Scenes from the event
Scenes from the event

Predisposed to Social Ills

Predisposed to Social Ills

The first ‘game theater’ opened at Book City in Tehran University to make a difference. It allows the audience to experience something more than just watching a play.
Titled ‘Surprise’, it is designed, written, directed and produced by Mohsen Ehteshami, a multifaceted artist. The name of the play best reflects the feeling the audiences get as the end nears.
In Ehteshami’s work, there is no typical passive audience that merely sits with others and observes the performance. Like a game, it involves the audience in the play individually while passing through several rooms.
You enter a very small room with dark walls, not larger than two by two meters, to see a long-bearded man playing tar (Iranian long-necked, waisted instrument) . He looks up at you, smiles and continues with his music. There is a small bowl in front of him on the floor with a few coins and bills.
Soon he stops playing and asks for money if you have enjoyed the music. Then the busker starts a dialogue with you, about the people who listen to his music but leave without giving him any money. He also talks about the kind of music most  passersby like.
After a short chat, he lets you pass through another door, across from the entrance, warning you, “take care,” and as you cautiously open the door to another room, you think of what awaits you there.
In the next six rooms you come across an individual representing a group of people who can be classified as underprivileged or rejected by society.

  Addressing Social Issues
In a talk with the Financial Tribune, Ehteshami, who has so far staged 15 plays, explained his latest work. “We intended to expose the audience to a number of social issues (they may or may not have encountered) in person and in unexpected situations to see how they respond as a member of society. I believe all of us are responsible (in some manner) for the problems in our community and should strive to take a step (however small) towards addressing them,” he said.
The 40-year-old director has selected seven subjects among various social problems for his purpose. The special format of the game theater brings the audience into the cast. By interacting with the actors they get a firsthand experience of difficult situations, some of which they possibly never encountered.
In ‘Surprise,’ every individual experience differs from the other. Since audiences are pushed inside the story, what they say and how they behave in each room decides the real actors’ reactions.
As mentioned before, the audience encounters a street performer in the first room. A vendor is standing in the next room selling pens, afraid of the police and desperately trying to convince you to buy from him.
In the next rooms you will meet a man high on drugs and hallucinating, a young trans woman who is forced by family to wear and act like boys, a street girl, a man who wants to blackmail you claiming he has your private photos, as well as a physically challenged man.
In the beginning, you may feel confused because what unfolds is not what you had anticipated from a play. But after the second room, the realistic and believable performance of the actors together with the hollow atmosphere of the rooms make you accept the characters as real life people and forget it is a game.
Although their stories differ from one another, what is common among all seven people is that they envy you and your life and want something from you. Once they let you know their stories, the rest of the play would be based on your reaction.

  No Judge or Jury
What happens in the rooms is all recorded on CCTV. When asked by the Tribune if the director provides any comments on the audiences’ behavior and reactions, he said, “not at all, you are free to do whatever you like. We are in no place to pass judgments on anybody. The main idea of the play is not to judge people, so how can we judge our audience? You are playing the game and what happens inside the rooms is your choice, not ours,” he said.
Ehteshami said that in the rooms, the audience encounters some social harm in private and may react differently when facing the same situation in society in presence of others. “As everything is recorded, the videos can later be used as a valuable source for social and psychological studies,” he noted.
As the director put it, they try to create a realistic environment for the players to involve them with the stories and there have been cases when players have burst into tears, shouted, hugged the actors and even beaten them. “It shows they get to believe what goes on inside there,” he added.
Regarding this issue, the director was reminded that some audiences, knowing they are being watched, may hide their true feelings and “play” in front of the cameras. Ehteshami was in agreement that some people may pretend to be someone else, far from their true selves. “They may also represent a group that even in reality wears a mask when confronting social problems and resist doing what they really want to.”
Each of the seven actors have been given numerous dialogue to use in response to the audiences’ various reactions; however, with their skills in theatrics they are prepared to improvise in case of any unexpected behavior from the ordinary people trying the game theater.

  Potential for Crime
‘Surprise’ seeks to stir people’s conscience. Ehteshami’s selected social harm topics are the ones which are looked upon as taboo by the masses. “People afflicted with these issues need support now and if they don’t get proper treatment, the present harm will turn into a future crisis,” he asserted.
Surprise will run through January 14, 2018. Cast members in order of appearance are Barman Ahura, Kourosh Sassanian, Sayyad Aynevand, Danial Ebrahimi, Elena Ahi, Kiarash Sarabi and Mohammad-Reza Qalambor.
The venue of the performance is Bozorgmehr Street, Qods Street, Enqelab Avenue.




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