A Syrian Playwright Brings His Work to Life in Germany

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The site of the second stage of the Playwrights Residency in Neuklostersee, Germany.

Coming into Sundance Institute’s Playwrights Residency in Germany, I thought my play would require some adjustments – crossing off some ideas, adding a few details. But I thought mostly that it was almost done and that this residency would help me refine it. I thought one piece was missing to complete the puzzle; turned out, a lot of pieces were placed upside down and needed relocation.

During our residency, theatre readings took place in HAU 2 Studio with the Maxim Gorki Theater troupe.

Hearing my own words being pronounced by Syrian actors and read in Syrian dialect was a real opportunity for me, as in Paris – where I currently live – it would not be possible. I got to explore the play’s angles, from far and wide. I understood where pieces of puzzles were clicking and where they had some gaps to be filled. Even though these gaps were fairly homogeneous, something was not really adding up. I got to see it more clearly within these readings.

Ask yourself questions.

The Sundance team did not try to tell us what to do, teach us how to write a play, how to build a drama, or how to tell a story. They did not try to play the connoisseur who would give us all the knowledge and answers that we needed. Instead, they helped us find our personal answers, passing by our own reflections and thoughts within their inspiring questions. The kinds of questions that open windows and doors of possibilities much more profoundly than by receiving a ready, fit-for-all answer.

The dramaturge that was working with me did not tell me how to relocate my own puzzle in a different way; instead, she was asking me intelligent questions to help me rethink the relationships between the pieces of the puzzle. I started imagining new combinations of these pieces and new mergers were now to be formed. I tried to build on that, relocate some pieces, change some combinations, erase other pieces and try to obtain a brighter, bigger picture.

Ayham Abu Shaqra (right) with the Playwrights Residency fellows.

The moment my play was “almost” done turned out to be a new beginning.

What I thought would be a finalization process of the play grew into an improved way of reasoning about the play’s structure; the beginning of a new work on the play that included several exercises with the dramaturge. Trimming some long scenes down to a narrow number of pages has provided me with clear indications about the basic elements and the less important ones that failed to make the cut in these scenes. Writing some experimental scenes about what did not happen rather than what actually happened has widened the potentiality that could drive the play elsewhere.

Before, one piece was missing from my puzzle. Now I see that there is some lack of harmony between pieces that need to be shifted and new ideas that need to be reinforced in the existing pieces. Above all, this residency opened the gate to questions that gave me further inspiration and ideas to refine my play.

Lead photo:

The site of the second stage of the Playwrights Residency in Neuklostersee, Germany.