Tonight I had the chance to watch or to better put it, experience a remarkable theatrical performance: People I Don’t See. Directed by Sama Mousavi, People I Don’t See is a documentary theatre centered on a few former Farzanegan School students. Though they share one high school, their stories are quite very different, mainly because of their age differences. These girls are born in three different decades which leads to at least three totally different life experiences. These are the defining decades of Iran modern time, in which the country faced a revolution, a war, and the aftermath of it all. The characters of this documentary theatre, represented by three actresses, are all real-life people who the director herself interviewed them.
Before writing anything further, I must clarify that I’m not a theater critic nor even a semi-pro theater follower. I rarely watch theatrical artworks and my only other Documentary Theatre experience was Ali Akbar Alizad’s Endless Monuluge. I enjoyed that well-crafted work very much, as well, but after People, I Don’t See, Now I can truly appreciate this genre. It has something powerful and inspiring which made me write something, maybe just a short personal impression on it.
Raise Your Hand
From the beginning, a collaborative space is being established. The director/actress directly speaks to the audience about what they’re about to witness. Throughout the performance, after stating different personal views or habits, performers ask the audience to raise their hands if they had the same opinion or experience. At first, this might seem a little pretentious, “a part of the act” I assumed. But interestingly it got more than just that. Basically, this approach helped the audience to get more engaged with the dialogues. This simple technic was a smart way to make us find our own stories inside these characters’ narratives.
With every call to raise hands, some kind of a warm connection was being formed. This connection was spreading between performers to between performers and audience and even between audiences themselves. From some point on, it didn’t feel like a planned performance, but more like a friendly gathering in which we have the opportunity to express ourselves, without the fear of being judged.
A Familiar Cast
One of the amazing aspects of People I Don’t See was the atmosphere that performers created. Unlike other traditional works, they use the minimum of accessories. Their material is limited to a bunch of scarves to represent different characters, and an iPhone. But it’s quite incredible how they manage to create such powerful connections. The brilliant usage of space, sharing lots of looks equally between audience and of course the direct invitation for collaboration, has been effective.
I know that the factual material which is the real interviews is the fundament here, but the key factor is the fantastic ability of the cast to convey their dialogues, in the most comfortable way possible. They perform their line as it is not meant to be performed, but to be just said. I guess this simple touch helped the audience to consider each performer as a familiar person. People who you just don’t see but also have sympathy for them.
Fear of Fear
People I Don’t See is not about a specific subject but it keeps the “different perspectives” as its main theme. Characters talk about lots of issues but what makes these opinions matter is how others think about them. As I said earlier, the audience’s perspective matters, too. In a phenomenal moment in tonight’s performance, one of the performers asked a man in the audience to share his own confrontation with war. His word was instinctively but also really moving. Just as effective and shocking as the original lines of the three performers. This kind of collaboration adds a unique quality to the work which makes every single performance special and new.
I think one of the core messages of this work is to remind us how far we are getting from each other. As a nation, we have passed so many hard times and we are in the middle of another difficult period. Maybe we should stop judging each other’s beliefs and start listening to each other. What People I Don’t See does is exactly a short session of practice for this exact purpose: listening and understanding without any presumptions.
At the end of the performance, the performers talked about their fears and asked the audience if they have anything to fear right now. As the hands were held high, the lights got off. The final moments are about how we are facing many different fears.
To seal in stone inclusion with the pack, Where safety comes being one
Every move must be part of the act, And not overstep the mark
Fear of a unique identity, Fear of fear
– Fear of A Unique Identity, Antimatter (2012)