The Impossible Stage is a radio series that explores and displays the engagement of prisoners in Syria with theater, specifically prisoner activities to curate a theater inside Saydnaya prison between 1987 and 1988.
- Only the person who appointed me here can kick me out. Only my creator can claim my life.
- You think that whoever threw you in here will let you leave free of charge?
- Shall I bring you dancers, as well?
- Drag him out of here and bring me the next one...
- Are you a political prisoner? A prisoner of conscious? Or were you brought here by mistake?
- Get out of here with your nonsense rehearsal…
- Assad: "They earn money and take up arms to assassinate this homeland!"
- I’ve been here for five years, and it seems it will be for eternity.
- Assad: "… to kill this homeland, to weaken this homeland!"
- You’re all crazy, I swear!
- Everybody, go to sleep!
- A real theater or a school theater?
Badr: Be careful of daydreams. They are like drugs. They relieve you of the pain for a couple of hours, but once their effects wear off, you will go crazy from the pain, more than before. Listen, prison… how can I describe it? It is like having new dentures. The first few days, your tongue goes crazy moving inside your mouth trying to get to know this strange new fitting. But after a couple of days, you and your tongue get used to it and you all begin to live together as if it were nothing. And with time, you won’t be able to live without them.
Karim: Enough, Badr! Leave him alone. The guy told you he doesn’t want to talk.
Badr: Prison is exactly like that, but in reverse. In other words, inside out: You are the dentures, your mouth is the prison, and your tongue is your soul, worried and scared of the new situation.
Ali: Oh, are you a dentist, sir?
Badr, citing a song: An ophthalmologist, and I understand the language of the eyes.
Ali: God Almighty!
Badr: And I can also understand the language of the eyebrows. Show us this mouth... Now you’re ready to get to know me properly. Let me introduce myself: Badr Zakaria, a prisoner of conscience for two years now… and a rising theater director. Originator of the "Inside-Out Denture Theory." And you will be part of the stage production team for our new play, since you were studying architecture.
Ali: What play? Please, I’m still only in my second year of university. You have 20 engineers in the cell. What do you need me for? For the love of God, leave me alone.
Badr: The particularity of theater always requires young blood.
Karim: Enough is enough, Badr! Leave the guy alone. Don’t you see his feet? He’s been beaten to Kingdom come.
Badr: I’m not going to leave him alone until he agrees. Don’t you see his condition? He needs some activity. Otherwise, he won’t recover. Besides, he can work while he sits. I’m asking him to create scenography with the rest of the guys. It’s essential.
Ali: So if I agree, you will leave me alone until tomorrow?
Badr: I promise with all the pure, theatrical blood in my veins.
Ali: Ok, enough... I agree... For God’s sake, leave me alone now.
Badr: Guys, please join me in welcoming Ali, the youngest member of the theater group and the newcomer in our cell. Khalil, please give us an ululation.
Karim: No! Be careful, Khalil, please! Now Abu Salih will come and God only knows which one of us will pay the price.
Prisoner 1: They’re saying there might be a pardon this year... they say the prisons are packed and they don’t have any more space.
Prisoner 2: And you believe that? Those people will turn any place into a prison. They will turn the entire country into one big prison if they want.
The Warden: Inspection!
Prisoner 1: Hold that thought, I’m coming back.
Prisoner 2: Don’t take too long! Your glass has just been filled.
Prisoner 3: Listen man, I really don’t know what to do. Every time I fall asleep, I dream of my mother.
Badr: OK, don’t panic. I’m just upset about all the guys’ hard work. They’ve been collecting cigarette packs and the labels on the boxes for two months.
Karim: Damn that Abu Salih. How did he see them? Do you think someone has snitched on us?
Badr: None of the guys would do that, they’re all with us. But if you had listened to me and put the stuff under the mattress, he would never have seen them and torn them. How are we supposed to continue our work now? Dammit, they contained months’ worth of notes, oh God.
Badr: Here comes the usual morning disturbance again. Sit, sit. We’ll think of a solution when they finish.
Karim: You know what? I’m thinking of registering in the oud course with the other guys. For four hours per day, I will reserve their oud for myself and prevent them from playing it. Maybe then we can have some peace and quiet. Our heads are going to explode from that thing, man!
Prisoner 1: You see the sun, it’s so elegant... just imagine yourself under it, not crammed in this cave.
Abo Mahjoub: Listen man, I’m in a bad mood. It’s freezing, and I am not getting out from under the covers. Go play somewhere else.
Badr: But Abo Mahjoub…it is your turn to empty your cell to accommodate our rehearsal today. You all agreed when we made the schedule.
Abo Mahjoub: Get out of here with your nonsense rehearsal. I am not moving from my mattress. I’ve been in a bad mood since this morning. Please, for the love of God, don’t make it worse on me.
Badr: Mr. Malik, please talk to him. We’re doing this play for everyone.
Abo Mahjoub: I will not listen to anyone. You have been doing these rehearsals for three months, and we haven’t seen a thing. I’m not moving from here. Go figure something else out.
Badr: Sure, by all means, go down deeper into the covers! Warm yourself up, warm yourself up! Be careful not to get the stomach flu!
Karim: Ok, what should we do now? His mattress is in the spot where Khalil needs to stand on the stage.
Badr: You know what? Listen, let him stay where he is. Anyway, his mattress is where the statue is supposed to be, and Khalil’s role doesn’t involve speaking or moving. We will consider him the statue and move around him. And Khalil, you already have a cold, so go rest today. Everyone else, please come here. We will begin the rehearsal.
Badr: I found it! I found it! I found it! I found it! I found it! Karim! Karim, Karim! Karim, wake up, wake up! Get up and see this!
Karim: What, what is it? What? What’s happening?
Badr: Lower your voice and get up.
Karim: Man! You scared me! What do you want?! What is this blanket?
Badr: I know how the robe of the Delphi temple priest should look. I just saw it in my dream. We will wrap the blanket around you like this. Yes, great. Remember this well so you can show the guys during the rehearsal. We will bring this corner over your head like this, and we will need something to fasten it with from here. Show me! Turn this way... Wow! Yes! Yes! Yes! This is it! This is it! This is it! The priest of the Delphi temple. Awesome!
Karim: Seriously?! You woke me up to dress me in a blanket? Right now, this is the time for your theater costumes?! I swear, if I end up unable to have children, it will be because of you.
Several People: Go to sleep Badr, go to sleep. Tomorrow is another day. You scared the guy to death!
The Warden: Who is laughing, you shits?! I want to see everyone sleeping!
Prisoner 1: Dude, he spun me like a sack of potatoes and dragged me down the stairs all the way into the station wagon… he stuffed me inside... and the driver... he was as bitter as these days... sharp turns right and then left, and then he would slam on the brakes. At one point, he slammed on the breaks so hard, the trunk opened and I saw that there was another customer next to me… more precisely, not next to me—he was on top of me...
Karim: When they moved me from Palestine Branch to Sednaya, I thought to myself, “I will enter the cell and find all the prisoners carving olives pits and making necklaces to sell to get cigarettes.” I didn’t think I would find someone giving oud lessons, or you with your theater idea... seriously, what were you thinking?
Badr: Yeah, me too. Before I came here, I had thought the same thing. But if you want, I can collect some olives for you.
Karim: No please, I don’t like olives or their pits at all. I’ve boycotted them completely.
Badr: Why olives, man?
Karim: If I tell you, you won’t get disgusted?
Badr: Try me.
Karim: Ok sir, so when I was little, I was a big eater. I was known in my family as the boy who ate everything… from tobacco to lemon peel, to erasers to laundry detergent... but the thing I used to love the most were olive pits. I used to like to keep a pit in my mouth and suck on it all day. I used to love its wooden flavor and the last hints of the olive taste.
Badr: What a weirdo!
Karim: Once I was at my grandmother’s house in the village, playing in front of the door of the house. I looked around and found an olive pit on the ground. And because I was greedy, I picked it up and put it in my mouth.
Karim: It dissolved under my tongue. It turned out to be sheep droppings. And to this day, whenever someone says the word "olives," it’s as if that taste is still in my mouth.
Badr: Ok sir, I also have a lasting taste that I’ll never forget.
Karim: Let’s hear it, the floor is yours.
Badr: The first time I was interrogated here, I had had a full day of beating. I said to myself, "Relief is on the way. Now I will tell them that I have nothing to do with it, and perhaps I was mistaken for someone else with a similar name." Dammit, as soon as I opened my mouth to speak, he gave me kick that knocked me to the floor and insulted my mother. So I insulted his mother. It was a natural reaction, wasn't it?
Karim: Seriously? Are you out of your mind?!
Badr: I don’t know how this happened. I thought that we would become equals and buddies afterward (sarcastically). Anyway, he put his boot on my neck and pressed down. I opened my mouth and screamed in pain. At that point, he jammed his military boot in my mouth... To this day, that taste does not leave my mouth.
Voice of Hafez Al-Assad: "We love freedom, and we want it for ourselves and for others. And today, we defend…"
Badr: Listen to this darling…
Voice of Hafez Al-Assad: "We are advocates of peace and we work on behalf of peace for the sake of our people and all peoples of the world, and today we defend…"