Nawar Bulbul: a Syrian Artist in Exile
Nawar Bulbul is an actor and theater director living in Aix-en-Provence (France). He was born in 1973 in Homs, Syria. Nawar’s father was a communist creating theater performances for the working people. His mother, a deep believer and religious person (1). Nawar’s vision was strongly influenced by his father’s work, and was one of the reasons why he decided to commit himself to the theater. A passion that brought him to enter the Dramatic Arts Institute of Damascus, where he graduated in 1998.
Lately, touched by the authoritarian government of Bashar Al-Assad and the political instability of the country, Nawar started to engage in the anti-regime demonstrations that were taking place in 2011. His critical vision and desire for freedom were too dangerous for staying in Syria. For this reason, he decided to quit his country to throw off his chains and develop his artistic career without threat.
Nawar Bulbul in his play Égalité (202 1)
“My limit is the sky”
“There is some kind of nostalgia”, Nawar says. When he remembers his years in Syria and reflects about his current situation in France, Nawar affirms that he can’t forget his friends and family there. He points out that he graduated there, and had lots of memories which he had to leave. “Suddenly, you have to leave everything. Every memory there”.
However, Nawar considers himself a French man now. “I’m free”, he says, and he notes that in France, he can do what he wants with his work. “Here, my limit is the sky. Nobody can say what we can’t do”, he states. But Nawar also mentions the censorship that still remains inside his head: something abstract that stops him from being completely free. He describes it as something like police, religion and dictatorship. Something implanted in his head which he tries to kill. “This is my battle”, he states.
Nawar says that theater is like medicine. He feels so passionate about it and doesn’t feel like working. “When I’m doing theater, I feel in vacation”. Of course, he needs to make a living and bring money for his family. But he affirms that it doesn’t feel like a job for him. He is so happy on the stage and everywhere in the theater, that he doesn’t get tired. “This is my motivation, my happiness. This is my life”.
Nawar Bulbul developing Shakespeare in Zaatari (2014) with Syrian refugees
Nawar Bulbul has a big CV: he has worked as an actor and director in several films, tv shows and theater plays since 1998, where he debuted as a professional with the Dramatic Art Institute of Damascus. His work has also been published in several journals and recognised media, such as Arte, The Guardian, Le Monde and even The New York Times.
The most recent theater plays of the Syrian director that have received press coverage are Shakespeare in Zaatari (2014), a play with children set in the Syrian refugee camp “Zaatari”; Romeo and Juliet: between siege and refuge (2015), a work done with children separated by war (from Jordan and Syria) which were reunited via Skype for their final performance; and Love Boat (2016) a tragicomedy with adult Syrian refugees touched by war and living in Jordan.
Nawar Bulbul’s Love Boat (2016)
Nawar affirms that “the three biggest taboos in the Arab society are: religion, sex and politics”. He has been trying to fight against these taboos through his works, and that’s one of the reasons why he feels good in France. “In Europe, when they separated the Church form the State, they started to see the future”. Nawar talks about the corruption and the control of Arab governments, and affirms that they are doing this to control the people.
The great thing about theater, Nawar says, is its authenticity. The fact that you can do, modify and perform whatever you want. “You’re with me and I’m with you. This is the life”. The difference with other media and arts is that you don’t have to follow a paper and repeat it. “Can I change? No, no, no. This is my text. This is my Bible”, a cinema or tv director would say. In the theater, instead, you have plenty of “shining moments”.
“The culture is food for humanity”
After more than 25 years dedicating his life to theater, Nawar Bulbul stays motivated, passionate and optimistic. If he had to go back in time and choose a profession, he would select theater again. “Of course, one more time. And second, and third, and fourth time”. Even if he is working alone most of the time, he receives the visits of some French friends that come to his house to watch his rehearsals, give advice and ideas.
For Nawar, theater is something that feeds your soul. “The culture is food for humanity”. And he states that he’s doing theater not only for Syrians, but for all the people. At the end of the interview, I asked him about his biggest dream. “My hope is to be able to come back to Syria”, that the government of Bashar Al-Assad finally falls, and he can find the peace in his country.
- Vulin, V. (2016). Nawar Bulbul : un artiste syrien sur les sentiers de la liberté. Cairn.Info. Available at: https://www.cairn.info/revue-confluences-mediterranee-2016-4-page-123.htm