Fadhel Jaibi’s artistic vision at the helm of Tunisia’s National Theatre

Jaibi said art is politics and that the saying “Art for art’s sake” is too abstract and meaningless.
Sunday 15/12/2019
Director of the National Theatre of Tunisia Fadhel Jaibi. (Al Arab)
A journey filled with popular and critical successes. Director of the National Theatre of Tunisia Fadhel Jaibi. (Al Arab)

TUNIS  - Director of the National Theatre of Tunisia Fadhel Jaibi said he “reluctantly accepted to lead the institution to save it from collapse because of the frustration it experienced in addition to lacking the appropriate infrastructure and an overall vision for the institution.”

Jaibi, a playwright and director, insisted he is laying the foundations for a comprehensive theatrical experience for patrons.

He said theatre in Tunisia is regressing because some involved chose the easy way and quality scripts and intellectual creativity have been lacking. In his view, intellectual crises are mainly structural, political, material and legal. For those reasons, Jaibi focused on an integrated theatre project around an “Actor’s Studio,” whose creation was one of his basic conditions for accepting to lead the National Theatre.

Theatre, Jaibi said, is an ancient beat-up art so it must constantly renew itself or risk disappearing.

He said the three pillars of the theatre are text, direction and actor. The latter is the essence of the theatrical act. Jaibi noted that the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Tunis produced generations of theatre professionals who were excellent on the intellectual, theoretical and even practice levels but he found deficiencies at the level of actors’ training. Hence his push for the Actor’s Studio, which he opened to actors with or without prior theatrical training.

It’s been five years since the Actor’s Studio was established. So far, 85 professionals have graduated from the studio, which has acquired legal status as the Applied School for Theatrical Arts. It offers programmes that end with officially accredited professional certificates. In addition to acting, the school offers training in directing, script writing and scenography.

Jaibi insisted that his theatrical project is open to all, regardless of experience, and that it is ready to produce distinguished theatrical works for which it will provide production distribution support. In five years, the National Theatre produced 22 works directed by prominent Tunisian directors.

In addition to focusing on production and distribution, Jaibi gives a great deal of importance to hosting foreign theatrical productions.

Every year, the National Theatre is the venue for a variety of performances by foreign groups. The idea is to expose Tunisian theatre-goers and professionals to theatrical experiences otherwise inaccessible to them.

Jaibi said hosting foreign theatrical productions continues through the year but there is a special week-long event celebrating World Theatre Day. Next March, the National Theatre will be hosting British director Peter Brook, who has won Tony and Emmy Awards and a Laurence Olivier Award.

Jaibi does not hide his satisfaction in the full turn-around in the Tunisian National Theatre, which went from a period of stagnation and lack of spectators to achieving record attendance.

Two of Jaibi’s plays, “Violence” and “Fear,” have been produced by the National Theatre. They were both popular and critical successes. For Jaibi, these were significant box office hits, a rarity for the National Theatre

Jaibi pointed out that both plays were part of a trilogy that critics described as sombre and pessimistic. He said that, through his plays, he was digging with artistic tools in the depths of anthropology to expose untold stories of oppression, repression, violence, fear of time and man and other assorted ghosts.

Jaibi said the tentative title of the third instalment of his trilogy is “A Dream,” a combination of bright and a frightening dream, a world between two extremes.