It all started in Beirut
At the end of May 2019, I spent a few days in Beirut and thanks to Carol Mezher, I was able to connect with many stakeholders of the Lebanese cultural life and introduce the concept of the 99 project. I first met Muriel Aboulrouss in a cafe tucked away in the calm alleys of Mar Mikhayel; Muriel is an award-winning filmmaker and co-producer with Denise Jabbour of the Zyara documentary series. Zyra means “visit” in Arabic and each episode provides a delicate portrait of an ordinary Lebanese hero. The purpose of Muriel & Denise’s association Home of Cine-Jam is to inspire social and emotional healing of the interviewees and the public as well. We discussed a couple of hours and I felt that their sensitive and humanitarian approach has a lot in common with the 99 project which combines individual storytelling and collective sharing to trigger cultural transformation.
I had later an after-work conversation with Michelle and Noel Keserwany at the grand Mesmosh Hotel. Michelle and Noel are young yet famous writers and performers who create ironic songs and witty performances to raise people’s awareness on social issues. I particularly sympathized with their sense of humour and their great talent with words.
In the next days, I spent a couple of hours in Mechref Damour near Beirut with Sr Nathalie, a dynamic theatre teacher at Carmel Saint Joseph and her students. The Carmel Saint Joseph is a school directed by Sr Mariam an-Nour that encourages interreligious dialogue.
I had also a meeting with Bénédicte Vigner, cultural attaché of the French Institute of Lebanon, a late afternoon tea with Carol Mezher, director of Films Femmes Francophones Méditerranée, a light dinner with Mike Ayvazian, actor and theater teacher, a late breakfast with Chadi Zein, choreographer and director of Life Workshops, and finally a quick call with Aurelien Zouki, co-art director of the Hammana Artist House, an art residency dedicated to performing arts
I came back to France, a bit exhausted but full of enthusiasm, emotions and ideas and eager to adapt the design of 99 project to the specific context of Lebanon : a small country which concentrates religious conflict, refugee’s crisis and uncertain economic conditions but animated by an intense, multi-talented and appealing group of people.
From the real life heroes of Zyara web series to 99 characters on stage
After a moment of day-dreaming, the design of the project came to my mind. The vibrant portraits of men and women from the award winning web series “Zyara” will provide the inspiration of the future play; a collaborative platform will be open to write short monologues in French, Arabic and English after watching the real life heroes of Zyara episodes. The writing workshops will involve teenagers from Carmel Saint Joseph and adults from Oct 2019 to March 2020. Later, the new play will be composed and staged in collaboration with local creative team and participants to be presented to the public in Lebanon by the end of 2020.
Now let’s watch movies, get inspired and write!
The first phase of the project started in October 2019 with a first screening of selected episodes of the Zyara series introduced by Muriel Aboulrouss and Denise Jabbour to hundreds of students at Carmel Saint Joseph, from 11 to 17 years old. Emotion was palpable and a few students moved by the episodes shared in turn their own stories, said Sr Nathalie.
With the support of their professors, young writers’ mission is now to let emerge the voices of future theatre characters. It is a subtle and interactive game of interpretation where the writer’s sensitivity meets the uniqueness of the interviewees through the subjectivity of their stories. The distance and closeness that writing creates is important to notice. Every story of the Zyara series is alive, it bounces back, expands and evolves. This movement is the originality of the 99 project. Writers will try to give a new life to the stories that interviewees shared with them.