Movie actors on stage: Is this the problem?

TEHRAN, Sept. 3 (MNA) -- Like some theater scholars and artists, you may also consider the above question as part of an old-fashioned ineffective debate lacking in logic, a kind of issue that only highlights the separation of cinema and theater into two separate art forms despite their having strong affinities.

The fact is that this question does not deal with actors but attempts to examine the reasons leading to such dominant appearance of movie stars when they appear on Tehran stages.

Theater as a living art, although obsolete as a cultural institution in Iran, challenges the ability of performers live on stage. Despite financial problems, strict controls and limited facilities, artists in Iran struggle to preserve theater as a lofty art form. Under these conditions, the presence of movie actors on stage whose names only embellish brochures and billboards are considered as artistic misfits.

The appropriate selection of talented actors who happen to star on stage as well as on the silver screen make many performances exceptional, like the star-studded plays “Fans” by Mohammad Rahmanian (2005) or “Rhinoceros” by Farhad Aiish (2009). But what if the play features an actor solely as a box-office draw? Such apprehension exists among many theatergoers as well as directors who still feel theater should be a self-sufficient art.

The motto for six recent editions of the Fajr International Theater Festival, the most prestigious event in dramatic arts in Iran, was “Theater for All”. Officials aimed to introduce people to this art form which is commendable. For those unacquainted with names of theatrical performers, using familiar movie stars in stage productions can be considered as a motivation which attracts people to watch a play, and thus really make “Theater for All”! This is what many stage directors have alleged as a basis for using cinematic figures in their theaters.

Davud Rashidi, whose play “Minus Two” is still on stage at the Tehran’s City Theater, told the Persian service of MNA that those actors “should not be considered as box office draws… stage actors and movie actors are not isolated from one another and can exchange their experiences”. However his play, with its long list of movie actors and actress cast in cameo roles, makes his production into one of those recent plays which confirms apprehensions of theatrical scholars.

Veteran stage director Hadi Marzban, known mainly for directing Akbar Radi’s plays, told Tehran Times that in his view, using actors inappropriately just as box office draws on stage is “a direct insult to the art of theater”. He said that theater does not need “outside” attractions.

Screen writer and playwright Alireza Naderi has another point of view. He told Tehran Times that “there is no prohibition for the appearance of movie actors on stage; what is important is the capability of the actor”. He called directors’ tendency to use movie actors a “transient” event in Iran that will not last long. “Today’s dramatic scripts do not express social problems concerning strict controls and this is one of the main reasons that theater does not attract people in Iran.”

“Powerful acting on stage is great but it has become a financial hurdle for smaller theater troupes just to obtain benefits. Movie stars performing in the theater leads to increased ticket prices that the middle class and students can not afford and gradually results in a kind of bourgeois theater,” celebrated stage director Qotbeddin Sadeqi explained to Tehran Times.

He went on to say that it is not the way to reach “theater for all”. The motto can be actualized through high-quality productions, affordable tickets and conveniently located theaters, but not with “counterfeit audiences”. He added that such an approach is rooted in the decision by the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance which encourages stage directors to sign box office contracts to cover expenses over the past few months.

Scholars and stage artists have different ideas about the appearance of movie stars on stage which originates from their different views about the essence of the art and the current social status in Iran. Neither is there a consensus among theatergoers on this issue.

What is crystal clear is that theater marquees with the flashy names of well-known movie stars can draw people into theaters, but is this a long term remedy for reversing theatrical decline? What happens when theatergoers are dissatisfied by a weak performance? Will there always be another chance to convince them that this won’t be repeated?

With few theaters (most of them located in central Tehran) and the increasing establishment of private halls which cover their expenses from ticket sales, is attracting people into theaters considered a priority? Are packed theater halls regarded as a sign of theater’s popularity in Iran?

Iranians have known success in establishing theater in the hearts and minds of people through traditional performances. Theatrical performances with their great potential to transmit concepts connect with audiences and speak of people’s problems in their own language. May be this is what all need is a professional look at our heritage and collective experiences of dramatic performances.

SB/YAW
END
MNA

News Code 41671

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