Artistic Director Spotlight: Majdi Bou-Matar, MT Space

Waterloo Region’s MT Space celebrates ten years this season under the artistic direction of Majdi Bou-Matar. We asked Majdi to talk about the success the theatre company has enjoyed and to provide some insight into their exciting upcoming projects.

Q. Please tell us about your role as the founder and artistic director of MT Space, a company which has grown significantly in size and reputation over the course of the past ten years.

Before coming to Canada in 2003, I was an actor with the Afro-Arab Centre for Theatrical Research (CAAFRT) in Tunis. There I gained great interest in the intercultural aspect of theatre. Being on stage with African actors with whom I did not share the same language strengthened my belief in a physically-oriented inter-cultural theatre based on improvisations where spoken language is never a barrier.

I found in Canada, with its official cultural policy, an ideal place to advance my knowledge and practice my art along with artists who share the same passion. I have founded the MT Space to be a conduit for professional artists from diverse cultural backgrounds to share ideas, integrate in the community, and create new and innovative art, while at the same time build Canadian experience to be able to join the Canadian theatre industry. I believe that immigrant artists, and those from diverse cultural backgrounds could play a much larger role in the shaping the future of Canadian theatre.

Q. What attracts you about telling stories of the many diverse cultures that make up Canada?

MT Space believes in theatre that builds communities, changes policies and instigates social change. Our theatre creations are political, relevant, and challenging. The first question I ask myself when confronted with an idea for a new show is: “who cares?” I look for topics that are urgent and dangerous.

Q. How do you go about developing those stories into a stage play?

Once we identify the relevance and urgency of a certain topic to a specific community/ies, then we start our field research, interviews and discussions. We seek out community members with stories to tell, and professional artists (actors, designers, playwrights, musicians) that have something to say about the particular issue or topic. We immerse ourselves in the locality of our topics, themes and stories. We dig deep into the histories, the traditions and the memories of our actors and characters alike. We harvest the body and its cultural baggage. We work together based on a strong recognition and acknowledgement of our differences. We use such differences to create friction and spark actions that are thoroughly shaped and negotiated with much research, talent and artistry. We combine our disciplines and devise the work collectively.

Q. Tell us about The Last 15 Seconds, the company’s flagship piece which is to be remounted at The Registry Theatre April 2 – 5.

The Last 15 Seconds was devised using the process described above and tells the story of the tragic death of Syrian-American filmmaker Mustapha Akkad and his daughter Rima during a series of co-ordinated attacks in Amman, Jordan in 2005. Akkad is the director of two major films both starring Anthony Quinn, The Message: the Story of Islam (1976) and Lion of the Desert (1982). Akkad saw these films as a way to bridge the gap between the Western and Islamic world.

Using movement, dance, video, vocals and text, The Last 15 Seconds constructs an imagined physical and verbal dialogue between Akkad and Rawad Jassem Mohammad Abed, the suicide bomber who carried out the explosion that killed Akkad. The play delves into the imagined history and memories of both the victim and his killer as they revisit each other’s lives after their fatal encounter.

With over 70 performances in 12 different cities (including a tour to the Middle East) this play became one of our success stories. Listed as one of the top 10 plays in 2011 by both the Toronto Sun and theatre critic Lynn Slotkin, the play has garnered standing ovations and rave reviews across Canada and beyond.

Q. Beyond producing and touring your own productions, MT Space also presents plays from around the world.  How do you go about selecting shows to present to the community?

There are various reasons that make me chose a show to bring to this community. Most of the time it is work that I see or know of and I find that there is a mutual benefit for both of us – the artist and the presenter – to invite the work to Waterloo Region. It is about the voices that are not often heard and the stories that need to be shared. It is about the social responsibility I feel towards my own community in Kitchener and area and my wider community of Canadian artists and theatre makers, especially those of Indigenous and culturally diverse backgrounds.

Q. You’re presenting Brimful of Asha at the beginning of May.  It’s an interesting little piece of theatre featuring Toronto-based actor Ravi Jain and his real-life Indian mother having a conversation about arranged marriage.  The reviews are very good and audiences from Toronto to Vancouver have raved about it.  In your opinion, what makes this show work so well?

It is funny, exotic and about marriage!

This play is about the challenges that arise out of the hope for happiness that you want for your parents (or for your kids). People of all backgrounds can identify with the parent-child relationship and the show works because both performers are so good at engaging the audience.

On top of that, everyone gets to eat samosas!

Q. As if running a presenting/producing and touring theatre company wasn’t enough, a few years ago you also launched Impact Theatre Festival, an impressive addition to Kitchener-Waterloo’s cultural fabric.  Congratulations for dreaming it and successfully pulling it off most recently in 2013.  What inspired you to take on such a major endeavor as an international festival?

I think that our international festival IMPACT was a natural next step for our company. Since the very beginning I had the ambition to create a forum for sharing work and ideas. IMPACT was designed to bridge the local and the international, the emerging and the established, the ‘multicultural’ and the ‘mainstream.’ It is part of our efforts to ‘brown’ Canada’s stages and to share our cultural diversity and vibrancy with the rest of the world.

Q. What’s the next big thing for you and for MT Space?

The next big thing for us is to go to the moon or maybe to Mars. It is dreaming the impossible!