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The MENA Blogs Part 3 – The Sunflower of Beirut

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 The Sunflower of Beirut

Close to the Palestinian city camps and the Hezbollah district in Beirut is an area called Tayouneh. Here, many building still bear the scars and holes of the Lebanese civil war. In the heart of the community is The Sunflower Theatre, home to SHAMS, a name which means ‘Youth, Theatre, and Cinema’. It is one of the eleven members of the Tamasi network of Arts organisations.

SHAMS is host and mentor to young artists of theatre, dance and music, providing rehearsal space and support. Without SHAMS most would not have an opportunity to test their creative ability, and would not have a chance to be noticed or develop their talent in their own country.

This week I saw rehearsals of Carmina Burana. Yes, it’s Carl Orff’s music; but no, not as you expect to see and hear it with orchestra and choir. This is Carmina Burana done as a blend of ballet and contemporary dance. It will be performed for three nights in a row at the end of this week and all indications are that it will be a sell-out in The Sunflower’s 330 seat theatre.

The artistic director and the director of this Carmina Burana have been having some creative tensions apparently, and some of the young student performers seek the advice of Abdo, the SHAMS manager.

He’s seen plenty of situations like this in the past and it’s an opportunity to calm nerves and lend support.
He tells me that the performance of something with such a well-known name will draw the crowds, but sometimes members of the audience are shocked by the modern take. SHAMS once publicised the work of the iconic Syrian singer of the 1930s and early 1940s, Asmahan. The theatre was packed, but not all were prepared for the rap performance of songs that followed.

SHAMS does not stage work that is simply propaganda or overtly political, but insists on an otherwise open door policy, showcasing new, unknown, and sometimes challenging work. The bigger challenge for Abdo and his colleagues as part of the Tamasi collective is to open up new streams of funding for the Arts in a country so uncertain about a peaceful and prosperous future.

Patrons of Beirut’s Sunflower Theatre will not forget this week’s Carmina Burana in a hurry, that’s for sure.

Laurence Brady.

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