Syrian Drama: On the Verge of Collapse?
By: Wissam Kanaan
Published Monday, December 5, 2011
As Syrian drama production suffers due to the country's growing political crisis, actors and directors are looking to other Arab markets that will benefit from their expertise.
Damascus - Ever since Syria’s drama industry flourished, it managed to secure a special place for itself on most major Arab television stations.
It didn’t take long for Syrian dramas to become the most popular soap operas in the Arab world.
Such was the competency and skill of Syrian actors and directors that Egyptian producers began to seek them out, in an attempt to restore the glamor of Egyptian drama.
It started in 2006, when Syrian Jamal Suleiman played the lead role in the Egyptian series, The Devil’s Gardens.
Soon after, Hatem Ali, along with his artistic team and Taim Hassan, presented a series of works that changed the face of Egyptian television drama.
The Gulf television industry also lured Syrian actors and directors, but tight censorship in the conservative oil-rich countries undermined Gulf producers’ ability to win large audiences in the Arab market.
Three months have passed since the end of the drama season and not one Syrian production company has been able to deliver a series to the market, with the exception of Rania Bitar’s and Rasha Sharbatji’s series Banat al-Ayla (Family Girls).
The drought of drama coming out of Syria is undoubtedly due to the political crisis that Syria is enduring at the moment.
There are indications that many in the industry will start to look for work opportunities outside of Syria, and that Lebanon will be their second option after Egypt.
Relocating to Lebanon is attractive to actors and directors for a number of reasons, not least because it is close by and Syrians are well-acquainted with Lebanese customs and traditions.
Lebanese drama is also in sore need of an injection of such talent.
Lebanon is also seen as a good choice as its drama industry is, to a certain extent, independent from Gulf productions – stations in Lebanon have direct influence in fostering and supporting their country’s drama productions.
Thus, even before the start of popular demonstrations, Syrian production company Sama started to film Ruby, a soap opera written by Lebanese author Claudia Marchelian.
Syrian director Saifuddin Subaie has also come to Beirut to select a group of youth to star in his new Lebanese series Wlad Kibar (Big Kids).
“No one is thinking of completely abandoning the Syrian drama industry, we have great projects in mind for it. I will start filming a Syrian soap opera next March,” Subaie told al-Akhbar.
On the question of whether Lebanese drama will benefit from its Syrian counterpart, Subaie says, “it might benefit from the Syrian experience as did Egyptian and Gulf drama. When any industry wants to develop its production, it is natural for it to call for the leading cadres of the industry.”
Jamal Suleiman, for his part, predicts that “Syrian drama will suffer from marketing difficulties and production problems due to the lack of an independent Syrian satellite television market. Syrian channels tend to pay low prices for Syrian drama.”
Suleiman adds that Arab satellite channels are looking to the Lebanese market to provide them with new productions and it is only natural that Syrians help their neighbors next door in improving the quality of their work.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.