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Iranian Theater Directors Protest Persecution And Censorship

An adaptation of the popular musical Les Misérables is on stage in Tehran for the first time. show theater theater musical - screen grab AFP

Members of the House of Theater in Tehran have issued a statement addressed to the heads of the three branches of power in Iran to protest the detention and prosecution of drama directors.

More than 300 people rallied at the theater on January 13 and issued a resolution to conclude their protest assembly. "The family of [Iranian] theater and drama is facing the harshest restrictions from the judicial department, the [monopolized] state-run Radio & TV, and some newspapers. The restrictions are so harsh that they could be branded as unprecedented,” read the resolution.

Deploring "illegal and unprofessional" meddling in drama affairs and "indicting theater directors," the signatories said, "We cannot tolerate disrespecting the members of this great family” and ignoring its role as a critic in society.

They called on the deputy of the arts at the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry to define his legal stance and end the persecution of those involved in arts and cultural activities.

"The official arts director and deputy are just scarecrows," theater director Mahmoud Azizi said. "If it is decided that our theater should continue on the current path, one might ask, what is the use of an art director and deputy [at the ministry]?"

The director of a popular drama Mohammad Rahmanian, and House of Theater Director Shahram Gilabadi were recently summoned to court and released on bail.

Rahmanian was summoned because one of her actresses was allowed to sing. Women singing solo in public is prohibited by Iranian law; they are only allowed to perform for female-only audiences or as part of a chorus.

"The performance of a play is different every day. On some days, the voice accompanying the actress in a song is lower than hers, and, some may think that the female actress is performing a solo song," Rahmanian said.

The director of the Theater Shahr, Saeid Saeidi, and the director of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Maryam Kazemi, were also detained two months ago and later released on bail.

On December 22, 2018, Tehran Prosecutor-General Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi had warned the Culture and Islamic Guidance Ministry to address problems concerning a play performed at a Tehran hotel, saying it went "against the principles of religion."

"Hijab codes are ignored; men and women are mixed together on stage," Dolatabadi said in an apparent reference to a production of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables staged at Tehran's Espinas Hotel. "The use of France's flag in the play also supports, and in the meantime dismisses, certain values."

With a cast, crew, and orchestra of over 450 people, the sold-out production has played to 2,500-strong audiences for six nights a week since its debut in November.

The director, Hossein Parsaee, maintains that Hugo's classic is a "masterpiece without borders.”

Previously, other plays, including Shakh-i Nabat and Hot Egg Tango, were banned following the prosecutor-general's criticism.
Iranian dramatists, directors, and actors have complained of increased monitoring by security forces.