Istijmam

Gritty, intimate theater confronts the destiny of today's Algeria                   

Istijmam, a collaborative of theater makers, moves outward from the manifestos of Brecht and Grotowski to repopulate the halga, Algeria's town square, and renew populist traditions of improvisation and physical interaction. Et'teffeh/Apples, foregrounds the repression and sectarian schisms that consumed Algeria during the Dark Decade of the 1990s. The play is performed by a trio led by Rihab Alloula and written by her father, theater director and playwright Abdelkader Alloula, who was assassinated in 1994. Remounted here, this gritty, intimate production, full of dark humor and barbed observation, bears witness to Algeria's shadowed past and confronts the complex destiny of the present day. 

u.s. debut with center stage

ON TOUR September 2-October 2

Tour overview

Washington, DC - September 2-6

  • Istijmam begins their Center Stage tour in Washington, DC. In addition to sight-seeing and a welcome from the State Department, they’ll perform at the Kennedy Center on Monday, September 5th as part of the 2016 Page-to-Stage New Play Festival. Their performance of Et'teffeh/Apples, foregrounds the repression and sectarian schisms that consumed Algeria during the Dark Decade of the 1990s. Remounted for their U.S. debut, this gritty, intimate production, full of dark humor and barbed observation, bears witness to Algeria's shadowed past and confronts the complex destiny of the present day. The free performance will be webcast live and available for streaming on demand from the Kennedy Center website. Information here

Bloomington, IN - September 7-10

hartford, CT - September 12-14

  • During their first of several New England stops, Istijmam will meet with two other small ensemble theater companies: Portland, Oregon's Hand2Mouth Theatre and Hartford's HartBeat Ensemble. The groups will together visit students at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts.
  • Istijmam will participate in a panel discussion with HartBeat Ensemble on "Theatre in Times of Crisis" at the University of St. Joseph on September 13th.
  • On September 14th the group will spend the day at Yale University, meeting with students from the Sociology Department and the Yale School of Drama. A Masters Tea at Yale's Pierson College will take place at 4:00pm, led by Pierson College President and scholar Stephen Davis.

Durham, NH - September 16-18

Ashfield, MA - September 19-21

  • Double Edge Theatre will host Istijmam for two days and introduce the company to Double Edge's collaborative, site-specific project work with communities in Springfield, MA, and their Farm Center which serves as a space for trainings, rehearsals, performances, and community gatherings.

Denmark, ME - September 22-24

  • A two day residency in small town Maine with Denmark Arts Center will include in a 7:30pm performance on September 24th. Information here. They will also participate in artist-to-artist activities, such as a masterclass on September 25th for dancers in neighboring Portland, Maine. 

New York City, NY - September 26-October 2

  • Istijmam's Center Stage tour will culminate with four performances at New York's famed La Mama Theatre. For a list of performance dates and times, click here.

Program Notes and Bios

Istijmam, Et’teffeh/Apples

By
Abdelkader Alloula

Directed by
Jamil Benhamamouch 

Performed by
Rihab Alloula
Moussa Boukra
Mustapha Lakhdari

Stage Manager
Djalel Hadjel 

Producer
Istijmam Culturelle
Lila Tahar Amar, Administrator

Running time: 60 minutes (without intermission) 

Characters and Players (in order of appearance)
Restroom attendant …………………………… MUSTAPHA LAKHDARI
Customer…………………………………….…. RIHAB ALLOULA
Actor…………………………………...………... MOUSSA BOUKRA

Translation of Et’teffeh/Apples by Malik Bourbia and Nabil Taibi; reviewed and revised by Jane E. Goodman

PRODUCTION NOTE

A man has just engaged in an agonizing search for apples to satisfy his pregnant wife’s cravings. Apples are an imported luxury product in Algeria, expensive and hard to find. In this case, a local vendor had managed to obtain a basket of choice aromatic apples but refused to sell, contending that their value was higher as a display item because they brought prestige to the neighborhood. The inability to purchase an apple that ‘The Customer’ could see and smell right in front of him is only one of a number of frustrating situations that he has recently encountered. The factory where he worked for years has vanished overnight without warning. When he went to the authorities to find out what happened, he joined throngs of others who had long been seeking justice that never comes. At wits’ end, the man stumbles into a public restroom, asking the proprietor, ‘The Attendant,’ for permission to let everything out. He wants to scream, jump around, and literally release his frustration and his rage at the System, which makes daily life all but impossible. Meanwhile, a third character – ’The Actor’– happens into the same public restroom. Marginalized by the state-run theatrical institution he was working for, he seeks a space to rehearse and realizes that the restroom fits the bill: clean, calm, and with great acoustics. The actor “takes the stage” as he recites passages from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. In the end, the quest for freedom and democracy, catalyzed by apples, brings the characters together.

Playwright Abdelkader Alloula wrote Et’tefeh in 1992, in the aftermath of Algeria’s 1988 uprising, which toppled 30 years of single-party dictatorship but led to a decade of civil war that pitted Islamist insurgents against a military-backed regime. A secular democratic intellectual committed to political pluralism, Alloula was assassinated outside his home in Oran by Islamist terrorists in 1994. Alloula had previously served as director of both the Algerian National Theater and the Regional Theater of Oran. Alloula was the father of Rihab Alloula, one of the Istijmam actors, and an uncle to director Jamil Benhamamouch.

Jane E. Goodman
Associate Professor of Anthropology, Indiana University

ABOUT THE COMPANY

Based in Oran, Algeria, ISTIJMAM is an experimental theater collective founded in 2007 as a theatrical lab – to bring contemporary theatrical perspectives to bear on indigenous Algerian theatrical traditions. They are inspired by the pioneering work of Abdelkader Alloula, who creatively resurrected the popular halqa (circle) form of populist street theater as well as the tradition of the goual (a storyteller engaged in barbed social commentary).

“Theater in Algeria is in society, and society is in the theater,” says actress Rihab Alloula. This is no abstract statement for Istijmam, which stages its works in cinemas and courtyards, playgrounds and theaters. The aim: to renew traditions of improvisation and interaction after two decades of sectarian violence and authoritarian rule emptied and silenced them. Istijmam’s approach deeply considers Algeria’s indigenous theatrical roots, and the literary and cultural impacts of France’s 132-year colonial control of Algeria, the longest in North Africa’s Maghreb. “Theater in Algeria doesn’t have a lot of theory to support its traditions. We started working on classic texts by Grotowski, Stanislavski, Artaud, and Brook. We discovered alliances,” says director Jamil Benhamamouch.

“Traditionally, Algerian theater is interactive,” continues Benhamamouch. “It depends on the skill of the goual -- a storyteller, a narrator who shifts from role to role but doesn’t intend to ‘be’ a particular character.” In this way there are similarities to Brecht’s distanciation. “He can tell a full story without a set or costumes. He makes a personal connection, works on the imagination, without props. His goal is for the spectators to imagine the story, not watch it. Abdelkader Alloula said: ‘I give the ear to see and the eyes to hear.’ That’s our theater.”

Istijmam follows in the goual’s footsteps by keeping external trappings to a minimum. Instead, they sing, play instruments, and use dynamic gesture and movement to animate the text. This very physical and energetic approach elicits equal energy from their audiences, who often get directly involved in the performance. “The spectator participates in the story. He doesn’t watch it, he helps make it,” says Benhamamouch.

“It isn’t a final product,” explains Rihab Alloula. “When we come into contact with our audiences the production is different each time.” This lively back-and-forth shapes Istijmam’s work. “We are not unique,” she says. “But making theater is a choice. We have made this choice to work on our collective cultural heritage, our popular tradition. We are very inspired by this, and this is very intimate and personal, for all our members.”

The personal ties to the method and material bind Et’teffeh to Algeria’s struggle for independence and self-determination, the heavy price borne by its citizens, and the legacy that informs Algeria’s destiny today.

Alongside their theatrical productions, Istijmam hosts workshops on theatrical improvisation at home and abroad. They recently collaborated with the Office Franco-Allemand pour la Jeunesse (OFAJ) to produce YADRA, a play in French, German and Arabic. They also sponsor the biannual Rencontres Artistiques d’Abdelkader Alloula, bringing Algerian theater troupes together to workshop and produce Alloula’s plays.

WHO’S WHO

Playwright Abdelkader ALLOULA (1939–1994) was the author of 10 plays, and an actor in numerous plays and films. He wrote and staged El Alleg (The Leeches) 1969, El Khobza (Bread) 1970, Homk Salim (Craziness of Salim) 1972 (a monologue adapted from N. Gogol’s Diary of a Madman), Hammam Rabi (The God of Hammam )1975, El Agoual (The Sayings) 1980, El Ajouad (The Generous) 1985, El Lithem (The Veil) 1989, Qissas Nesin (The Nesin Stories) 1990, Et’teffeh (Apples) 1992, and Arlequin khadem essayidine (The Servant of Two Masters) 1993 (adapted from C. Goldoni). Alloula was one of the major theatre makers of his generation. He was assassinated on March 10, 1994 in Oran, Algeria.

Rihab Alloula  Actress since 2001. She has a M.A. degree in Translation Studies from the University of Oran. She is interested in the adaptation of universal theatrical works in Algerian vernacular languages. She is also singer in Goya, an experimental jazz group. She is the daughter of Abdelkader Alloula. 

Moussa Boukra  Actor since 2004. He has a M.A. degree in Dramatic Arts and Cinema from the University of Oran and has produced documentary films including  Kouchet El Djir and Temps de Pose. He now studies African music, in particular, the diwan traditions of North Africa.

Mustapha Lakhdari  (Performer) Actor since 2009. He has practiced dance and martial arts such as Kung Fu and Capoeira. He also works as a singer-percussionist in various Algerian musical groups.

Jamil Benhamamouch  Director since 2004. He specializes in the works of his uncle, Abdelkader Alloula. Animator of intercultural exchanges since 2013, he is currently interested in audiovisual techniques and also in sounds of traditional Algerian music.

Djalel Hadjel  Stage Manager of Istijmam since 2009. Animator of workshops and improvisational theater matches. He is interested in the oral tradition of the Algerian popular storytellers and their impact on contemporary theatrical expression.

Lila Tahar Amar  Administrator of Istijmam since 2009. She organizes tours for the company and develops national and international artistic partnerships. She has also studied Spanish language and literature.

ABOUT CENTER STAGE

Center Stage (www.centerstageUS.org) invites performing artists from select countries overseas to the United States to perform and conduct engagement activities.

Now in its third edition, five acclaimed contemporary music and theater ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania will travel to the U.S. between July and November, 2016; two bands from Pakistan will tour in the spring of 2017. Each group undertakes independent, month-long tours around the country to perform, interact, begin meaningful dialogues with Americans, and share these experiences with friends and fans at home. Center Stage artists perform and engage with audiences onstage and online providing positive and popular avenues of engagement to build mutual understanding through shared culture and values.

Each tour includes a range of community engagement activities, such as performances, workshops, discussions, artist-to-artist exchanges, and community gatherings. To date, 17 ensembles from Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and Vietnam have toured the United States, focusing on interactive engagements in diverse cities and towns across the country.

Keep up with Center Stage and find additional information at www.CenterStageUS.org, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/CenterStagePage), and Twitter (@CenterStageUS).

background

Reclaiming the halqa: Algeria’s Istijmam returns experimental theater to the public space in search of Apples

A displaced factory worker, an old trade unionist, and an actor serendipitously meet in a public toilet, brought together by a vain pursuit of a precious piece of fruit and the need for a clean, calm space to rehearse Julius Caesar. Embodied by Algerian-based experimental theater company Istijmam, these three characters form the core of Et’teffeh (Apples), a physically charged, satiric fable that captures the frustrations, absurdities, and uncertainties of everyday life.

Et’teffeh foregrounds the brutal repression and sectarian violence that consumed Algeria during the Dark Decade of the 1990s. The play is performed in an Anglo-Arab bilingual version of the script by a trio directed by Jamil Benhamamouch and written by seminal theater maker Abdelkader Alloula, who was assassinated outside his home in 1994. Set on a bare stage, this gritty, fierce, and intimate production is full of dark humor and barbed observation as it bears witness to Algeria’s shadowed past and confronts the complex destiny of the present day.

“Theater in Algeria is in society, and society is in the theater,” says actress Rihab Alloula, the playwright’s daughter. This is no abstract statement for Istijmam’s collective of theater makers who stage their works in cinemas and courtyards, playgrounds and theaters. The aim: to repopulate the halqa, Algeria’s town squares, and renew traditions of improvisation and interaction after two decades of sectarian violence and authoritarian rule emptied and silenced them.

Americans will have their first opportunity to experience this Algerian company’s work when Istijmam embarks on its debut tour of the U.S. in 2016 as part of Center StageSM, an exchange program of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts. From July-December 2016, Center Stage will bring five ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania to the U.S. for month-long tours. Residencies will include performances, workshops, discussions, people-to-people exchanges, and community gatherings. Keep up with Center Stage on Facebook and on Twitter and at www.centerstageUS.org.

Istijmam started in 2007 “as a research project we all wanted to undertake together,” Rihab Alloula explains. “It’s more of a lab -- for research, experimentation; the process.”

This experimental approach deeply considers Algeria’s indigenous theatrical roots, and the literary and cultural impacts of France’s 132-year colonial control of Algeria, the longest in North Africa’s Maghreb. “Theater in Algeria doesn’t have a lot of theory to support its traditions. We started working on classic texts by Grotowski, Stanislavski, Artaud. We discovered alliances.”

“Traditionally, Algerian theater is interactive,” says stage director Benhammouch. “It depends on the skill of the goual -- a storyteller, a narrator who shifts from role to role but doesn’t intend to ‘be’ a particular character.”  In this way there are similarities to Brecht’s distanciation. “He can tell a full story without a set or costumes. He makes a personal connection, works on the imagination, without props.” continues Benhamamouch. “His goal is for the spectators to imagine the story, not watch it. Abdelkader Alloula said: ‘I give the ear to see and the eyes to hear.’ That’s our theater.”

Istijmam follows in the goual’s footsteps by keeping external trappings to a minimum. Instead, they sing, play instruments, and use dynamic gesture and movement to animate the text. This very physical and energetic approach elicits equal energy from their audiences, who often get directly involved in the performance. “The spectator participates in the story. He doesn’t watch it, he helps make it,” says Benhamamouch. 

“It isn’t a final product,” explains Rihab Alloula. “When we come into contact with our audiences -- when we perform in a park, for example -- the production is different each time.” This lively back-and-forth shapes Istijmam’s work. “We are not unique,” she muses. “But making theater is a choice. We have made this choice to work on our acquired cultural heritage, our popular tradition. We are very inspired by this, and this is very intimate and personal, for all our members.”

The personal ties to the method and material add striking poignancy to Et’teffeh. It gives a strong sense of Algeria’s struggle for independence and self-determination, the heavy price borne by its citizens, and the legacy that informs Algeria’s destiny today. Yet even for audiences without this first-hand knowledge of the play’s context, the company’s committed intensity speaks, shining a light on what are universal human struggles, be they economic, political, or deeply personal.

“The English-speaking members of the audience will understand, even if there are Arabic texts,” notes Rihab Alloula. “The trick is to join the two. We don’t want to overwhelm them with words, but to transmit our culture, our story.”

Abdelkader Alloula (1939-1994) was the author of 10 plays, director of the Regional Theater of Oran from 1972-1976 and the National Theater of Algiers from 1976-1977, and an actor in numerous plays and films. His work has been performed throughout North Africa and Western Europe. The Istijmam company is anchored by two of Alloula’s descendants -- his daughter Rihab Alloula, and his nephew, Jamil Benhamamouch. Other members of the company traveling to the U.S. as part of Center Stage include actors Moussa Amine Boukraa and Mustapha Lakhdari, Stage Manager Djalal Hadjel and administrator Lila Tahar Amar.

About Center Stage

Center Stage (www.centerstageUS.org) invites performing artists from select countries overseas to the United States to perform and conduct engagement activities.

Now in its third edition, five acclaimed contemporary music and theater ensembles from Algeria and Tanzania will travel to the U.S. between July and November, 2016; two bands from Pakistan will tour in the spring of 2017. Each group undertakes independent, month-long tours around the country to perform, interact, begin meaningful dialogues with Americans, and share these experiences with friends and fans at home. Center Stage artists perform and engage with audiences onstage and online providing positive and popular avenues of engagement to build mutual understanding through shared culture and values.

Each tour includes a range of community engagement activities, such as performances, workshops, discussions, artist-to-artist exchanges, and community gatherings.  To date, 17 ensembles from Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan and Vietnam have toured the United States, focusing on interactive engagements in diverse cities and towns across the country.

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc. 

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 downloadable photos, billing & crediting information

Minimum Billing
Istijmam
On tour as part of Center Stage

Credit Info
The following credit is required on the title page in all printed performance programs. We appreciate its use wherever else it's practical: brochures, posters, ensemble-only promotional materials, press releases, advertisements, etc:

The presentation of (name of ensemble] is part of Center Stage, a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art. Center Stage Pakistan is made possible by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc. 

Center Stage logo placement is greatly appreciated. On web-based materials, please link from the Center Stage logo or written name to www.centerstageUS.org.

Download a zipped folder with high resolution promotional photos and color and black and white versions of the Center Stage logo here.