Shakespeare returns to Kabul

Here and Now

This story was originally covered by PRI’s Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

In 2005, Shakespeare was staged in Afghanistan for the first time in 26 years. “Love’s Labour’s Lost” was performed in Farsi-ye Dari, one of the two official languages of Afghanistan, and the production was the brainchild of actress and director Corrine Jaber. The French actress sat down with PRI’s Here and Now to discuss the performance and to talk about the Afghan actors’ plans for 2012.

Producing a Shakespeare play in Kabul happened by chance. “I just was in Afghanistan to visit somebody,” says Jaber. “And when I was there, since I am an actress, I asked if I could meet some Afghan actors, and I asked them if they wanted to come and improvise and share and exchange and talk, and so the next day 20 kind of bearded men arrived.”

After a week of improvisation with the actors, Jaber brought out a passage from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” The read was so strong that she was convinced they should produce a full play, and the Afghan actors’ enthusiasm was clear.They told Jaber that if she came back to produce a Shakespeare play, “they would defy the whole country.” It would be “radical and new.”

Selecting the right play to produce was a challenge. In the war-torn region, the actors were interested in performing only comedies. Jaber knew she needed a play that didn’t depend on what she calls the “saucy” scenes — “This was impossible to do in Afghanistan. That was clear from the beginning. So, I needed a play where I could cut that out, and still keep the structure of the play.” Jaber was also looking for a play that gave equal time to men and women.

“Love’s Labour’s Lost” fulfilled her criteria, and its celebration of women made it stand out for Jaber. “My interpretation of the play is that it’s a hymn to women, and I thought that was important to do that in Afghanistan.” Jaber continues, “I think this is really important — that in a country where very often you don’t see much more of a woman than the woman’s eyes, if you see the woman’s eyes and she’s not in a chadri — to say, in a public space, that all knowledge comes from a woman and her woman’s eyes.”

2012 will be the 400-year anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, and the Globe Theater in London will be hosting a Shakespeare marathon. The venue will host troops performing all 38 plays, each in a different language. Jaber and the Afghan actors will be there to perform “The Comedy of Errors.”


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