Lassaad Ben Abdallah’s theatrical vision

Friday 06/11/2015

Tunis - Playwright and actor Lassaad Ben Abdallah returned to Carthage Theatre Days with al- Zaglama, a work that focuses on the popular heritage of Tunisia and also a view that Ben Abdallah considers overlooked.

“The title of the show is derived from the word Zoghlam, which means the person who produces the beat or percussions in Tunisian traditional music,” he said. “It is a part of the oral patrimony that the north-western regions boast, a patrimony that is often overlooked.

He said he opted for a “rather lighter aspect… to vulgarise the work on oral patrimony”.

“This show is a continuation of other shows that… emphasise the popular heritage of the country,” he said. “This is my third show on the orality and patrimony of Tunisia.”

While the crowds were good at Carthage Theatre Days, which closed its nine-day run on October 24th, Ben Abdallah decried a gen­eral lack of a clear cultural policy in Tunisia.

“Theatre in Tunisia suffers from different issues,” he said. “The issues are problematic but they all stem from one source: lack of vision. We lack a cultural policy. If we don’t have a clear policy, how can we change the system? These issues will remain for years if we don’t consider a serious reflection on conceiving a clear vision of the theatrical scene.”

He said basic problems, such as funding and a lack of venues have been noted for “years, if not decades”.

“What can we do for new gen­erations? Starting that point, we can work on the funding policy. For instance, funding policies should change. We cannot regard theatre from an old prism that dates to the ‘60s and conserve the same mechanism put after the independence. It needs to be chal­lenged,” Ben Abdallah said.

According to Ben Abdallah, the role of culture should not be re­stricted to Tunis and a few venues. All ministries need to be included in setting a new culture policy. Ben Abdallah also put emphasis on the importance of introducing culture as a constant element in educational institutions.

As Carthage Theatre Days closed, Ben Abdallah praised the attendance but expressed concern about the quality of shows.

“This edition was im­pressive as it witnessed a great turnout of audience and brought life to the city,” he said. “Organisa­tion had its issues but the quality of the shows was disappointing as far as Tunisian theatre is concerned. The choice could have been more selective which affected the quality of shows.

“The problem is that people do not believe in regional identity. The creators and organisers should work on the characteristics of the regions…

“Each region has its own identi­ty. We need to work on the regional and the local instead of focusing on only international festivals held in the capital.”

He also wants to see access to theatre expanded in school.

“Do pupils and students have the necessary means to be immersed in theatre? That is the real ques­tion,” he said. “Are we providing the means? Why do we have to wait for festivals and occasions to host shows inside educational institutions?

“These categories of young people are vulnerable. We saw in the recent attacks that most of the attack­ers are young people who are graduates of Tunisian schools and universities. What did we do for them? These young people who died for dark ideas suffered from the void in the so­ciety and institu­tions that should accompany youth and childhood.

“Culture is a remedy to radical­ism. The govern­ment needs to invest in culture in the future by either taking children to theatres and cinema, which re­vives the economy of the field too, or by bringing shows to them.”

An activist, Ben Abdallah, high­lights the importance of culture in local governance as Tunisians prepare for municipal elections. He calls for the inclusion of culture in the political vision of Tunisia start­ing at the level of local decision-makers.

“A revolution of culture is needed and it is to be done through reflections and adoption of a new discourse,” he said. “We can­not function in the emptiness. Paradoxically, liberated speech prevents creativity. Without censorship, creativity decreases which was the case of many other countries.”

Ben Abdallah praised Tunisian audiences for attending many Carthage Theatre Days shows in great numbers. Yet, he expressed dissatisfaction with the turnout at shows of the rest of the year.

“The problem is that people do not believe in regional identity. The creators and organisers should work on the characteristics of the regions…

“Each region has its own identi­ty. We need to work on the regional and the local instead of focusing on only international festivals held in the capital.”

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