Improv

"Razan Naeem Al-Maghrabi"

Every now and then, we flip through photo albums to jog our memories, armed with the courage to come to terms with the time that has passed since the moment the photo was taken. We can't deny that an image has a force of its own, capable of flinging us back to a happy moment in a flash. More concise than a story, a photograph can be a rather reliable storyteller. 

The itch to free my memory led me to a folder I picked up on one of those forced quarantine nights, titled "Trip to Shahat." The folder was stuffed with photographs that told the story of the three days we spent between Benghazi, Sousse, and Shahat, on the occasion of a poetry reading for writers from Tunisia and Libya. The trip also included a tour of Jabal Al Akhdar. 

I was one of the organizers, along with the journalist Zainab Shaheen and the poet Ahleel Al-Bejo. As a group of writers and journalists, we traveled from Tripoli to Benghazi with our Tunisian guests. The morning after the reading, we headed on that trip, wandering among the monuments and stunning nature, until we arrived at the ancient city of Cyrene. 

I remember climbing the small steps behind the proscenium. I realized that these stairs, concealed behind the stage, had once led the actors through a small passageway to the theater. At that moment, I turned towards my friend and theater practitioner Mansour Bouchnaf. Hoping to appeal to his theater spirit, I suggested that we put on an improv show. He nodded his head in agreement–and I naively believed he was serious–but then he burst out laughing, amused by the task he was about to thrust on me. 

I stood up on stage and took off my sandals–I don't remember why exactly–and announced that we would be putting on a play. I hadn’t even finished my sentence when the writer and director Ali Al-Fallah and the poet Mohamed Al-Donqoli came up too. The poet Jaber Nour also joined us, and we started collectively devising an improvised scenario. Some of our children were on the trip too, and two of them–my daughter and Shahd, the daughter of my friends Jaber and Zainab–insisted on joining us. 

Eventually, it was time for me to take the stage. Everyone took their seats and waited, including Mansour Bouchnaf, who was applauding us, and laughing. 

In our play, we performed roles laid out for us by the director, Ali Al-Fallah. We would make mistakes and then re-enact the scene, and the director relentlessly interrupted us. I was the heroine, and Al-Dongoli and Jaber Nour were fighting for my attention. But at some point, I couldn't control myself and I laughed, as our audience screamed and cheered, then urged us to keep improvising.

 

I honestly don't remember how the play ended, but the photographs are lasting witnesses to the execution of a spontaneous idea by a group of creative professionals from my country.

Born in Damascus, she is a writer and novelist. She worked in journalism, and her articles have been published in many Arab journals, newspapers, and magazines. Her novel “Women of the Wind” was nominated for the Arab Booker Prize and has been translated into Italian and Dutch.

Razan Naeem Al-Maghrabi
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