Talking with Moroccan theatre director Bousselham Daif

His play “Ras el-Hanout” (“Spices”) was awarded first prize at the first National Theatre Festival in Morocco in 1999.
Sunday 28/10/2018
Moroccan director and theatre artist Bousselham Daif. (Bousselham Daif’s Facebook page)
Multitude of experiments. Moroccan director and theatre artist Bousselham Daif. (Bousselham Daif’s Facebook page)

For more than a quarter of a century, Moroccan director and theatre artist Bousselham Daif has been producing, writing, directing and acting in scores of dramas. His plays have been well-received and rewarded in many Arab and international festivals such as the Experimental Theatre Festival, the International Theatre Festival of Damascus and the Arab Theatre Festival in Jordan. Daif has staged his plays in several European cities.

Daif has worked as manager and director of the Shamat Theatre in Morocco and of the theatre of the cultural centre of the Moroccan Ministry of Culture. His play “Ras el-Hanout” (“Spices”) was awarded first prize at the first National Theatre Festival in Morocco in 1999.

The Arab Weekly talked with Daif during the 25th Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre.

“I worked on many play scripts. I started a long time ago by working on Tahar ben Jelloun’s novel ‘The Night of Destiny,’ then I worked on the novel ‘The Musician’ by the Japanese novelist Yukio Mishima and finally on the novel ‘Far from the Clamour, Near to the Silence’ by Moroccan novelist Mohammed Berrada, which I turned into a play that went by the title ‘Everything about my Father,’” Daif said.

“I like to work on novels because I love novels and I love to turn them into plays. Each novel creates its own techniques and its own world and the playwright has to be familiar with both the techniques of the novel and the techniques of playwriting. The challenges lie in how to remain loyal to the worlds of the novels while pushing for new horizons with the plays,” Daif added.

Daif’s choice to work primarily on novels, turn them into plays and direct them is independent of the lack of texts in Arabic drama. He said: “My plays are adventures in theatre experiments. I start with texts of novels I select from different parts of the world then I aim at creating a special relation with my audience. I seek to establish a dialogue with universalist texts by placing them in a local context, and that way theatre is turned into a daily inquiry into the world’s questions.”

Daif said Moroccan theatre is undergoing a positive diversity. It is not a single-faceted theatre but a multitude of theatrical experiments. Moroccan theatre has left noticeable impressions in several Arab festivals,” he said.

Theatre is alive in Morocco. Playwrights, directors, actors and critics are conversing and creating. Morocco’s theatre people like to experiment with ways of affecting the audience and this is probably why Moroccan theatre seems as if it is in its infancy. It is still difficult to determine a specific identity of this theatre.

“In Morocco, there is no state or public sector theatre. The art is practised within independent associations but, in the end, comes under the supervision of the Ministry of Culture. In the past few years, many things have been achieved on the level of preparing regulations and structuring the domain,” Daif explained.

Daif said those measures were important to have but the domain of theatre in Morocco, with its new laws and instruments, remains fragile; nothing seems permanent because of the lack of a clear government strategy for the domain.

“We are more in contact with Europe than we are with the Arab countries,” Daif said of Moroccan theatre. “Except for the occasions of Arab festivals and the efforts of the Arab Theatre Committee, theatre in one Arab country has virtually no contact with its counterpart in other Arab countries. There are no exchanges of shows, no common productions and no exchanges of expertise. There are no strong efforts of publishing scripts in the Arab countries. Arab dramatists feel isolated from and foreign to the larger Arab theatre but quite close to non-Arab theatres.”

Daif said the Moroccan theatre scene had positively affected the recent cinematic boom in Morocco.

He pointed out that the quantitative and qualitative progress in cinema and TV drama in Morocco is because of the strength of the theatre in Morocco and the creativity of its practitioners.

Cinema and television in Morocco were lucky to find experienced people, especially actors and actresses, who had built their expertise on the stage, he said, adding that artists in Morocco enjoy the freedom of creativity but the question remains in how to use that freedom to develop truly creative works.

“My future contribution is going to be a project that is related to my general and overall theatrical project, which consists in deconstructing the collective memory of Moroccan society regarding its relations with the authorities, history and the present,” Daif said.