oppression. 

People started feeling that if someone could be that bold in an approach to theatre, then honest self-expression was really a possibility for them. The authenticity of the play and complexity in its various facets were huge draws for audiences.
After once playing the show in a part of Lebanon that was ruled by a group averse to the ideas that I was presenting, an audience member walked up to me and asked if I was afraid for my life, as people had certainly been killed for less in the country. I answered by asking “why should I be afraid? Am I not portraying real life? 

All I’m doing is using my artistic background to portray reality.”

How do you expect a foreign audience such as the one in Edinburgh to react to the play?

Well, a lot of foreigners have already attended the play in its screenings in Lebanon; reactions have generally been very interesting. There are subtle alterations that you could always do to make sure that the show is well received by foreign audiences. 

The essence always hits home even if some elements remain a bit incomprehensible for them. A couple of weeks ago, for example, an attending American playwright and director asked me for access to the rights of the play to air it abroad.

What would you say is the play’s main message?

It’s really all about questioning the so called “sacred trio” of taboos: politics, religion and sex. The play also illustrates how free a veiled character really could be on stage, whether that’s regarding her body, the things that she discusses, or her dreams. 

She really leaves no stone unturned and is completely free to discuss and question various taboo topics, not only in front of the audience, but with God as well. There’s no intermediate really between her angry boldness and the Lord Almighty. 

Another crucial pillar in the play is using Medea’s story to outline how a woman could kill her children metaphorically as well as literally. The performance presents various facets to the killing of one’s children by utilizing mythology and encouraging audience interactions.

Behind the shock over her husband’s betrayal, the play shows the main character’s realization that everything in this world is fleeting, and how she begins prioritizing her relationship with god above all else as a consequence. Then, she starts having an infatuation with having her children become martyrs as this is the best road to heaven. 

In 2006, her wish comes true when two of her kids die in the conflict between Lebanon and Israel. She’s satisfied and keeps living under the fantasy until her third and last child dies later that year while fighting in Syria. Her entire world then collapses as she starts facing her illusions. 

What do you love the most about theatre?


Its nature and what it’s all about at its core. It’s well chronicled that part of its main charm is that its moments are never repeated. Apart from that, we always forget how and why theatre was established in the first place: It was invented so that we could become better people. The word ‘theatre’ itself is derived from the Greek work ‘theatron’, which means the place that allows citizens, both actors and spectators, to see each other for what they are. 

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