Both Lebanese protégée Maya Zbib and her mentor, American theatre and opera director Peter Sellars, believe that theatre must be a force for change rather than entertainment confined to the stage. Their mentoring year began with a trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in support of a project by Faustin Linyekula, an artist facing up to the political and social changes in his country. Zbib was interviewed by Avery Willis about her visit to the DRC with her mentor and about the creative process.
What were your first impressions of Peter Sellars?
I was very impressed by his strong and particular character. He made me feel at ease during our first meeting and I felt I could be myself around him. He has a warm and generous personality that is very surprising, in a positive way, of course. After our first meeting, I was content and just really happy to have met this person. I thought: “Even if he does not choose me, I am lucky enough having had the chance to speak to him and listen to him talk about his work.”
What happened when you travelled to the Democratic Republic of the Congo with him?
It was a very intense experience. The Congo River with its darkness and deep serenity outside the house where I was staying was overwhelming! Things happen so slowly there, but everything is intense, meaningful and colourful.
Meeting some of Peter’s collaborators made me think about the meaning of art and how it can empower people, and made the struggle we face here in Lebanon very trivial.
How did you know Faustin Linyekula?
I had met Faustin seven years ago in Beirut during a short workshop he was giving and I was impressed by his work. During my first meeting with Peter, he said he was going to visit Faustin and, when he found out I knew him, he invited me to come along.
What did the collaboration consist of?
I did not collaborate with Faustin, but I gave a five-hour workshop to 17 dancers and actors, some of whom had worked with him. The workshop was around combining movement and text, taking elements from both dance and theatre – that was an amazing experience that I will never forget. Witnessing the energy and power of these artists on stage made me feel the urgency of doing theatre there and in difficult places in general.
How would you describe Linyekula?
He is a very strong and determined artist working in a very difficult place. Watching him deal with his surrounding social and political difficulties was very inspiring for me.
Why did you decide to become a theatre artist?
Since I was a child I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I used to sing, draw, paint, dance and write poetry. I chose theatre simply because I could do all kinds of art with this medium.
What motivates you to create?
Making art is a way to continuously question myself and what surrounds me in a practical and collective manner instead of falling into self-pity and lamenting the inconsequential course of events in a country that does not learn from its own history.
What drives you to create a specific piece of theatre?
The subject I want to put forward. So I always start with the text, either a text that speaks to me or texts that I write. When I write, I always start with the personal hope to touch upon more universal issues in my work.
What is your dream project?
I would like to create a large-scale, site-specific project with many artists working with various media and engaging different communities confronting their differences using theatrical dialectics, instead of the common languages of political parties which seems to lead to absurdity and continuous conflict.
What do you hope to achieve with your theatre art?
I hope to bring more people to the theatre in Lebanon and to create a movement where going to the theatre becomes a need. And try to give back to theatre its political and artistic aspects, those that consumerism and the corrupt political environment have sadly managed to dissolve.
What is your biggest challenge in theatre-making?
Funding... in Lebanon there is no support whatsoever from the government for theatre. It is regarded as a trivial profession.