(Old Christian Harbor in Tyre, Lebanon. Photo: Denise Maroney).
Our 4-month research, development and workshop period has come to a close. It’s been a series of challenging, exciting journeys where we explored our central themes of the polluted Lebanese coastline and the Lebanese fishing culture.
We’ve traveled along the Mediterranean coast, exploring Tyre, Saida, Beirut, Fidar, Amchit, Byblos, Tripoli and Mina. Theatrically, the topics and themes of our research have expanded, died and blossomed once more.
We began in Tyre, the ancient Phoenician city-state and home to one of the oldest ports inLebanon. For several days, we stayed in the old port, following the daily routine of fishermen: rising at 4:30 am, picking the catch, untangling the nets & bartering with merchants. We were intent on discovering their culture (stories, legends, superstitions and songs) in order to begin weaving our play. What we discovered instead was the harsh, depressing reality of life as a fisherman in Lebanon. Over and over again, our interviews with fishermen along the entire coast revealed the same story:
Fishing is the most vulnerable trade in Lebanon. Fishermen do not have a union to protect their wages and their well being and livelihood is completely dependent upon what the sea offers. Most of them have resorted to working multiple jobs, from driving taxis to serving in small seaside cafes. They discourage their children from entering into this trade, which they themselves inherited from their fathers. Those who continue working at sea often risk their lives dodging bullets to fish near the southern border with Israel, where fish populations are abundant. Often, illegal practices such as dynamite fishing, spear fishing and tight net fishing are used – activities that hurt the fishing trade in the long run and bring more pain than gain to the fishermen.
As theatre artists, we quickly became aware of our delicate role as the storyteller. How could we perform a visually ecstatic fable or legend without appearing to romanticize a grim reality? In highlighting a vicious cycle that most fishermen further, what sort of hope/ solutions/ insight could we illustrate? How do we avoid sounding didactic? These questions resurface throughout our process.
As we traveled along the coast and continued interviewing fishermen, what became evident was general concern for the growing problem of trash pollution in the Mediterranean Sea. What was once a pristine coastline is now covered in trash. Plastic bottles and bags drift endlessly along the coast and wash up on the shore. Plastic is eternal and in a country where recycling is not easily accessible, the amount of plastic waste is growing.
We began collecting “the landscape” of fishing ports: fishing nets, plastic bottles and general garbage that washed up to shore. We then experimented with animating these materials and creating stories. The results were exciting. With plastic as our needle, we began stitching a story about the trash pollution in Lebanon’s coast.
A period of research – to dream, to visit the site every day, to experiment, to fail, to create – is a luxury for non-for-profit theatre companies. Global Connections has offered us a unique opportunity to cast our net, pull up research and workshop our inspiration. As a result, we have established a thoughtful and grounded base upon which to build our upcoming play.
Irish- Lebanese by birth and raised between New York and Japan, Denise Maroney’s work is as eclectic and diverse as her background. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where she majored in Theatre and Middle Eastern Studies, Denise freelanced as a costume and makeup designer in the NYC theatre, fashion and film industry.
In 2009, she founded The (B)IM Project, a site specific theatre company of international and Lebanese theatre artists that create free performances across the country of Lebanon. (www.thebimproject.com)
To date, (B)IM has performed in public streets, hospitals and abandoned train stations in 27 locations across Lebanon. Maroney is the recipient of a TCG Travel Grant (2009) and the TCG Global Connections Grant (2011).
In addition to her work with (B)IM, Maroney recently completed a residency at the Textile Arts Center in NYC, where she focused on embroidery and contemporary Islamic fashion. Her first exhibit- an installation of hand embroidered, silk organza & chiffon Afghan burkas- took place in July 2011 and was invited into the Brooklyn Museum’s Feminist Art Archive. (www.denisemaroney.com)
The Global Connections program was designed by TCG and is funded by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Learn more here.