Dima Mikhayel Matta is an writer, professor, actor and spoken word Beirut-based artist. We spoke to her about This is Not a Memorized Script, This is a Well-Rehearsed Story, which will play at the Gate Theatre on 4 July.
Can you tell us a bit about This is Not A Memorized Script, This is a Well-Rehearsed Story?
It’s an autobiographical piece, just me on stage, telling everyone my stories. It’s my attempt to be as honest as possible about my body and how it exists in Beirut. I examine my relationship with this often oppressive city, how it affects my physical and mental health, and how it also affects my relationships. How do I perform my queerness in private and in public?
Where did the inspiration for the show come from?
I don’t think I was inspired to write this play. Rather, I felt a sense of urgency. I had to write it, I had to tell my story. I thought about this play for at least two years before even writing it, but I wasn’t ready to put myself under a microscope, I wasn’t ready to come out on a public platform. Now I am.
Can you tell us a bit about your devising process?
Words are everything. This is where I begin. I am very visual in my writing, I sat and I looked at my body, I observed it, I looked at my city, I observed it, and waited for the words to come. I am a storyteller, this is what I do, the way I write is the way I want to express myself out loud. What do I want to tell you? And why? How can I be as honest as possible? These are some of the questions that drive my process. I leave the rest to the director of the play.
Have you been to London before? What does it mean to you to be presenting your show here?
I’ve been twice before to meet my partner at the time. She is the woman I wrote about in my play. The woman I crossed borders for. In my mind, she is London. My memory of the city is tied to my memory of her. Performing there will hopefully help me reclaim spaces and form new memories.
How did you get into theatre?
I have been performing for as long as I can remember. I would dance and perform skits in front of my family and their friends. In high school, I chose theatre as an extracurricular activity, and one of the requirements was to attend a lot of plays. Sitting in the dark, watching life happen on stage, stories unfold, actors being vulnerable and heroic all at the same time, I found my home.
Do you have any words of wisdom for those wanting to make theatre?
I don’t think I have words of wisdom about anything other than Lebanese sweets (when in doubt, eat them!) I do know that making theatre is a drive, it doesn’t go away, it’s where we look for our voices, and where we find them. What do we urgently want to say? Making theatre, in a sense, is not a privilege – it is a necessity. We fight against so much in order to make it. And it’s worth it.
Alongside writing and acting, you are also a spoken word artist and you founded the popular storytelling initiative Cliffhangers. Can you tell us a bit about that?
This is definitely a long story. I started Cliffhangers about 5 years ago, out of a need to have a community of people who share their writings with each other. I grew up with stories, my father invented a story every night before we went to sleep as kids, my parents told us stories of pre-civil war and civil war Beirut after long Sunday family lunches etc… I wanted to keep this tradition alive. At the same time, there were poetry nights happening every now and then in Beirut, and it was the only chance I had at the time to share my work. So I wrote poems and I performed them. Again, I noticed my initiatives starting from a place of need. And they grew. The last storytelling night I hosted was last month for IDAHOT (International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia), it was a beautiful night on the rooftop of an art space, with 250 people in the audience, sharing coming out stories, heartbreaks, dealing with being queer in Beirut… For the love of stories and the need for communities.
Why should everyone see your show?
I don’t think everyone should see my show. If people will be there to exoticize me, to congratulate themselves for sympathizing with a queer person living in a third world country, then they shouldn’t see my show. But if they want to experience an honest moment of mutual vulnerability, a window into narrative that is very personal yet relatable, if they want to think about queer bodies and how revolutionary they can be, how fragile and resilient they are, then yes, please do come see my show, I’ll be waiting for you.
This is Not a Memorised Script, This is a Well-Rehearsed Story will be playing at the Gate Theatre on 4 July 2019 at 7pm. Book tickets here.