He reproduces his own plays to find out if they have a shelf life or whether they still have something to say albeit with a fresh look.
Mohammad Yaghoubi is a playwright for middle classes; a dedicated writer whose characters reveal themselves through tensions, contradictions, and socio-cultural elaborations. His real life experiences have forced him to depict the reality on stage, hands-on and inversely of course.
After 11 years, reproduction of "The only Way Possible" is his latest assignment that’s on stage at the Sayeh Hall of City Theater – in collaboration with student thespians. It’s the story of a failed playwright named Mehran Soufi. It’s perhaps also about the historical failure of playwriting itself. To delve more into that, here is a short interview with the playwright himself:
Why did you select this particular play for reproduction? It’s not that mainstream after all.
Until two years ago, there weren’t many private theater halls in Tehran. So I had to go for just one play at a time. You couldn’t possibly be on the stage for more than a year. Other directors would habitually complain. I’m surprised to see there are so many new private halls in the capital now, where there is enough room for everyone to perform all at the same time. There were many directors who wanted to perform more than once a year. This is what I had proposed years ago, and here we have it finally.
Why do you think this was the right idea?
-It’s ridiculous not to be able to perform more than once a year. We could only have professional theater in the country if directors and actors are not doing anything else other than theater to make ends meet. That’s the only way to encourage them to dedicate their lives to theater. It’s hard to see playwrights perform just once a year while there are others who can perform more than once. It takes less than three months to get a play up and running. Now it is possible to dedicate our time only to theater and do it from heart and resourcefully.
You can now go and talk to the manager of any private hall and start working immediately. No more excuses for not having enough time or place to perform. In the prevailing environment, it’s much easier to reproduce your previous works. I have two plays on stage simultaneously, "Moon on Water" and "The Only Way Possible."
Why did you choose student actors for this play?
The play has many characters and it makes sense to use students. It’s like a workshop for them.
Your play is rather unusual. You could have used more familiar names instead.
It’s hard to get professional performers these days. My students are enthusiastic and full of energy. I’ve been teaching theater for the past 8 years. It’s a great opportunity to work with my own students. It’s all about theory, practice and experience in real time. Students need to have hands-on experience with the craft. That’s why I decided to share this great opportunity with them.
Unlike previously, I’m now more experimental too. I have more freedom with them and can ask different things from them to do. No doubt it would have been much more difficult to convince professional actors to do the same thing. The production has an unusual manuscript and could be performed inversely and profoundly. My actors have nothing to lose so they take the risk and do as they are told. They don’t play clichéd characters. Three actors play the same character simultaneously, which is new and untried even for me.
Why did you decide to have three actors play the same character?
The idea is to show different possibilities and prospects in just one position and for one character. I think theater is a long shot, allowing audiences to watch a performance from different angles and in various forms. They are free to watch the play from any angle they want. So when you have two stage designs and two different narratives in one scene or three actors for just one character, you have done your job correctly.
The play has a quick rhythm. You could have used lighting and other techniques to emphasize this aspect of the play.
It’s part of the workshop as well. We never thought of using special lighting techniques. We have to perform instantaneously with another theater group. This forced me to speed up the rhythm instead.
Tell us more about the workshop.
When I decided to arrange the workshop, I wanted to make sure it would be with "The Only Way Possible." It was a ten-day workshop and my students had to memorize everything on the 8th day. They did so and I felt obliged to spend more time with them in training. They practiced for three months and in the final month it was for eight hours a day. Even now that we are on stage we still practice for two hours each day. The reason is simple. They change, their characters change, and this makes their performances even more profound and captivating for live audiences.
Did you change the script?
I added a new episode to the one I wrote back in 2004. I also made some changes in the details of the original script.
Why do you think this particular play could be interesting in our time?
With each reproduction I test myself and my script to the limit. It’s more like a radical and self-inflicted wound. I did the same thing with "Winter 66" to find out whether my work had a shelf life. I treated it as if it had never been on stage before. I don’t like to philosophize things or claim that I reproduced "The Only Way Possible" for some socio-political purposes. I would have never worked on it if I had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t suitable for the present time.
Why did you choose a failed playwright as the main protagonist?
Being a failure makes you look real and believable. Some audiences keep asking me whether this is the story of a real life character. They think he is real and they just don’t know him yet. In previous performances, I used my own childhood pictures to give the impression that the main character of the play was real. Even the most cynic audiences bought it.
You are reproducing your previous works. Does this discourage you from writing new ones?
To be honest, I don’t have time to write any new play. I don’t just reproduce; I also re-write and direct my works. People change and I like to change the characters of my plays, but only if I direct them as well. The re-play of my previous works provides an opportunity for me to also change. It’s a privilege, and it’s what makes theater a great medium. You couldn’t possibly do the same thing with a movie.
Migration among middle classes is a trend. Somehow, you are also considered a playwright for middle classes. This is an important socio-political issue in our country, as it will have serious consequences in the near future. You left the country too. Have you written anything about migration or your experiences of living abroad?
I’m a writer who is also influenced by his surrounding environment. Migration is an important subject for me to write about. I left the country in 2014 and since then have written many short notes about it. However, my audiences are here and as long as I’m able to return to my own country, I will rewrite and reproduce my previous works – using new ideas of course.
Because of the new technology, you are no longer cut off from your country the moment you decide to leave. Migration does in no way create a wedge between an artist and his target audiences. It is no longer a political gesture either. Many of those who left the country in the 1980s were considered to be political. Migration for me is an opportunity to become self-exiled. I like the solitude of the new place I’m living. I couldn’t possibly experience the same sort of solitude over here. It gives me hope to write. What I see and experience there turns into something meaningful and thought-provoking here.
Translation by Bobby Naderi