BEIRUT — It is an integral part of Beirut's cultural life, but since 2018, the art-loving public has had to do without the Zoukak Sidewalks Festival. Why? "Inflation. The economic crisis. And the fact that our theater was blown away on Aug. 4," Omar Abi Azar tells L'Orient Today. Now, from Nov. 24 to Dec. 4, the festival will again take place, featuring dance, theater and talks.
The Zoukak Theater is located in Mar Mikhael. However, it is not the only venue at which the festival’s events will be held. Other venues include the Al Madina Theater, Station Beirut, Beirut Art Center, Mkalles Warehouse, Concrete 1994, Mansion and Sunflower Theater.
Abi Azar, who is a theater director and founding member of Zoukak Theatre Company, tells L'Orient Today about the upcoming events.
The events of the past three years have not only left their mark on the Zoukak building, but also on the program, as Abi Azar explains.
“Our festival used to be an international festival. But this year we decided it would be obscene to invite artists from outside. Because nowadays, artists from Lebanon are struggling so much,” he says.
This year, the festival organizers feel a special responsibility to give local artists a stage, and with that stage, opportunities to continue their art. “We had a talent draining in the last [few] years,” Abi Azar says, referring to the uptick in emigration from Lebanon amid its multifaceted crises, “So we wanted to create a momentum for artists to stay. Instead of spending money on foreign artists.”
It is the organizers' particular interest to bring together different generations of artists. “We are trying to create a transgenerational artist lineup: the artists from the past, from today and the ones who will be important tomorrow,” Abi Azar says. Among them are Roger Assaf and Elias Khoury, who belong to the pre-war generation and have written a play about the 20,000 kidnapped victims of the Civil War, Mouzakkarat Ayyoub, which will be performed on Thursday evening at the Zoukak Theater, while Hiba Najem is a younger artist whose performance Adas Bi Shomar goes in search of the origin of the recipe for the eponymous dish of fennel and lentil (Nov. 28 at Station).
But the festival organizers want to do more than just showcase art.
“We are trying to re-gather everyone from all over the city. It is kind of a get-together to see who is left here. Who didn’t leave. Who came back,” Abi Azar says.
After having endured the horrors and several crises of the past three years, he says he hopes “It is like when you come back to your high-school reunion after many years, to see who got married, who got a job, who is doing not so well.” That’s why it is also important, he says, that the festival will include parties at night following the events and performances, to celebrate the fact that they are still here.
But who exactly are “they”?
Abi Azar says he is not wholly sure who will attend the festival. “It will be interesting to see how the audience has changed,” he says. Tens of thousands of people have left the country in recent years, he adds. This will have an impact on the audience. A lot of people will have gone and therefore not show up at this edition of the Sidewalks Festival. But, as is Abi Azar’s hope, there will be new faces.
BEIRUT — It is an integral part of Beirut's cultural life, but since 2018, the art-loving public has had to do without the Zoukak Sidewalks Festival. Why? "Inflation. The economic crisis. And the fact that our theater was blown away on Aug. 4," Omar Abi Azar tells L'Orient Today. Now, from Nov. 24 to Dec. 4, the festival will again take place, featuring dance, theater and talks.The Zoukak...