Wednesday, May 09, 2007

The Black Eyed: Betty Shamieh's interview

Q: In Black Eyed, Delilah is one of the four main characters. What is a femme fatale doing among Arab, and thus quite conservative and powerless, women?
A: I was very interested in the idea of seducing an enemy, because actually my Delilah falls in love with Samson, but if you feel that somebody is destroying your people, you will destroy them irrespective of that. Also, to me Samson is the first suicide bomber. I think it was very interesting, too, because Philistine, the word, which is in the Bible, is actually how you pronounce Palestine in Arabic.
Q: Whom do you write for?
A: I write for theatre people. It’s the same demographic of people who see theatre that come to my plays. There are many people these days writing on subjects of race, sex, power, also described as New Arab playwrights,
Q: Would you describe yourself as post-feminist?
A: I think that terms are difficult. If you are a feminist, all you believe is equal rights. I would definitely say that I am a feminist, but not in Arab culture, in all cultures. Sexism is everywhere. In America one fourth of women are raped, that could be described as an epidemic. People see Arab women and they say “oh they cover up and they don’t drive”, just looking one aspect of their lives. It is usually used to demonizing Arab men. If women across cultures would realize how many we are and if they would identify first as women and then as American, Arab, Greek, they would maybe change this thing—cause we are second class citizens.
Q: Are your plays staged in Arab countries?
A: This one could not be staged; it has some hard language and challenges their religion. But I’m working on a production that it’s talking about the crusades that will be staged there. When you talk about the past, people are ok. It’s the same story, though, how you deal with difference but in another epoch.
Q: What do your own people think of your themes and the way you treat them?
A: My community, my parents are very supportive. I use the word “dick” and Delilah is talking for having sex and all this is very hard stuff, but they cope with that.
Q: Usually your actresses are not Arab. Does that matter to you?
A: No, I find it more than ok, if you look at me, more would think that I am Greek. More Mediterranean people look similar. And if you look at Hollywood the way they characterize Arabs is not the way I look, or my family looks. The dark skin definitely causes more racism. One important thing for me is to cast Italians etc as a way of saying “this is how we look”.
Q: How do you find this staging?
A: I like it very much. I hope many Greek people will see this production, it is wonderful.
Q: We have a man director, Takis Tzamargias, in this production. What about that?
A: It’s really good actually. Since it’s a woman writer and 4 women actresses it is nice to have a man’s perspective. He is a well-known director, and the fact that he responded to the material is good, because it is not a woman’s story, it’s about power. Men who in some way occupy, you know what it feels like to not have physical strength.
Q: Did you give any tips on the production?
A: Mostly when it comes to language. It’s a very difficult play to translate. I think you have to give audience a chance to understand how absurd it is, how human relations are evolved.
Q: Did you ever feel and understand the Arab women’s struggle and pain? Do you think we have the right to talk for them, from the other side, from our safe environment?
A: I definitely connect with their struggle, but of course I cannot understand their lives. I put these words in the mouth of one of my characters, Aisha, that we are not in a way to understand war and oppression if we haven’t lived under those circumstances.

Betty Shamieh is a young Arab-American playwright who usually tackles with subjects such as sex, power, ethnicity. Her play The Black Eyed is currently staged in Athens, Greece, where we met her in the premiere at the down-town theatre Fournos. Look here for a review of the play (in greek).

No comments: