LAU’s Beirut campus was recently transformed into a stage for the 17th edition of the International University Theater Festival. Organized by the Communication Arts Department, the annual event brought together students from Jordan, Turkey, Kuwait, Syria, the Czech Republic and Lebanon, all united by their passion for performing arts.
The opening night featured LAU student production CUT and a concert by the renowned Ziad Rahbani, accompanied by LAU professors Martin Loyato and Lina Khoury as well as student Jawad Mawla and Hiba Ibrahim, a former LAU student now working in Rahbani’s musical troupe.
The widely acclaimed festival is first and foremost an occasion for students to present their work, connect and learn from each other. “Some of them had never travelled abroad before,” says Fareah al-Saqqaf, founder and chairperson of the Loyac Academy of Performing Arts in Kuwait. “For young people who are in that difficult phase of discovering themselves, this opportunity will boost their self-confidence and encourage their career.”
Hamzeh Mahadin — an aspiring actor who took part in a performance of the play Berzek presented by the University of Jordan — also values the experience as a milestone in his professional and private life. “My parents don’t like that I’m studying theater,” he says. “But when they heard that I would be coming to Lebanon to perform, I felt they were proud of me for the first time.”
LAU students worked together with an organizing committee to select the international performers and were also responsible for every technical and organizational aspect of the event.
“I wanted to introduce a controversial element into the festival,” says student Line Itani, who brought the Syrian band Assa3aleek to the LAU stage. “They’ve got talent, and with all that is going on in the country, I felt people should know about them.”
The festival invariably brings alumni back to the campus. Aya Nabulsi, who founded her own company Forth Wall, took time off her job to help with the event’s organization.
“During my student years, this was a kind of ritual,” she says. “It taught me everything I know about production management and every year I come back to enrich my knowledge and plunge back into its atmosphere.”
This year LAU students presented seven performances, including theatre plays and concerts. Among them, 368 Friends narrated the story of a young man — played by Mohammad Yassine –—who goes through the emotional turmoil of discovering that out of 368 virtual friends, he had no real ones.
“The most difficult part in theater is relating to the audience,” says Yassine. “This play not only presents a very modern topic, but it was also performed in a space where there is no barrier between me and the public.” he adds.
Every day of the festival, international and local performers reunited in the campus garden to discuss the performances with professionals from the industry, an appointment named The 5 O’Clock Chatroom.
The festival also hosted a showcase of the workshop Other Humans by Dalia Yasine, and the installation Placeless by Nadia Asfour. Poetry sessions featuring verses composed by LAU student Oussama Berch also contributed to the exhilarating atmosphere.
“I was very satisfied with how the festival went this year,” says Mona Knio, LAU associate professor of theater in the Department of Communication Arts and member of the organizing committee.
“All the students worked very well and in harmony with one another. Participants commented on how well trained our students were and the dedication they showed in organizing the event. They have indeed made me very proud.”