For radical times, we need radical art
Interview / / Jul 28, 2016
It’s 1395 in Iran and tucked away in the heart of our capital city is the Hafez performance hall where a unique play, The Tenant, based on a 1964 French novel, is underway.
The Tenant (French: Le Locataire chimérique) is a novel by Roland Topor that tells the story of a Parisian of Polish descent. Itexplores issues around identity and alienation inviting us to question how we define ourselves.
Now for the first time Roland Topor’s story is brought to life in Farsi in Iran through a powerful performance by a group of Iranian actors, director and producer; and in cooperation with the French Embassy in Iran.
Why is now the right time for this genre of art and what are the underlying messages of The Tenant for the broader community in Iran? We met with the people involved for an insight on the play and the intricacies of putting together this play.
Setareh Aminian- Writer-director
Ms. Aminian before we start can you tell us a bit about yourself?
I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree from Iran in Theater and then moved to France to advance my education. That is where I came across the novel “The Tenant” by “Roland Bold. While in France, I also got acquainted to Reformance Company. This culminated in my return back to Iran to start working on this project with the support of the French Embassy in Iran.
Why did you choose to work with this genre, the genre of Radical art, especially in Iran?
This is a good question. Radical theater and especially Radical art belong to this age. This age does not yearn any other arts except Radical art. The era of happy endings and fairy tales are over. Today, art has extended to another level where it’s no longer supposed to marvel the spectator with magnificence of life. How can art be about that when every moment passing thousands of people around the world from Baghdad, Syria, Kabul, France, Germany, Turkey and other places are suffering and dying?
Radical art does not intend to annoy the spectator but rather nudge them with compelling statements, for example “hey be careful, although you are enjoying the air conditioner in a safe place now, you are supposed to suffer a little symbolic pain”. This pain could be in music, paint, visual arts or animation and now in theater, which is the most comprehensive art among them. Radical art is harsh but honest which expose us to the truth.
Do you ever imagine any one after watching this show to be compelled with after thoughts such as, “I will treat my tenant, my neighbor, my colleague with love and kindness from tomorrow”. Would you like to make such a behavioral impact?
From my personal view, my job, my task at hand is to nudge and compel people. This flat is a symbol of so many things such as treatment of immigrants, family, religion, and others. Someone could exit the hall and says, “Alright, I will or will not do this anymore” or someone else says, ”Alright, how unfortunate we are, how long more they are looking to shame us with our misfortune”. Tear come to their eyes and think how terrible they showed this ‘us’ to us.
Would you like to stick to the same genre, or you would prefer to try other genres as well?
Around seven or eight years ago before I traveled abroad, I tried other genres as well, including Shadow Theatre that was accompanied with beautiful Iranian miniature paintings and soft music. I believe any text dictates its own genre. The Tenant text belongs to the Radical genre. I won’t be able to represent Hamlet’s mental conflicts like a picturesque, or show suffocation and expectancy in the ‘Godot’ in a form of a happy show. Therefore, since each text has got its own genre, I will decide what to do next based on the text. For Iran, I am not able to tell you exactly what direction I will go next.
There is a TED Talk by Simon Sinek which says always begin with the “Why”. So what is your “Why” for this project? Why do you have a desire to nudge people through Radical art?
Because I think this wouldn’t be useless, I do not want us to do something and then forget about it and I don’t want someone leaving the theater hall and saying, “The actress’s dress was so beautiful”. I want our work to be deeper than that and interact with people on much deeper levels. In fact, in my work, light only is for lighting and dress is for covering. In conclusion, everything has a functional role.
What type of challenges did you face during the creation of this project in Iran?
Our goal was to bring this genre of theater and art to Iran and to touch the people with it. In the long-term, our ambition is to be nominated for European and French festivals.
I am committed to the Adorno’s criticism which states we as artists determine people’s food. So we decided to alter people’s food. I hope by bringing genre of radical art in theatre to Iran, this route will be smoother for others gradually and Radical art will find its own way, its own form in Iran.
Do you have any other plans in your mind at the moment? Are you planning on directing any other projects?
Not at all. I do not plan to start another one for several years. I would rather set everything in stone and make sure our play reaches all the people interested in the topic and genre.. Therefore, realistically it is not going to be possible do any new plays within the next six years.
What is your final goal in this project? What traction and coverage do you want to achieve?
To be honest, it is not very important for me who will talk about it. What is important to me at this stage is my actors, who devoted themselves to this play, to have visibility especially to the audience that years this form of art. I personally do not seek any public recognition. I’m not active in Instagram and I don’t even have a Facebook account. I have always kept my distance with technology.
Morteza Esmail Kashi – Actor
Why did you accept this role in this play?
I’ll be brief here, when a play is suggested to me, first I read the text, and I chat with the director about it. This is very important to me, in particular what is the subject of the play. I talked to the director, Setareh Aminian about what we’re going to achieve with this play and about every other aspects. All of this lead me to this decision. The text also easily lured me to its own world, so the decision was an easy one.
Did you have personal preference on accepting this role?
This is a very good question. Yes, this man does have a universal pain that could be my pain too, in a different way. It could be your pain or the person who watches the play. Nowadays it’s hard to find someone without any pain.
If they didn’t give you this role and offered you another role, who would you play? And why?
The role of that young boy that comes and brings a gift to the tenant lady. His presence is very brief and this interests me. It could be very challenging. I like big challenges like this.
How did you prepare yourself for this role physically? Because we saw how you bang yourself around on the set
Since I’m doing theater for a few years now, it was no big deal. I always have my physical trainings so there was no need for extra training here.
Afshin Ghaffarian – Actor, Reformances
How did you start working on this play?
Setareh and I met in the France because I live and work there. Setareh told me about this project and the project grew from there. When it came to life, I came here and now I’m here for two months and when the play finished, I’ll go back home.
Did you work on anything here in Iran before?
Yes I was here till 2009, but from 2009 to 2016 I worked outside Iran.
What in this role was attractive to you?
His personality and the notion of playing a parallel role and reflecting another character in the play. This was particularly interesting, since we did not have any physical resemblance; Morteza is tall and I’m short. So it was so interesting on how I can live as a double in my own body. Of course, these were not my only reasons. I wanted to come back to Iran and work in a professional environment.
Is it any different working here than before?
Oh very. One big change is that the theater is now more privately owned. Seven years ago there were no individual theaters here and it was kind of forbidden to even talk about it. But now we see them everywhere and I didn’t experience this kind before here. And there is a huge difference between people here and Europe, which makes it an interesting experience for me.
If you can act in this play all over again, who would you play? And why?
I never really thought about this. But I l really love my role so I’ll choose this role again.
The Tenant will be running from July 18th to August 6th 2016 in Tehran at Hafiz Hall.
To buy tickets you can visit www.eventbox.ir/mostajer