Julia’s first steps in the theater of life…
In joe’s words
I can’t really tell you what used to happen backstage! I will let your vicious minds roam and imagine what they were meant to imagine! I tell you this! STAGE FRIGHT! Is it a nesting syndrome like the woman before giving birth! Is it the leap between the person and the character, the actor and the acted! My mouth is dry! I drink… many times! By relativity, I pass many times to the toilet! Sometimes it is a fake alert! It’s fear… The fear within. Who are we afraid of? What are we afraid of? The bi-eyed creatures who will stare at me for an hour, ME under the spotlights, THEM in the immaculate darkness. Here I am, at the backstage, alone! I roam, think, listen to my heart pounding, my hands are cold. I think of the people I love, I meditate… I pray to the ones who hate me, and to the ones I love! I rehearse my script, many times… even though, before entering, and while hiding behind the velvet curtain, I forget each and every word! I breathe! Breathe! Breathe! I envy the “actors” who just turn off their cigarette, take a sip of bourbon and just go on stage! Why can’t I do that? For me, theatre is a temple, it is my night prayer, a prayer that I share with the big consecutive laughs of my audience! Everything is in order! I listen to the uneven murmur of the spectators! They are in the light! I am in the darkness… waiting to be born! Again… and again! I slap my face, re-slap my face! WAKE UP! My voice, my body, my mind… Where am I? All the weapons of the lonesome warrior! Scattered! Come back! Ahhhhh! And the moment of truth is here! All these eyes, scary… they scare me every night! Wild carnivores, vampires… and me, with a masochistic pleasure, I enjoy the intense staring! ONE! Me and the audience are ONE! As I was alone backstage, alone on stage, alone in this world, alone in this big womb with no set, no lights, soundless! The stage manager tells me that Mr or Mrs X wants to say hi! Sometimes, I have to, but is it me talking to them? Where am I! I am in my head! Waiting to meet all these mortals! Why does it have to be that way every night? Since years and years! Endless… What am I? A creature? They just enjoy watching me! With my big gestures, with my bold words and my ungraceful attitudes! Am I a joker… Antonin Artaud’s unborn son… Dionysus reincarnated! Or just another hunchback rejected by his Esmeralda! The stage! Believe me… is a better place! Better than this world! Better than all the worlds! Here, time is different! Space is different! That’s where our dreams could come true! And lately, my dream came true! I look at this small actress! With me! Backstage! She creates flowers everywhere! She doesn’t care! She smiles! Laughs, giggles! The darkness turns into a pure intense pink! She takes the stage! She enjoys the lights! She waves for unknown entities! She plays where my heart beats fast! Isn’t she the perfect actress! No corruption! Clear! Her vision is clear… and pure! As we used to play with our parents stuff! When we used to sneak into daddy’s office! With huge round eyes! A gold mine! When I wore daddy’s uniform, and held his gun! Oedipus is born! I believed in this game, while he was at war, a war he didn’t believe in! Today, the stage warrior became soft! The lion plays with his cub! I look at her! I learn from a one year old baby, that all the theories they wrote are to be thrown! I learn how to be the actor of life, how to embrace life! The curtain opens! My little baby is dancing! I go on stage with a big smile! Am I holding her hand or is she guiding me? I love the audience, I love the lights, they love the lights, the lights love my baby, the lights love me! I smile! They laugh! I look at her! Yes! Theatre is where dreams come true!”
One-on-one with joe Kodeih
Interview conducted by Marie-Christine Tayah
‘Everything, anything could be a source of inspiration’ to him. It depends on what he makes of it and what his eyes or ears want to catch… or not, as he states. He stands alone. Up. He, the stage, and the audience are one. They share the same fears, the same laughter… and sometimes, a few tiny drops of tears. He embarks on a lonely journey with laughter for only weapon. He fights with and against life, exposed, on stage. And from this same stage, at each and every stage of his life, he sails away. His audience embarks with him, on a journey of poignant words, refreshing giggling, and unspoken scenes of existence. He speaks his, their minds, while their laughter in silence echo. ‘One,’ as he says. He has won the war of masks. Brave actor and authentic soul, he simply is. Once again, he’s back to life, each and every night, while he performs, with the one he brought to life… Julia Kodeih, joe’s 1 year-old daughter, who tames the stage, and the audience. Youngest actress in the world, she leaves her mom’s encouraging hands backstage and steps out with an innate breathtaking presence, looks up, moves her arms and greets the audience, soon-to-be followed by her DADDY, actor and director joe Kodeih, who follows her small steps, steps after step. He holds her, but she guides him. They embrace fear together and, beyond life’s stages, under the spotlight, everything turns into lights. They are one. Same energy. Same receptiveness. And once again, the audience’s smiles become a little wider, revived by a pure yet impactful assertiveness… Julia.
Who is on stage the first 10 minutes; the actor or the dad?
The amazing thing before going on stage is that I usually have stage fright. Still, while watching her backstage, I learned how to be a perfect actor. Depending on her humor, she can refuse to go on stage, dance, eat, or do whatever she wants. She’s not afraid of the audience. She likes it. Actors have to learn how to overcome their stress before going on stage as there is a leap between the person and the character. But when I look at her, she’s protected by her innocence as a baby, and she takes the stage with no worries whatsoever. Thus, while I’m sweating, while my hands are cold and my heart is pounding, she’s just enjoying the experience… or not.
Who is directing; Julia or you?
Definitely her. She’s acting and directing. I am being very conventional during the first 10 minutes as an actor, while her presence is the one appreciated the most by the audience and by me. They’re enjoying whatever I might be doing and they’re laughing… But I’m an actor, I’m a grown up. While she… she is something I cannot describe… I would say there is magic at this very moment.
What is the impact of the voices of the real world when they are brought to your theater, which means the voice backstage, ‘mommy,’ and Julia’s musical toy?
As my friend and colleague Jalal Khoury told me that in the former plays, I used to write about society through my experience. In this play, I’m bringing the society to a very intimate world- my world. It’s a ‘mise à nu’ I’m doing even if it happens unconsciously.
Moreover, I think the triangle is very essential; the mom, the daughter, and the father have to become one in order to succeed in this project, as she is not only an actress, but also a baby. Thus, we have to respect her needs and necessities.
Julia has her own presence on stage -onomatopoeia, stuttering…- do you believe in communication beyond words? And what is the message she’s transmitting to you and the one you think she’s transmitting to the audience?
I think we’re playing on very genuine, pure feelings while flirting with the unconscious; with her unconsciousness. In the meantime, I’m not trying to take advantage of that. The actors do improve exercises so that they become boundless- freed from all kinds of bounds. Only then, will they be able to improvise on stage… whereas every night, she’s improvising without even knowing that she is. That’s the magic of it.
I believe that’s true theater because like in Comedia Del Arte they always know what they’re going to play but they don’t know the script… So they just improvise. Here, it’s the same, even deeper. A pure interaction between her and the audience is established from the very first moment she puts her foot on stage. The mom’s role is very essential too, because the mom and I asked ourselves what would be the best thing to do, as we had to decide for her as well, in one way or another; does she have to go on stage? For how long? One hour? Five minutes? Or shouldn’t she go on stage at all?
For instance, one night, she was sleeping, so she didn’t go on stage. Another night, she looked at the audience and came down backstage. During other performances she danced, and twice, she said hi to the audience.
Until now it’s a very positive experience. Looking at 300 people in front of her is not scary, especially that she believes she’s in her house. The space in the theater feels like her home. She’s always in there with her parents, and with her dad on stage since she was two weeks old. She attended plays and concerts. She played on stage and she even had her first birthday in the theater, where ‘she’ invited all her friends.
In terms of decoration on your sets, usually a chair can do. In DADDY, many other things are added to the setup; the juice, the bottle of water, and Julia’s toys. What was added to your acting world after Julia’s birth?
Many things… First of all, concerning this play I wanted to recreate her house on stage with all the elements in it. But in the end, things started eliminating themselves and I minimized my scene. I love the poor theater, just like Peter Brook or Grotowski, which is based on open space. The juice and water are tools I’m using while performing, as I simply need to drink. If anything changed since she came into my life? Everything changed. My whole life has changed, and I don’t only mean my life as an actor. Even though I might be a careless person, my egocentrism just vanished and everything I do is in function of my daughter.
Julia is an assertively independent entity. In what ways does her presence influence you at the beginning of your play, and do you feel any difference while performing when she refuses to go on stage?
I will relate a happening that took place two days before the premiere. When I took her on stage she nagged a lot and I was tired. So I wanted to skip the idea. But in fact, she didn’t understand what was going on because there was no one in front of her and she didn’t want to play for empty chairs. She needs an audience. And that’s what every actor needs… Besides, as I told you, this world is not bizarre for her. It is really familiar for her.
When it comes to her absence’s influence on me at the beginning of the play, as an actor, I always have to perform with the same energy and to give my maximum. However, the only thing is that when she’s on stage, I’m a dad as well. I would have been a dad even if she wasn’t my daughter because it’s my responsibility to take a child on stage as my charge.
Besides, we always have to remember that she -or any other baby- would have been the youngest stage actress in the world.
There is a thin line between acting and being present. Do you think that one performance after the other, her interaction with the audience will thicken her actor’s mask progressively?
For the moment no, not at this stage. However, I think that there is something like recognition or habit. It’s like listening to a song. The first time she likes the song, the second time she recognizes the song, the third time she enjoys the song, and the fourth time she needs the song. And when she hears the first note of the song, she will know that it’s her song. I think it’s the same thing with the audience. Bit by bit, she gets to know what she is doing. It’s also like entering an unknown space for the first time. The second time, she knows that she’s been there, and the third time it will become more familiar until it becomes her space with all that’s in there. The same applies to the stage. The only thing that is changing is if there’s anyone she knows from the audience, or what is the energy of the audience, or if there is an audience or not.
What about the training time? How much time did it take for Julia to be ready?
On stage, three times, not much. She had to be where she wanted to be. We didn’t impose anything. She’s being herself. She likes the song, she likes the audience and that’s it. She’s not scared from the lights, she’s not scared from presence, and she likes her space.
As for writing the play, it’s a totally different issue, because I think that she and her mom wrote it, and not me. I was just the scribe who took note in his own way. I adapted the whole process. I just put it in words and situations, while everything I was discovering was through what I was seeing. And I opened the doors with no taboo to the audience to see ‘what my life is made of’ and demystifying myself in a way or the other. Sometimes I feel like John Lennon and Yoko Ono when they were in bed at that shop window.
Is there any particular time for you to write?
I don’t know when I usually write. I know that I was mainly rehearsing at night and sometimes I used to do that during the day but mainly when she was asleep, and everyone was asleep at home, so that’s the only moment I had as an actor to be with myself. That’s the first part of the rehearsals. I write mainly at night. Many other times I write during the day as well. Sometimes I write small ideas, sometimes I write entire scenes, sometimes I edit my writing, and just skip many, many pages. And God knows how many pages I threw…
Do you still have them?
Of course, it’s like a movie. You film and you have many rushes but you finally just use the scenes you want.
Between your rehearsal and your final performance on stage, what makes you decide to change –or not, what you have prepared before?
Many factors. First of all my friends, second my ear, and I still fine tune every time I go on stage my script, not according to the laughter of the audience, but to the rhythm of the show. I just give it what it needs; be it amending, changing, or adding to it.
As in Molière’s plays, ‘On rit là ou on devrait pleurer.’ –We laugh where we should be crying. In your plays, drama is included, maybe in smallest moments than the ironical and comic ones. Is theater your mirror? And can we see the real you when you’re on stage?
In a way or the other you can see the real me. But I strongly believe that what is unsaid is way stronger than what is said in words. The words come at first degree while the unspoken is way deeper. The unspoken could be the tragic or the comic while when you hear the sentence you might laugh and that’s where all the work takes the dimension of a drama therapy because you laugh where it hurts. And I think that in a way or another all theaters have this impact, but some more than others.
Movie: Chantal Goya
Place: Souk El Tayyib
Dedicated to Julia…
A book you would like to read with her: There are actually many but I think it would be ‘Alice au pays des merveilles’ -Alice in Wonderland, even if its content sometimes scares me.
Motto in life: Carpe Diem.
A song to her: She would have to decide but I would dedicate to her any old traditional Lebanese song that my grandma used to sing to me when I was a kid like ‘Traymse ya traymse ya habbet el aadaiymsi…’
I don’t want her to be the formatted kind of girl that would become a Frenchy Cuckoo or an American Yeayea. I just want her to keep her identity as a Lebanese person and then she can add to it other cultures.
*A not-to-be-missed play! Last week end at Theatre Gemmayze -8:30. Friday to Sunday.
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