Members of the country’s theater community have announced a day of action Tuesday to protest the closure of the Masrah Beirut late last year and the threat that poses to cultural spaces in the city as a whole.
Some 50 actors, representing 24-25 theater productions mounted in Beirut in the last year or so, will take to the stage of Hamra’s Masrah al-Madina to perform a 30-second to two-minute-long snippet of their work.
“The action will begin at 7 p.m., with mimes and other street artists inviting people to enter the theater for the show,” said Beirut-area artist and event co-organizer Roy Dib. “Entertainment will continue inside the theater until 8-8:30 p.m. Then the main stage performances will begin.”
“Basically all the theater performers who’ve staged work in the last year have agreed to participate,” Dib added, “along with several clowns, dancers, mimes and puppeteers. At the end of the main stage event, attending performing artists and technicians will assemble on stage.”
Afterward participants will walk from Masrah al-Madina via the nearby Masrah Babel, then on to the Masrah Beirut space, where theater stalwart Issam Bou Khaled will read from the World Theater Day message composed for the March 22 event by U.S. entertainer John Malkovich.
“The point of this action is to demonstrate that, if they keep closing cultural spaces in this city, then ultimately we’re all going to be squeezed on the one stage,” said co-organizer Nayla Geagea. “This is only one of several events we’ve held, beginning three months ago when the Culture Ministry declared that the building housing the Masrah Beirut is a heritage site.”
“The problem with that measure is that it doesn’t go far enough: The law preserves the structure but doesn’t say anything about what goes on inside.
“We’ve been in talks with the legal consultants of the Culture Ministry and they are practically convinced of the legality of our demands. Now we are elaborating the appropriate mechanism to reopen the theater. I’ll be presenting a draft about this later this week.”
Geagea said that in their negotiations with Culture Ministry officials she and her colleagues’ had found them largely supportive.
“But the decisions made up until now haven’t gone far enough. There is another law, first put on the books in 2008, concerning cultural property. According to this legislation, you can protect a structure not just as a building but as a cultural space. We’re now applying pressure for the government to activate this law.
“Tuesday evening’s action,” she continued, “is devoted to keeping the word on the street.”