Thursday, August 30, 2012

Mikhail Naimy on how Shakespeare became Shakespeare

 I'm reading the early (collected 1923), mordant book of literary-critical essays Al-Ghirbal (The Sieve) by Mikhail Naimy (ميخائيل نعيمة). Trained in Nazareth, Poltava, and Seattle, Naimy is a fascinating case study of the place of modern Arabic literature in the currents of world literature.
Here he's interesting on the subject of "What is Art" and the role of the critic.  In the opening essay he seems to accept, without any fuss, that standards of beauty and goodness (unlike Tolstoy he doesn't worry about distinguishing the two) are conventional, even subjective: critics will differ, and there are no fixed rules a reader could apply for himself, or why would we need critics at all? Yet he holds that a sincere and careful critic's judgments are somehow true nonetheless. And valuable for society. He draws an analogy to the metallurgist or geologist who, while he cannot create gold or diamonds "in the sense that God creates things out of nothing," does point them out where they were unknown before, "and thereby 'creates' them for whomever was ignorant of their value before."
From chemistry and value, inevitably, to Shakespeare. Here's a quick translation:
[The critic performs] a creative work when he lifts the veil, in a work he is writing about, on a jewel no one has noticed before. Perhaps even the author himself.  I've frequently asked myself: Did Shakespeare know, when he penned his plays and poems, that they would be eternal? Or did he compose them to satisfy some need of the moment, believing they would die with him? I am among those who hold the latter opinion. Therefore the critics who "discovered" Shakespeare after his death deserve the same acclaim as Shakespeare himself. But for them, there would be no Shakespeare. I believe that the spirit can follow and seize all the turns and subtleties of a great spirit, following its path and capturing its inspirations, climbing with it and stumbling with it, is a great spirit as well.
I'm about to teach a Global Shakespeares class where our opening unit deals with what I termed (to the dismay of someone on the university-wide Curriculum Committee) "the Shakespeare Brand."  Cultural studies has spent the past few decades, nearly half a century, criticizing not Shakespeare but the widespread civic religion of Bardolatry (as exemplified by Harold Bloom and public school systems) as conventional, based on cultural prejudice, not to say Eurocentric or even colonialist.  Two generations of my elders and betters have engaged in this deconstruction with the joy of children jumping on beds and tearing apart fluffy feather pillows.  Yet Shakespeare's special status in academia AND public culture has not withered; if anything, it has thrived.
It's fun to look back at earlier critics who have no problem with the cultural constructedness of the value of Shakespeare, or anything else. For Naimy, it's self-evident that a later critic posthumously "created" Shakespeare's greatness. Not only self-evident, but kind of wonderful, since now we have this cultural treasure and before we didn't. Acknowledging this doesn't make Shakespeare less great, just lets the critic bask in reflected glory.
As a young Arab critic's hic sum, this appropriation of Shakespeare is both audacious and effective.

East West Orchestra - Hamlet (Version Arabe)

I can't say I care so much for the one musical number I've heard from the 2006 album Hamlet: Version Arabe, by the East West Orchestra.
But isn't the cover art nice?
Track listing here.

Full video for Ashtar's Richard II

I forgot whether I mentioned this before: For a limited time (a few months only, expiring this fall), you can see (and perhaps figure out how to download?) a full video recording of Ashtar Theatre's Richard II through this link:
A few of the other plays from the Globe-to-Globe festival are available there as well. 
The Space is a cool semi-governmental initiative launched around the Olympics, through a partnership of (among others?) the England Arts Council and the BBC.
They've also got part of Romeo and Juliet in Baghdad.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Manhattan Shakespeare Project goes to Ramallah

I'm copying this entire posting from Youssef Rakha's blog.  Anyone want to write about this project?  The whole process -- the Ramallah drama students, the Manhattanites, the documentarian observing them, the Shakespeare element -- seem ripe for an article. And has anyone seen this international Midsummer Night's Dream they refer to? See boldfaced bits below. -ML

Send 3 female artists to Ramallah to document the lives of 9 young Palestinian actors and how they use Shakespeare to bridge gaps in their communities.
Manhattan Shakespeare Project is a sponsored project of Fractured Atlas, a non-profit arts service organization. Contributions for the purposes of Manhattan Shakespeare Project must be made payable to Fractured Atlas and are tax-deductible to the extent permitted by law.

We have received a $1000 travel grant from Columbia University! We are very excited! Thank you so much to those to have contributed so far. We are on our way!

Shakespeare For A New World; The Palestinian Voice
Manhattan Shakespeare Project goes global!
Help send three women (two teaching artists and a documentary film director) to Ramallah to document the lives of 9 young Palestinian actors and how they use Shakespeare to bridge gaps in their communities.

Their Story
They are 9 young Palestinian actors and students at the Drama Academy Ramallah. They have lived through curfews, checkpoints, tanks, barricades, raids, arrests, isolation, and marginalization. And they have chosen to be actors. They have chosen to funnel their passion and energy into the arts; into creating a voice that is louder than the authority of occupation. They have chosen to cultivate the imagery of what can be different; to fuel the imagination to dream beyond the restrictions of occupation, and make possible what seems today impossible and unimaginable: to envision peace and the paths past violence.

Our Story
Since 2010, Manhattan Shakespeare Project – Manhattan’s All-Female Shakespeare Company has been dedicated to fostering the growth of the female artist and using Shakespeare as an educational tool to empower and reach diverse communities, especially those marginalized as a result of socio-economic status and geographic location.
In November 2011 we had the amazing opportunity to perform with the very passionate and talented students from the Drama Academy Ramallah in an international “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by William Shakespeare. Since then we have been putting together a project that would send three women artists to Palestine to work with the DAR students in an exchange program to create a way of creating theatre. We want to answer the question “How can artists from wildly different backgrounds, cultures, and languages create theatre together, bridge diverse communities, and teach each other and audiences how to grow and live in harmony?”

The Project
In September 2012 (yes, only 2 months away, yikes!) we will spend two weeks in Palestine at the Drama Academy Ramallah teaching a series of workshops on Shakespeare Text & Performance, Viewpoints, and movement. During that time we will be collaborating with the DAR students to create an ensemble-based original devised theatre piece incorporating Palestinian youth songs, Shakespeare’s Sonnets (both in English and Arabic), and movement which will tell their story of what it means to be an artist in Palestine. This piece will then be presented to the public in Ramallah.
This original theatre piece will then be presented at The Freedom Theatre in the Jenin refugee camp, and for one week the DAR students will mentor Jenin high school students through the theatre creating process. This will result in another original piece which will be publicly performed in Jenin.
This whole process will be filmed and a documentary of these 9 Palestinian artists will be created, sharing the work, methodology, and stories of these students with an audience beyond the Palestinian borders. The film and methodology will be used for educational outreach to symposiums across the US, and made available worldwide to students to create collaborative theatre pieces and mentor new students and communities.
How You Can Help
Your donation goes directly to funding Phase One of “Shakespeare For A New World; The Palestinian Voice”, which includes transportation, housing, and pre-production of the documentary:
3 Round-trip plane tickets from New York to Tel Aviv: $3,600
Lodging for 21 nights for 3 artists: $3,000
Food for 21 days for 3 artists: $2,200
Film Equipment: $1,500
Editing Equipment: $200
Artists’ Stipend: $4,500
We thank you so much for you time, consideration, and generosity in helping make this project a reality. Every dollar helps, is greatly appreciated, and gets us one step closer to helping the world communities talk to each other.

Spread the Word!
Even spreading the word about our campaign goes a long way to help. Like us on Facebook. Do the Tweety thing. We’ve made it easy as pie. (mmm, pie…) You can share right from the Facebook/Twitter buttons below, but here are some pre-made tweets to save you some precious keystrokes!
  • Support @manhattanshakes as they create a bridge to communities in Palestine through theatre!

  • Send 3 NY female teaching artists to Drama Academy Ramallah, Palestine. Help build a bridge between communities!

  • 2 teaching artists and a documentary director. 9 Palestinian drama students. Help @manhattanshakes bridge the gap.
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