An interview with Fadi Skeiker
The play I want a country is one of the most frequently performed Greek plays in recent years abroad. How did you discover it?
I want a country was recommended to me by the dean of the college of theatre at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia; her name is Kym Moore. Kym asked me to read the play and if I would be interested in directing it. I read the play in one hour and I knew I wanted to direct it. The play was very appealing for me because it does not have character assignments, and I felt that the play is giving the director agency to be creative in their artistic choices. In addition, I was attracted directly to the title which makes a strong statement about the need to want a country, a community, and a place to belong.
Has the play been published in America?
The play was translated by Eleni Drivas. I am not sure if it was published, as the play was handed to me in a pdf file in what it looks like a production script.
Did you discuss the issues of the play with the author Andreas Flourakis? How was the collaboration between the author and the director?
Andreas was very gracious to talk with me on several occasions about the play, and he gave me permission to adapt the play to make it about the Syrian refugee crisis. In order to do that I had to delete the direct references to Greece and to add couple of monologues about the Syrian crisis so that the context of the play became about Syrians trying to find home. Andreas is very democratic author. I felt that he gave me a gift, the gift was the script, and he allowed me to use it as I wanted as a director. His writing is very flexible and poetic at the same time. One line in the play can be interpreted in different ways which gives the director and the performer the creative freedom to pick their own interpretation.
Do you believe that a play written in 2012 can be made relevant to the USA today?
Absolutely, the play resonates to American politics these days because there are lots of questions these days in the US about what kind of country that we want, what kind of community we need, especially in the post-Trump era. The past American election created lots of controversy and many people started to question if this country is the country that they wanted to stay in or if they wanted to leave. I totally believe that the play is timeless and it can be applied to any society in anytime. There are very few local references to Greece, and if they are removed, the play can fly over time and place and tell the story of a collective of people who are trying to find a community, a home, a country.
The location, part of the play, in a boat full of refugees arriving in Greece is impressive. Where did your inspiration come from? Was it technically easy to do?
Even though the play is written about a group of Greeks who are looking for a new country, the fact that I am originally Syrian and a member for the Syrian War diaspora community, I immediately thought of Greece itself as a refuge. Arriving to Greece is something that many Syrians are thinking about to reach safety and to start a new life. Despite all the controversy surrounding refugees, Greeks have been generally on the forefront in helping refugees and being hospitable and understanding for the refugees' plight. Beyond that, I have been doing applied theatre and drama therapy with and for Syrian refugees for the past 7 years. I have led workshops and programs with Syrian refugees in Jordan, Germany, Portugal, and here in the USA. Most of the Syrian refugees I have worked with were refugees who took the death boats that sail from Turkey to Greece. The stories that I have heard have haunted me and stayed with me for the longest time. When I read I Want a A Country and when Andreas graciously allowed me to adapt it, I decided to use this image in the play where the audience and the actors are both on stage on a boat, a death boat that is taking refugees from Turkey to Greece. I collaborated with a projection designer, Alan Price, who is the chair of the immersive media centre at the University of the Arts, to create a projection mapping immersive experience using three projectors and multiple screens on stage to create an effect that echoes the real life experience.
Can you explain the big puppet scene at the end of the play?
I added a small story line where there is an actress with a small puppet trying to put him to sleep. Whenever she is trying to put him to sleep, she will tell him not to worry and not to cry because if the boat sinks superman will come and rescue the boat. In the last scene, the boat sinks and the small puppet in her hand will be transformed into a huge puppet. So, the big puppet in the last scene actually represents child that the performer was carrying during the performance. The growth of the puppet symbolizes the hope of children and placing our hope in children. In the end, the refugees all follow the puppet/child off stage because that is where their own aspirations lie, in the next generation.
Do you think that theater can change the way Americans see the world today?
Yes, all the actors in the play were Americans, and all the discussions during rehearsals were about what it means to want a country, and what kind of community they want to have, these discussions will be carried through their lives to their friends and families, and will eventually create a change in the way we perceive our countries and our communities. A lot of my work has also been built on the idea that theatre can create a line of communication between community groups. I think this type of theatre has a lot of potential to heal wounds between immigrants and generational residents in American communities.
Covid-19 was catalyst for theater worldwide. How was your experience of a performance pre-arranged, played and attended with protective masks?
We had to wear masks and to restrict the number of audience members obviously. Putting the masks on all the time meant that actors were not working on facial expressions, and they had to carry their emotions through their voice and movements.
What was the response of the audience to the play I Want a Country?
Audience loved the performance. The immersive aspect of it allowed them to be interactive by moving from one scene to the other and creating connection between them and the monologues of the actors.
Did you find the country you wanted in America?
I have moved to many countries in my life. I was born in Syria and have lived in the USA, Jordan, Germany, and Portugal. When I move from one place to the other I am less concerned about the country itself and more interested in finding a community that will support my art and allow me to be an active community member. Everytime I move, I move because there is an opportunity for me to either teach or create art. I have been living in the USA for about 5 years, I teach theatre at the university, I do art, and I have a family. I feel connected to the small communities I work with, and less connected to the general country.
Have you considered bringing the performance to Greece?
Bringing the play to Greece will require lots of funding because I have 20 performers, and many other people who are working on the technical elements. The production as of now is not easy to travel with, but maybe this is something to consider when directing another play by Andreas. I feel that I click with the writing of Andreas, and I am looking forward to reading more of his plays and hopefully collaborating with him on another project with the intention to travel the performance between the USA and Greece.
I Want A Country by Andreas Flourakis
Translated by Eleni Drivas
Directed by Fadi Skeiker
FADI SKEIKER Director
TEAYRA BOWDEN Assistant Director
PIPER LOEBACH Assistant Director
ERICA SHOLES Stage Manager
RYAN LOUIS Dramaturg
LINDSEY SILVER Object and Set Design
CASSIE ALLEN Costume Design
DAMIEN FIGUERAS Sound Design
J. DOMINIC CHACON Lighting Design
ALAN PRICE Projection Designer
* The interview is not edited. Is the disucssion between the Director and the dramaturg Katerina Dimitrakopoulou