When did people start writing plays?
Südwind-Magazin: “Habe die Ehre”, the play that won you the Nestroy Prize for Best Off-Production, is about honor killing. Why this topic in particular?
Ibrahim Amir: I have long been concerned with the question of what honor means for a certain society. Honor is an unspoken law. It controls our behavior and restricts our freedom - above all, of course, women's freedom. The concept of honor has solidified through patriarchal forms of society. I've always asked myself why that is actually the case. So the idea came up to write a play about it. Wiener Wortstaetten were very interested in this and supported the project.
Can theater have a socio-political effect?
If you look at the history of the theater, it has always been in a certain way political or critical of the system. A play always reflects the situation in society. Just whether it changes something is a question of belief. Personally, I don't think a play can really make a difference. Point out and criticize something, yes, yes. But the ones who have real problems are not the ones who are in the theater. You can't afford to go to the theater. Who do we present our pieces to? A bourgeois audience.
What was your first contact with the theater?
At the age of eleven I played in a play for the first time in Syria. That's when my interest in theater began. Kurdish freedom fighters came to my village every summer. You gave us children the idea of doing a play. We had to do everything ourselves: the story, the staging, the play. One of the freedom fighters was there, but only to make sure everything was right. By the way, I always wanted to play the hero, but I was never allowed to. Strangely enough, I've always been the bad guy.
You studied directing and acting in Aleppo for three semesters. How can you imagine theater in Syria?
It was difficult to bring national issues to the stage in Syria because censorship forbids everything. You couldn't criticize anyone. Political theater was not possible, but theater related to social issues was possible. At university we played love stories by Shakespeare or communist plays, for example by Maxim Gorky.
However, there is also a different type of theater in the Arab countries that you cannot find here in Europe. It would probably be called cabaret, but without any political content - a kind of boulevard-style cabaret that tells a story.
To what extent is theater currently being considered in Syria?
Interestingly, there are again exhibitions and plays in the areas controlled by the Kurds. But that's difficult under the circumstances. I don't think that there can be a real, active theater scene in Syria at the moment.
You have been living in Austria for over ten years. Why did you leave Syria then?
I was de-registered due to political action. I and other students observed the fallen Kurdish victims of the Iraq war in a minute's silence. That wasn't allowed. Then I came to Austria and started studying medicine. Now I'm doing my rotation right now.
What new projects are you planning?
I am currently working on a project with the asylum seekers who occupied the Votive Church. Based on your ideas, I will write a play in which you will also act.
Ibrahim Amir was born in Aleppo, Syria in 1984, where he studied theater and media studies for three semesters. In 2002 he came to Austria and enrolled in medicine. Today Amir lives here as a doctor and author. In 2009 he was awarded the Exile Literature Prize for his short story “She slept deeply that night”. For “Habe die Ehre”, Amir received the Nestroy Prize in 2013 for the best off-production. The play (directed by Hans Escher) was a production by Wiener Wortstaetten, which promotes discussion and networking between Austrian and international authors.
“Habe die Ehre” can be seen in -Tirol in June: June 12th, 13th, 14th, 2014: Steudltenn, ZILLERTALER mobilTheater (Uderns / Zillertal), www.steudltenn.com
It will also be staged at the Cologne Theater in April and May.
Sara Schausberger works as a culture journalist (e.g. for the Falter) in Vienna.
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