Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Semantics (Lebanon)

Every day I’m reminded how tiny and interconnected Beirut is. Sabine just happens to know both of the guys whose CVs fit the bill, so she calls them over to her flat, saving me the taxi rides to and from some arbitrary café. Sabouny has a huge workshop space that takes up half of the apartment, which we’ll use to rehearse…if I let her continue to play secretary, I muse, I’ll never leave this flat again.

I meet Charbel first, and am immediately comforted by his attraction to specificity, to details. He adds some of his own questions to the more philosophical ones that Assaad and I drew up last week: “We want to ask what daily life was like. What did they eat, and how? During the war, everyone ate tuna in cans…” He mimes pulling the lid off of a tuna tin, his shoulders automatically hunching, giving a sense of how precious this small imaginary feast would have been.

Later that evening Mike comes by. His credentials are perfect for facilitating rehearsals—he’s on track to do a PHD in expressive arts therapy and social engagement, which is basically shorthand for guiding non-artists through processing things creatively, and applying the creative product to a larger social context. Now I’ve never considered our process—-or any creative process—-therapeutic for its own sake; obviously by creating we are growing and changing as people, no doubt, but something about centralizing that process as a main objective makes me pull back, and always has. So I harp on the “social engagement” aspect and Mike agrees that, yes, we are working as a team to bring a product to Lebanese High School students; we are not doing this primarily so that we “grow as people and process the war.” I know I am being a bit pedantic to insist on this, but for some reason the point of focus is critical. We are a collaborative team, working together towards a goal that is external to us. All of the other stuff (our own personal journeys yada yada) will happen, but somehow I think it will happen most effectively if we keep our own focus on the audience; as will (obviously) the actual social change. Once Mike has nodded agreement enough times for me to feel safe that we’re on the same page, we’re freed up to start speaking practically. We talk about different writing and mime exercises to generate movement sequences and text. I realize that share an enormous repertoire of identical techniques that are just named differently. What I call “introducing a random provocation,” he calls “de-centering”; what I call “warming up” he calls “engaging the body”; and (I realize, as the conversation goes on), what he calls “expressive arts therapy,” I call “devising.” We’re good to go.

I posted the call for one artist, and now I’m in a bind. Charbel is a writer, and from the hour I spent with him, I really trust his ability to probe, listen, and craft. Mike is going to be stellar at steering a process that generates the most and best material with the ex-fighters. Product and process. An impossible choice--you need both. I call and ask how they’d feel about splitting the stipend for expenses. They’re both fine with it, and we have a dream team.

The next day I’m digesting my feelings about “art therapy” with Sabine. She says she gets where I’m coming from. “Everything is therapy. The question is, what kind of work do you need to do right now? Work on yourself, or work outside of yourself?” Both, in a way, will accomplish both. But having a clear point of focus can keep us from getting lost. I know I’m the kind of person who gets muddled and confused if I get too insular. I can feel it happening even now, as the narrowing of focus on this project has taken me out of offices and cafes and glued me to the internet liaising with banks and funders. I’ve been at my computer for days now and am getting a bit stir-crazy. I gotta get out of this apartment.