Zoukak Theatre Company brings ‘interventions’ to campus

Students gathered in the ’62 Center for a collaborative theater and dance workshop taught by two members of the Zoukak Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of Keith Foreman.
Students gathered in the ’62 Center for a collaborative theater and dance workshop taught by two members of the Zoukak Theatre Company. Photo courtesy of Keith Foreman.

Two members of the Zoukak Theatre Company, Maya Zbib and Omar Abi Azar, visited the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance on Friday night to lead a theater workshop.

Zoukak is a performance collective based in Beirut, Lebanon, founded by its six original members, including Zbib and Azar, in 2006.

After the 2006 Israeli war in Lebanon that displaced millions of Lebanese citizens, Zoukak began to develop an approach to drama as therapy and a method for social involvement. The members of Zoukak feel that this need was further exacerbated by the siege of Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared in 2007. In both circumstances, members of Zoukak found themselves making what they refer to as “psycho-social theater interventions.”

Since then, Zoukak has established itself as a collective that transcends borders, both geographically and socially. This collective has done workshops on four different continents, in the hopes of aiding the rehabilitation of incarcerated youth, children with disabilities and women who are victims of domestic abuse, through the power of storytelling.

“We created Zoukak in 2006 from a need to develop a professional continuity for our theater practice, a belief in this practice as a political and social involvement and a faith in collectivity as a position against marginalizing systems,” according to the Company’s website.

Zoukak works toward its mission through performance, teaching writing for the stage and developing improvisational techniques. For the group, it’s not just about the end result but also the process. In a world that is becoming more polarized, more volatile and less collective, Zoukak’s goal is to unite people and share experiences of people from all over the world to create an environment centered around critical thinking about art, marginalization and life.

After they performed their workshop here at the ’62 Center, Zbib and Azar were kind enough to share some of their experiences working for Zoukak.

How did you get involved in theater?

MZ: We started theater in Beirut. We studied at the Lebanese university there and we formed a theater company when we graduated. We have a theater collective in Beirut called Zoukak Theatre Company. We work in a very non-hierarchical way. We also work a lot with young people and the student populations in Lebanon and abroad.

What brings you here to Williamstown?

OA: [Professor of Theatre] David Eppel was the chair of the department four years ago and saw Maya’s performance at the New York Public Library, and actually invited the performance to Williamstown four years ago. Then, David had the generosity to come to Beirut, and to follow us to India on our tour there, and to see our shows. He wanted us to come and give a workshop to the students in the same way that we work in Beirut.

What advice do you give to young, aspiring actors?

MZ: You have to work a lot, all the time. And read, and move. And be open to share things about yourself and be open receive things from other people. And be present, here and now.

What would be the most common criticism that you give to young actors?

MZ: Don’t be self-involved!

OA: She said it.

What are some of the places that you have gotten to go to?

MZ: We’ve been to India, we’ve been to Europe, to Africa, to the United States, Third World countries, also.

Do you ever feel a bit of a culture shock?

OA: The use is the same, even though the context is different. The context is just a facade.

Some of Zbib’s credits include L, or a Chronicle of Swooning (2009) performed in Nicosia, Limassol and London; The Music Box (2008-2012), performed in Jordan, New York, Tunisia, Luxembourg and Williamstown and Telescope (2007), performed in London, Manchester, Istanbul, Alexandria, Barcelona and Nicosia.

Some of Azar’s credits include Hussein, a one-man performance as a part of the Miniatures project in L’Officina; Marseille; a performance of Hamletmachine (2009) by Heiner Müller and a writing credit for Hamletmachine 2, performed at the Carthage Theater Festival in 2011. Omar  has also taught theater at St. Joseph University in Beirut.