Tunes and theater

12th December

  • Jordan | Adrenaline | directed by Asmaa Mustafa
  • Baghdad, Iraq | Fulana | directed by Hatam Awda

The German play on Tuesday was such a success that people started congratulating  me though I don’t belong to the theater group from Konstanz. One director from Baghdad told me dreamily that he thought that Peter Cieslinski, who played the slave Lucky in ‚Waiting for Godot‘, resembled in his way to express himself through very fine expressions Arabic actors. I’d say that was a huge compliment for the German actor.

I take my sentence about everything being calmer back. Before the Jordanian play started today the man, who would normally ask to turn the mobiles off, changed his text. Instead he said he didn’t see any point in telling people so because nobody would listen anyway. Then a discussion started, a high school teacher shouted something like: I’m not surprised, when you were my student you did talk all the time over the phone in my courses! 

The play started, camera men who were late entered noisily and built up their equipment without taking care, telephones rang and people would use their flashlights to get a clearer picture. Amazingly unquiet!

The performance from Jordan was a monodrama again, dealing with the fear and the fate of a woman who’s husband has killed himself and others as a Jihad fighter and who’s sun drowned in the Mediterranean Sea on his way to Europe. Actress Asmaa Mustafa is as well the writer of the play which was a mix of pantomime and speech.

In the evening a theater production from Baghdad was shown. ‘Fulana’, written by Hoshang Waziri, won first price in the Arab Theatre Institute’s competition for 2015. The word Fulana means somebody or anybody. The father in the play calls all the women in his house that name and they are in fear when they hear him shouting for them. It‘s a story about despair and the inability to love even physically. 

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The second day

11th December

  • Tunisia | The silly, her father’s daughter | directed by Munir Alarqi
  • Germany | Waiting for Godot | directed by Christoph Nix

Other than in previous festivals there’s not as much telephone ringing during the performances. But that might be due to the little speech before the play starts asking people to turn their phones off. That’s a new thing. In the the previous festivals we joked about the constant Nokia tunes in the middle of a play, the flashes of cameras, the pushing to get a good seat and the leaving in the middle of a play.

Everything seems calmer. 

I don’t know if that’s something I’d say for the whole city. I passed many hotels looking as if they were built not that long ago, but they look shabby already. On the other hand I saw huge very new and shiny apartment complexes attempting to imitate dream cities with scars of abandoned building projects and malls. There were few people in the Sami Abdul-Rahman Park, where I walked with a friend; in spite of the well kept green areas it seemed neglected. Might not be the season for being here anymore though it was the perfect sunny day for me.

Erbil is a manly as I remembered it. Hardly any women on the streets. Where are they? I saw a few in the theaters and they didn’t look as if they are normally hidden somewhere. 

Back to the festival… In the afternoon we saw a Tunisian play. The actress who played in the monodrama was one of it’s authors too. She was accompanied by two drummers, so the performance was a little cultural journey through Tunisia. The story seemed to have autobiographical elements. A single Tunisian woman seeking love and a theater career against the wishes of her religious mother, risking personal happiness for that dream.

At 7 pm the Konstanz Theater showed ‘Waiting for Godot’ in the Fine Arts Institute Hall, one of the actors stood in for another one last minute and just for this one performance.


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5th International Theater Festival in Erbil

10th December 2018 – first day 

  • Opening ceremony
  • Theater play from Erbil | My ears are talking | directed by Karokh Ibrahim

I was excited to go back to Erbil, excited and a little sad, because some of the friends I made over the years are not here anymore. Some had to leave, some wanted to leave. The past few years didn’t offer people here the surrounding for acting or directing. A huge amount of refugees came to Erbil in 2014 and the IS was just a mountain chain and a few kilometres away. It became very difficult to open the borders for international productions or to spend money and time for theater festivals. Once again. The country never seems to get a rest for real recovery from wars and political uncertainty. 

But looking out of my hotel window the city seems unchanged. Dusty roads, tangerine trees, many new buildings, many remains of not so old buildings, dry sunny weather (though it was rainy for two weeks before we arrived) and a man with a gun who sits in a chair in the street.

I love the smell and the air of Hawler.

There was not as much security at the airport as I remembered it, but there is still a Peschmerga guy in front of every hotel or theater and at every street crossing. 

The opening ceremony was as pompous as I thought it would be with many official speeches. Hardly anything gets translated, not Kurdish into English nor the other way around. Yet it seems very important to emphasise the international character of the festival: There is a jury with five people who are from the Kurdish Iraqi region, from Baghdad, from Germany and from Morocco and you can see the word INTERNATIONAL in big letters on every poster. And as annoying as the lack of organisation might be occasionally – I like it how this shows the importance of the moment. There is no way to plan even the nearest future, for me that’s part of the spell Erbil puts on me.

The opening play in the evening was a local production, written and directed by Karokh Ibrahim, the play dealt with the story of a Jesidish woman who survived being captured in an IS camp.


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No fourth theatre festival in Hawler this year

Due to the current political situation in Iraq there won’t be a theatre festival in Erbil this year.

Anyway, there are many refugees in the Kurdish region of Iraq who need help.

For more details concerning your possibilities to help the people who live in camps and very often not even waterproof tents visit

‘Warten auf Hoffnung’ (‘Waiting for hope’) is a project with the aim to collect and send winter cloths to Kurdistan/ Iraq. There is the possibility to donate some money for the work of the green helmets who help in some of the camps to make the tents water- and winterproof and build the most necessary sanitary buildings too. We visited them in Zawita in the beginning of December and were able to bring approximately 1000 kilograms of winter cloths to another camp in the north of Dohuk. Thanks to the many donators in Berlin!

I published a series of photos of the two refugee camps in a new blog.

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The last day of the festival

  • Erbil, ‘The Patience Stone’, directed by Mahde Hassan
  • Price ceremony in the evening

Last day, last walk in the Sami Abdul Rahman Park which used to be a huge military complex with a detention center under the regime of Saddam Hussein. Nowadays it is Erbil’s biggest green area with lakes, gardens and alleys of trees; but very empty in the day time, I didn’t see any families picnicking, nor joggers or walkers. Maybe it’s different in the evenings.

,The Patience Stone’, the last play of the festival (though not in the contest) was an adaption of Atiq Rahimi’s bestselling novel of the same title. A woman talks to her husband who is in coma because of a bullet in his neck, she tells him about her life, her sufferings, her dreams more openly than she could ever have done before.

The finishing ceremony took place in Ankawa and the price decisions caused some confusion. It was obviously not very clear until last minute that the Kurdish/ Iranian play was not part of the contest. I’ll put a link in here to a text from Christoff Bleidt which explains a bit.

And here is the list of the prize winners:

Best production
“More Than Rain” (Belarus)

Best dance production
“Ballet Bar” (France)

Best director
Hafez Khalifa, “Relay”, (Tunesien)

Best scenography
Karokh Ibrahim “One Day in Ten Nights” (Kurdistan/ Iraq)

Best male actors/ performers
Robert Kijogwa, (Uganda)
Bahman Haji (Kurdistan/ Iraq)

Best female actors/ performers
Carmen Romero (Germany)
Gelaz Nasr (Kurdistan/ Iraq)

Jury prizes
Sami Abdulhameed (Baghdad/ Iraq)
Trifa Karimiyan (Kurdistan/ Iran)

Finally I want to thank Margherita for organising such a lot under fully new circumstances and for driving through the night many times, picking people up from or bringing them to the airport.
Thanks to Halo and Ari and all the others who didn’t get a lot of sleep in the festival week…
I’ll miss Hawler!

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Baghdad/ Iraq, Kurdistan/ Iraq

  • Baghdad, ‘The death of a stubborn citizen’, directed by Haitham Abdulrazaq
  • Erbil, ‘Wall of China’, directed by Arsalan Darwesh

The performance from Baghdad in the afternoon dealt with different forms of fear, the fear of a man on the run, the fear of a woman threatened by the same man to kill her father, the fear of a whole country… Haitham Abdulrazaq wrote the script and directed the play.

The Gali Hall Theatre was fuller and noisier than ever before last night, children ran around and mobiles rang (somebody suggested to give a price for the best Nokia tune). I’m still not sure if I find the audience here refreshingly or disturbingly respect-less. After all it is a coming together of many people, why shouldn’t they be heard? Anyway, it’s very different from home and I never know if the clapping before the play even ends is enthusiasm or an expression of impatience. ‘The Chinese wall’, a play Max Frisch wrote under the impression of the bombing of Hiroshima, was transformed into a Kurdish spectacle, I recognised the typical Kurdish uniforms, but couldn’t really understand if the text was very changed from the original because there was no translation or even a short description of the plot in English.

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Kampala/ Uganda, Berlin/ Germany

  • Kampala, ‘Three levels above the earth’, directed by Jessica Kaahwa
  • Berlin, ‘Waves’, choreography by Johanna Devi (out of the contest)

I went to the Chwar Chra hotel like almost every day to drink their great Turkish coffee and use the internet which is astonishingly stable between the several power blackouts you get in Erbil every day.
It’s a mystery why this never happened in a theatre so far…
The Theatre Group of the Performing Arts and Film department from The Markere University showed their performance in the afternoon, a play about the wish of humans to define themselves and others, culturally and via the medias. The protagonists of the play travel together to a wiseman to get answers to their questions about the meaning of life and the social values of the generations to come… The play included (like in the previous year) traditional Ugandan dancing.

In the evening Johanna Devi showed her dance performance ‘Waves’ (out of the contest).
The solo combined different aspects of the classical dance form Bharatanatyam with modern contemporary dance.
Since there has been a scandal in spring when a naked Bhutto dancer from Berlin opened the theatre festival in Baghdad, I got a somewhat sarcastic text from a friend asking if it would be safe to bring his little son…

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