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No bullshit refugee media stories

INTERVIEW! The Schaubühne’s annual F.I.N.D. Festival is coming up (Apr 7-17). Anis Hamdoun presents his autobiographical play "The Trip", which tells the stories of the friends he has lost in the Syrian conflict on April 8 (with English surtitles).

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Photo by Maik Reishau

For the Schaubühne’s F.I.N.D. Festival, Anis Hamdoun presents his autobiographical play The Trip, which tells the stories of the friends he has lost in the Syrian conflict.

To call Hamdoun “driven” is an understatement. The writer-director came to Osnabrück from Homs, Syria, only two years ago, but he’s already a rising star in the German theatre world. The Trip hits the Schaubühne with English surtitles at 6pm and 8pm on April 8. 

How do you get from arriving in Berlin two years ago to the Schaubühne?

I believed in myself. I have been doing theatre since I was like 10 or 12. So let’s say I had a special education in theatre. My grandfather is really big competition: he’s really famous in the Arab theatre world. He was my mentor. 

Have you ever not wanted to be a theatre director?

I studied chemistry in Syria; I have a four-year diploma. I think the connection between chemistry and theatre was easy for me to figure out: chemistry is all about logic, and theatre – plots, conflicts – is also for me a kind of mathematical equation. So chemistry really helped me to understand the core of theatre: building a conflict and solving it, exactly like a chemical equation.

How did The Trip come to be?

It was originally going to be a film. When I had an internship at the state theatre, I got a meeting with the intendant and we sat for like half an hour. He said, “Tell me about yourself, you have an interesting story, you were a revolutionary in Syria, you lost your eye because of a rocket, you lost your friends, your country, and now you’re in Germany.” He was interested in me as a person.

Is it painful for you to keep seeing people you’ve lost onstage as this play continues to tour?

All the experiences that I had – from being a child in Syria, then a theatre maker, then a revolutionary, trying to achieve freedom in a civil country – should be seen. And these people that I knew, that I know, because they’ll always be in my memory, should be seen. But, yeah, the first two months it was really hard to see Osama on stage, a really good friend of mine who is dead. Or Mazhar, a friend who was killed next to me when he was shot with a rocket. He died, I survived. Yes, the first two months I always cried.

Why do you think these stories need to be seen?

Because of social media and other media in general, which is so carefully politically directed by the Syrian government, and not describing daily life in Syria, the painful struggle. We lost one million Syrians. Five hundred thousand people are in Assad’s prisons. We don’t know if they are alive or not, we don’t know if they will be released or not. We only know that they are suffering an enormous amount of torture every day until they die. And these facts should be put on stage in an artistic, theatrical way.

So what’s next?

My production team is planning a docu-fiction film called Newcomers, which is actually the term that Hannah Arendt used in her diary about refugees. She said, “I would prefer to be called a newcomer than a refugee in America.” Germany has taken refugees in and Germany has sent refugees around the world. The same country, two stories. So the contemporary protagonists will be refugees, Syrian, Arghanistani, Somali. They’ll tell their stories. Not bullshit media stories. And on the other side, parallel, we’ll hear Brecht, Arendt, Erich Maria Remarque. These famous German people had such a similar experience.

What do you mean by “bullshit media stories”?

We’re not like we’re painted, like “the poor people.” No. Me, at least: I have a certificate from Cambridge to teach English. I come from an international family. I will fight to be the best of the best in Germany. I mean, a 16-year-old kid who came from Egypt on a boat to Germany, nine days in the sea with no food – this is my cousin, by the way, who now lives in Holland and will study medicine – this kid has more life experience than a 50-year-old man who hasn’t seen the war. This cousin of mine has more intelligence and more power than half the population. 

F.I.N.D. FESTIVAL Apr 7-17