Sunday, June 12, 2011


Yesterday was the opening of the Nights related stage production at Luminato, Toronto's art festival.  The Nights show runs through June 19.  It is directed by Tim Supple, who spent the better part of the past year, and more, traveling around the Middle East, rehearsing, and culling actors from the world stage, in order to present an "authentic" experience.  The so-called "Arab Spring" got in the way several times and he had to adjust his locations.

Here are a bunch of links, many thanks to Paul and Moti for passing them on.

From the show's site:

"A startling new theatrical version of an Arabic classic.

Dramatized and directed by Tim Supple

Stories adapted by Hanan al-Shaykh

In Luminato’s most ambitious commission to date, British director Tim Supple (A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Luminato 2008) unites with acclaimed Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh to unearth the true character of the One Thousand and One Nights.

Written in Arabic from tales gathered in India, Persia, across the great Arab Empire, the One Thousand and One Nights are the mesmerizing stories told by Shahrazad night after night, under sentence of death, to the king Shahrayar who has vowed to marry a virgin every night and kill her in the morning. Erotic, brutal, witty, and poetic, the tales tell of the real and supernatural, love and marriage, power and punishment, rich and poor, and the endless trials and uncertainties of fate.

Created with artists from throughout the Arabic speaking world, this spectacular theatre event is performed in Arabic, French, and English (with surtitles) and is told over two compelling parts, each of which can be seen and enjoyed on its own, or together on the same day for a truly intoxicating Festival experience.

Commissioned by Luminato.
This production includes mature content. Parental discretion is recommended."


From the Toronto Star

A utopian vision of the play's rehearsal:

"For this company of two dozen actors and musicians from around the Arabic world, this isn’t just a serious theatrical project that they believe in, it’s also an exercise in self-definition, as well as an almost magical piece of bonding that none of them ever dreamed of taking part in.

Although they share the same religion, the same basic language and many of the same basic traditions, Moroccans normally do not work with Egyptians, and Syrians have little to do with those from Tangier.
But all that has changed in the course of these rehearsals and the man who has made all of this happen sits on the floor like everyone else, holding tightly to one knee as he views his handiwork.

Tim Supple is known to Toronto audiences from his fantastic production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, set all across India, which electrified Luminato and the world in 2008."

The demand for the real:

"He takes great pains to point out that the versions of Alf Layla wa-Layla (as 1001 Nights was originally called) that we have come to know in the west are corruptions and betrayals of the work.
“There is no Ali Baba, he was the creation of the first French translator. Even the whole concept of calling it The Arabian Nights came from its English translator.

These are not fairytales for children. These are bold, often brutal, stories in which an entire culture reveals itself to us.”"

And -

"Walking through the winding streets of Fes, where donkeys, not cars, are the major mode of transportation and 785 mosques, some with the capacity of 20,000, welcome people to worship, it’s easy to see his point. Time hasn’t exactly stood still here, but it walks more slowly than perhaps anywhere else in the world.

“We are closer here than anywhere else in the Arab world to the real traditions, the true beliefs that still govern people and that makes it an amazing place to be,” affirms Supple.

But who are these people taking part in the project? Before returning to rehearsals, many of them wanted to talk about the countries they left to perform this show and how they felt about them.

“I feel that Tim Supple is like Saladin,” says Asaad Bouab, a Moroccan who now lives in France. “He united the Arab world in the 12the century and now Tim is uniting us. Politics was never a big part of my world until I started working with this cast. Now I have to share their feelings, their concerns."


From the Times UK.  May 9, 2011.  "One Thousand and One Nights couldn't be more timely" by Benedict Nightingale.

More insistence on the real Nights:

"Supple, too, finds the stories far tougher than he expected. Western translation began in the 18th century and emphasised what was exotic in them, adding Ali Baba, Aladdin and other tales not in the original. But what he calls the “deceit and manipulation” was twosided.

Eastern versions were also distorted, becoming didactic and ideological “about bashing Christians, killing Jews or punishing women”: a racism contradicted by one of the funniest of his 20 chosen stories, in which a Jewish doctor, a Muslim cook and a Christian trader are equally menaced and forgiven when they mistakenly confess to having killed a king’s pet hunchback.

There are no swishing scimitars, baggy pantaloons or pantomime effects here, though the costumes are likely to vary from Arab medieval to Arab modern. These stories are, Supple says, folk tales from the old Arab cities and, for all their imaginative zest, reflect the concerns of people then and now:

“At their heart there’s a serious investigation into every aspect of social life: marriage, power, money, law, love, hate, parents and children. They’re graphic, startling, bleak, joyous and brutal about sex, violence and all human relations. Given the present situation there’s bound to be a focus on power and how people cope with rulers and their tyrannical decisions, but we won’t underline this . . .

“And there’s another revolution in the Arab world that shouldn’t be overshadowed: the position of women. How can men and women live together? How should men ask or force women to live? How should women be?” In the stories the answers come from strong, resourceful women who use their wiles to get their own way.

Many actors told me that the stories bring alive a world in some ways freer than their own. For instance, there are no religious extremists or Islamic enforcers in The Nights.

Wine flows. Sex delights males and females alike. Law exists for poor and rich, women and men, even if, as today, it is sometimes misused by kings and viziers. Indeed, The Nights can be seen as Shahrazad’s canny way of educating Shahrayar. “She teaches him to trust others,” Al-Shaykh says. “I ended up saying I’m sorry, Shahrazad. I thought you were a cliché and you’re amazing.”"


And from the Jewish Daily Forward:

"Supple Nights Promised in Toronto

A British-Jewish Director Re-Presents a Grown-Up Legend"

 "To direct an elaborate, ambitious new production of “One Thousand and One Nights” — translated by a Lebanese novelist and starring a pan-Arab cast — Toronto’s splashy Luminato arts festival turned to a British Jew. But director Tim Supple has built a career on connecting cultures: Acclaimed for bold reboots of stage classics, he brought “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” to India, “Twelfth Night” to British TV and “Midnight’s Children” to New York City’s Apollo Theater. With Arab-world turmoil as the real-life backdrop for “intense” rehearsals of “Nights” in Fes, Morocco, Supple talked to the Forward’s Michael Kaminer by e-mail."

Supple on his Jewish roots in this interview:

"It seems significant that a Jewish director is behind a massively ambitious production of a story with Middle Eastern roots, translated by a Lebanese author, with actors from Algeria, Morocco, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. What kind of perspective do you feel you’re bringing to the material?

My work on the project is as an artist working with other artists. My perspective comes from my past as a theater director. This past has been largely in the U.K., but has also involved much work and learning from elsewhere — Europe, India, North America, the Far East. So I bring many influences to this work. My family’s roots have never once struck me as relevant."

How the work is, to the interviewer, and director I suppose, political:

"Your organization, Dash Arts, is currently presenting an Arabic series to “challenge preconceived notions of Arabic culture, offering new perspectives and unheard voices.” It sounds like that kind of work is needed in the United States. Any plans?
Yes. We hope to take “One Thousand and One Nights” around as widely as possible. We would like to also ensure that our hugely successful dance piece, “Babel,” plays in the U.S. Our next project, the “Tribute to Oum Kalsoum,” will also be something we want to share with U.S. audiences.

What’s the biggest misconception about the work that you think your production will address?
That the “Nights” are a collection of fantasy adventures for children, coming from a generally exotic source. They are not; they are brutal, erotic, witty and complex explorations of the major challenges of adult life — marriage, sex, money, power and fate. They come from specific roots in Arabic-Islamic history, and they come from a culture that we must stop seeing as hostile and inferior. It’s neither."

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Grateful Dead

From what I have found, The Grateful Dead ( have at least two songs with mentions of the Nights: "What's Become of the Baby?" and "Blues for Allah." Both songs interestingly, well perhaps not that interestingly, conflate the Nights with a Romanticized notion of Islam.

Here are the relevant song lyrics with links to a cool UC Santa Cruz academic website about the Dead and their songs:

"What's Become of the Baby?"

From the album: AOXOMOXOA (1969). Song:

"Sheherazade gathering stories to tell
from primal gold fantasy petals that fall
But where is the child
who played with the sun chimes
and chased the cloud sheep
to the regions of rhyme?"

Here's a mix of the song (can you smell the patchouli?!):


"Blues for Allah"

From the Album: Blues for Allah (1975)

"The thousand stories have
come round to one again
Arabian Night
our gods pursue their fight
What fatal flowers of
darkness spring from
seeds of light"

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Historical Background of the Nights

Here is a recent (April 2011) lecture I just chanced upon while procrastinating online, it is by John Curry from the University of Nevada Reno and is on teaching the 1001 Nights, though it is largely a historical background of the end of the Sasanid Empire and the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad.

I tried to save the audio to my computer but haven't figured out how to yet. As for now the lecture is up on the digital commons page at UNLV: