BY FANNY KUITENBROUWER
Theatre company Female Economy recently set off to the Moroccan coastal city of Tangier for a 14-day workshop on radical intimacy. Myriam Sahraoui, researcher, Leendert Vooijce, video artist, Lauren Rissik, playwright and Adelheid Roosen, artistic director, paired professional Moroccan artists with locals to allow them to experience the adoption method developed by Adelheid. The adoption method is the creative method underlying many of Adelheid’s plays and projects and revolves around radically intimate cohabitation between theatremakers and residents that goes beyond a simple ‘visit’. They truly surrender themselves to the Other in order to arrive at a more intense understanding of themselves in the face of that Other. Authentic encounters play a central role, serving as the foundation for a performance of intertwined lives and perspectives.
Participating artists included members of the Moroccan musical theater group Kabareh Cheikhats, who spent a month with Female Economy last summer as part of an artistic exchange programme. We asked Myriam about her preparations for the workshop and talked with Ghassan and Amine about life as an artist in Morocco and which parts of themselves they discovered during their adoptions.
Myriam knows the history of Moroccan theatre, but set off to discover more recent developments first hand. She found that Moroccan theater is mostly traditional with little room for experimentation; at Kabareh Cheikhats, however, she recognised the same lust for inquiry she knows from Female Economy. Myriam: “French colonial rule still has a profound influence on the Moroccan cultural sector to this day, but with their ode to Cheikhats, traditional female performers, Kabareh Cheikhats is in search of pre-French cultural Morocco.”
Ghassan explains: “Theatre came to Morocco with French rule but was forbidden for locals until 1923, when, in the hands of Moroccans, it became a means of resisting colonial rule. In 1956, after the French departed, the new Moroccan government took control of the theatre, recognising the power of this weapon of resistance. They did not quite succeed in doing so because in the 1970s, under the influence of the Hippie movement, amateur theatre emerged everywhere. That is the climate I grew up in.”
In the years since, amateur theatre has become all but impossible. Ghassan: “Without an official state document, you are not an actor and will not get any funding. I have this official document, but I never apply for funding because I would sacrifice my artistic freedom. Kabareh Cheikhats is a cooperative and we share the proceeds of our performances among the members of our company.”
With the theater workshop, ten artists collaborated with ten Tangier locals to create a scene in the old city centre, the Medina. How did Ghassan and Amine experience this new way of making theatre? Amine: “I was truly touched by my adoption and saw myself mirrored in a Tangier local who I had never met before in my life.” Ghassan adds: “This approach to theatre resonated with us because it is so closely connected to reality and society, which goes hand in hand with what we strive to do with Kabareh Cheikhats. We had already dipped our toe into the adoption method when we co-created a production with Female Economy in Amsterdam in July, and now we had the opportunity to take a deeper dive with fellow performers in our own country.”
Female Economy found a partner and companion in the Moroccan social and cultural organisation Darna, which recruited ten striking Tangier residents willing to adopt the Moroccan artists into their homes for two days and one night. The artists were suggested by local artistic partner Spectacles pour tous and Myriam herself. How did Myriam find these partners and what role do they play in Moroccan society? Myriam: “I have been building our network in Morocco’s cultural field for years and I wanted to do the same in my hometown of Tangier. Hamza Boulaiz, artistic director of Spectacle pour tous, brings site-specific theater to remote villages by bus. Darna has been around for more than 20 years and I have known founder Mounira Bouzid El Alami since I was a kid. I have great respect for the way Darna harnesses culture to help the city’s most vulnerable groups, such as street children, single women and migrants.”
Myriam: “Together with my artistic director, business partner and friend Adelheid, I made a research trip to Morocco in late 2021. It was a fantastic journey that paved the way for this adventure and gave me the strength I needed to mourn my father’s death in early 2021 and to begin to tap into the healing power of artistic creation in my city of Tangier. Now, finally, this idea would become reality. Knowing that success would hinge on good preparations and tapping into the network I have managed to curate in recent years, we wanted to visit our companion organisations ourselves. We are also incredibly grateful to the Dutch Embassy in Rabat for supporting our venture at an early stage.”
Both directors of our local companions also participated in the workshop as actors:
Abdelghani Bouzian, artist and director of Darna and Hamza Boulaiz, artistic director of Spectacle pour tous. Myriam: “This gave them first-hand insight into the entire process and a taste of our unique adoption method.”