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Fall 2008 93 Katherine (Kate) Wilson spent a dozen years as playwright and theatre artist before returning to the City University of New York Graduate Center, where she is writing a dissertation on the playscript in the industrial U.S.; her secondary research areas are Arabic theatre and peformance and communitybased theatre. Cultural Collateral Damage: The Cancellation of Jordan’s Jerash Festival 2006 Kate Wilson Jerash Festival of Arts and Culture ran twenty-five times between 1981 and 2007. The festival had been suspended twice, both times because Israel invaded Lebanon, first in 1982 (the festival’s second year), and again in 2006, which would have been the festival’s quarter-century anniversary—an event I had traveled to Jordan to witness and research.1 This essay contextualizes the nonevent of Jerash Festival. I read the absence of this cultural event as revealing a presence of another kind, that is, of looming forces of international politics, especially Israeli and U.S. military operations, which render powerful repercussions on live entertainment performance, especially in the elaborate setting of festivals, and especially festivals in theArab world. Borrowing a military euphemism, these effects can be considered “cultural collateral damage,” indirect repercussions of military violence on the cultural sphere. En route to those ideas, I consider Jerash in the context of festivals generally and describe the geopolitical landscape of Jordan, in which festivals, alongside other modes of public expression, do or do not happen. What Jerash Festival Was “Festival” is not a monolithic phenomenon, so a brief taxonomy helps to position Jerash amid the variety of types. First is the question of scale, in which Jerash would be considered one of the larger, state sponsored affairs in contrast to smaller, local events, as in neighborhood religious celebrations. Another broad distinction lies in the content, in what a festival offers. One class of content irrelevant to this paper is the noncultural (for instance, Dubai’s Shopping Festival). Festivals that do present culture can be split broadly into mixed genre or single genre (e.g., music, dance, film, or theatre). Both Jordan’s Jerash and Lebanon’s Baalbakk [or Baalbeck or Baalbek] offer an array of music, dance, and theatre, including traditional or folk performances. Several Arab world festivals are dedicated solely to theatre, and like festivals elsewhere, these further refine their focus by geography or subgenre. At least two specialize in theatre from the Arab or African regions: Syria and Tunisia alternate years presenting the former’s Damascus Theatre Festival and the latter’s Carthage Theatre Days (Journées Théâtrales de Carthage). Israel’s 94 Journal of Dramatic Theory and Criticism Acco Festival ofAlternative Israeli Theatre, which purports to include Palestinians, frames itself by both place (nation) and sub-genre (alternative theatre).2 Two Arab-world theatre festivals limit themselves to contemporary, avant-garde, or experimental work. In Jordan, an independent theatre company, Al-Fawanees (“Lanterns”), hosts theAmman Festival (the most government-independent festival of the region),3 and Egypt has the Cairo Experimental (Tajribi) Festival, which has drawn the most English-language coverage.4 Other Arab world festivals focus on children’s theatre, music, or dance. Marvin Carlson’s survey names many of these Arab-world varieties.5 Athird variable involves the setting. Such festivals call attention to one specific location. Jerash Festival thus promoted a particular space, a compound of Roman ruins, for reasons I return to below. Lebanon’s Baalbakk and Tunisia’s Carthage Theatre Days are also set amid ruins. Festivals set in and named for large cities (e.g., Damascus) often aim for urban rejuvenation.6 Jordan’s recent subsuming of Jerash into a nationwide Jordan Festival marks a shift in the symbolic strategy of setting, with hopes to spread tourism across multiple sites and perhaps to highlight the nation in the map of world culture.Afourth variable speaks to festivals’orientation to audience, as in connoisseur or general public. In geographic terms, a festival can target foreigners, its own country, or its region (a taxonomy Al-Hamarneh and Steiner use to compare the effects of Arab tourism after September 11).7 Jerash Festival targeted a mixture of Jordanians,Arabs across the region, and also cultural tourists...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-2686
Print ISSN
0888-3203
Pages
pp. 93-113
Launched on MUSE
2016-10-05
Open Access
No
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