New History of ‘Theater Beirut’ Says Obstacles to Art are Censorship, Taxes

As long as we at ArabLit are on the topic of censorship today, Lebanon’s Daily Star has a piece about Hanan Hajj Ali’s new book, Theater of Beirut, a history of one of Beirut’s oldest and most central theaters.

The book tackles censorship and the stage, and begins by talking about the 1969 staging of “Majdaloun,” which was apparently the first play to bring armed fedayeen on stage.

The Daily Star notes:

A unit from the Internal Security Forces broke into the theater part way through to put a stop to the show. When the actors decided to continue the performance, the police dragged them off stage.

The actors, accompanied by some of the public, took the play outside and performed it in front of an even more diverse audience at Hamra’s then-notorious Horseshoe café, nowadays the site of Costa Coffee.

Hajj Ali describes censorship and taxes to be among the main obstacles to Lebanese theater. She tells the Daily Star that, nowadays, the censor has gained more authority in Lebanon, assisted by religious authorities and political groups.

“If we can’t tackle sex, religion and politics,” she asked the paper, “then what do we talk about?”

But my favorite Hajj Ali quote from the article has nothing to do with theater:

“I find the official tale of Lebanon being a rising phoenix nauseating.”