The Lebanese American University honored Nidal Ashkar Tuesday as part of Next Festival 2019, an eclectic week of arts and communications events including workshops and music, dance and drag performances.
The festival’s official opening paid tribute to “the Grand Dame of Theater in Lebanon,” the illustrious actor, director and founder of Masrah al-Madina, with a short film about Ashkar giving a vocal workshop to LAU students, followed by an original play depicting twelve moments in Ashkar’s life.
Titled “Tawlifet Nidal” (roughly “Nidal’s Medley”), the play showcased “a bunch of stories from Nidal’s life that no one knows about - situations and fights she went through,” explained the play’s director and LAU alumnus Awad Awad.
“I’ve been working closely with Nidal for the last eight years,” Awad said, adding that the vignettes were based on a combination of first-hand experiences with Ashkar, research and video interviews.
“Nidal is not just a pillar of Lebanese theater but [the] head of Al Madina Theater, one of the few remaining Lebanese theaters,” said Awad, who believes that the famous institution “plays the role of a [state] theater.”
The medley was performed by LAU students, alumni and professional actors, and featured a four piece providing live backing music.
After the performance, Ashkar opened her speech by quoting Syrian writer and poet Mohammad al-Maghut on his dreams for the region.
It culminated with a rousing wish to “visit Jerusalem,” greeted with loud applause from the audience.
Some of Ashkar’s most famous plays from the 1960s addressed the Palestinian issue, many of which pledged her strong allegiance to the “Fedayeen,” the Palestinian freedom fighters, Awad explained.
“[Ashkar] was one of the few people who continued doing theater through [the] Lebanese Civil War,” Awad said.
“She also had revolutionary ideas about women’s bodies, and wrote and directed plays about these issues at a time when it was still taboo.”
The ceremony honoring Ashkar was followed by “Homage to the Rahbani Brothers,” a concert dedicated to the musical duo most famous for their composition of Fairuz’s songbook.
Organized by Joseph Khalife, senior music instructor at LAU, with impressive performances by Marianne Alwan and Salam Joha, the concert packed the auditorium and stirred an enthusiastic audience into singing along and dancing.
“We wanted to show that the department is capable of doing amazing things,” said Rawane Itani, a student in LAU’s Communication Arts Department and festival organizer.
The student ranked a performance by Zuhal, a Lebanese drag queen who recently featured in Vogue magazine, as being one of her favorite events - even though it was the first time that she had watched a drag performance.
“Zuhal completely packed out LAU’s Irwin Theater,” she told The Daily Star. “Everyone loved it.”
The festival week also brought together upcoming and established female entrepreneurs in the performing arts, who shared their experiences with students in a panel discussion Thursday.
“I thought there was a dire need to include music in everyone’s world,” said Seba Ali, Assistant Professor of Performing Arts at LAU, speaking about the Imagine Workshop and Concert Series, a program she founded which aims to bring music to new audiences.
“At first I said let’s make concerts but I decided it was not enough. Then I said, let’s have workshops but it wasn’t enough. In the end it became a series of concerts, workshops, lectures, panel discussions, exhibitions, outreach and education programs which attract people from all over the world,” she said during the panel discussion.
“One of the things I love about directing [IWCS] is that I also work from the perspective of a mother. So want to introduce the arts to toddlers and kids all over,” she continued.
“We also have sessions with children with special needs and autism.”
Other events included stand-up comedy from Lebanese comedian Shaden Fakih, a 50-hour film competition, and workshops on social media content, TV presenting and film distribution.
This article has been adapted from its original source.