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By the mistake of a smuggler

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Alan Yadegariayan is an Iranian-Dutch artist and theatre director. Recently, he's also been busy writing. He does not want to be seen as a political activist on the stage, but he likes political performances. "What's important to me is to engage the public with social issues and share some understandings." His life changed completely after the Islamic revolution in 1979 in Iran. This is his story.


Alan was a stage actor from age of five but after the Islamic revolution of 1979, there was no theatre in Iran, other than some propaganda projects put on by the government and their allies in the cultural and artistic organizations. "My life was completely changed by Iran's religious regime," he remembers. He was raised and educated in a non-religious family. "You could even say that I'm anti-religion. For this reason I was not allowed to perform in the theatre and I was kicked out of university twice because I'd been identified as a threat to the education system and disqualified." He realised that was not welcome to work or study because he didn't fit within the religious society. "That was a real problem," he says.

Escape
At the age of 19, at the time of Iraq-Iran's war, he was sent to northwest of Iran to do his military service. On the frontline, he had to fight Iraqi soldiers and Kurdish rebels. "Sometimes we had to fight and for the rest of the time we were gathering scorpions' tails to smoke."

He was 22 when he left Iran to join his brother who was already in Pakistan. "Pure magic saved us from Pakistani soldiers. Young persons could be potential victims of a sex abuse there." After one and half months he had an Italian passport in his hand, a lot of hope in his heart and sparks of fear in his eyes.

In 1990, they flew to The Netherlands but they did not plan to stay. The destination was America. "But our smuggler made a mistake and because of his bad information, I no longer had a choice. I did not want to be deported to Iran. I was trapped in Schiphol and sent to a camp in Amersfoort. It was the time of the fall of the Berlin wall. The camp was full of refugees from the former Yugoslavia and other Eastern European countries like Poland and Romania."

Chekhov in Red Light District
Alan hopes one day he can make the 'Three Sisters' by Chekhov and then his focus would be on human trafficking. "I'm very impressed by this story. Three sisters who want to go back to Moscow, but they never do it. I think I would rebuild a Red Light District with three prostitutes who wish to get rid of their pimps and escape to somewhere else."

"Generally in the camp, we did not have so many things to do; we played football as much as possible and had a dance party once a week. I also started to write poems and short parts for theatre which we performed with other refugees in the camp," Alan recalls. He did not read his poems to people there but 'A Little Window', his first tiny poetry book, was published five years later. "When it is cold outside and the rain is going on and on for days, I become very nostalgic and passive. To avoid it, I stay at home and try to write."

What else was there to do?
"I used every opportunity to learn Dutch; going with my little brother to school, which was illegal for me because I was over-age; going to a church and taking lessons from a few old Dutch people and talking with Dutch people in the camp." At that time, learning the language was a big challenge for him.

"My first Dutch girlfriend was a real window into Dutch culture. It was fascinating to see Dutch people's directness." With his Iranian background of being very indirect not speaking out so openly about one's needs, it took many years before he could find a balance between these two different worlds, Iran and Holland.

Dutch individualism
"The Dutch are a lot for themselves, very individual." He says. "It is not egoistic, but it is what the culture is built on." He calls this the "city culture." He explains how he sees this pattern of social behavior in big modern cities: "You are very busy all the time and are working hard. Work, work and more work. What you need in your free time is to do what you want. I don't know, maybe you want to be alone and walk around in your pajamas, do the laundry with your partner, discuss ideas with your neighbor about how to make a better world, play a game with your cat, or watch a comedy with some close friends while you're stoned on soft drugs!"

Alan is also an actor in TV series like SpangaS, Deadline, Klein Holland, Voetbalvrouwen, as well as some commercials. "I prefer to be a freelance artist more than a full-time coach or trainer at theatre schools. But, when I'm not making theatre, acting for TV is fun to do and, of course, an easy way to make money," he says.

Difficult rolls
"Casting agencies call me when they are looking for to type cast a Moroccan guy, a refugee, a terrorist, bad guy or criminal. To me, type casting is following clichés and stereotypes. Sometimes I play types that nobody has dared to play, such as a gay Muslim guy in 'Shahram & Abbas', a short film for Dutch TV." In Islam and according to the Sharia law, if you are a gay and you let it be known that you are a gay, you will be hanged in public. "So, for me, there is something interesting about playing those types."

Although he doesn't mind acting in TV series and sometimes even likes to play to type if it challenges him, he wishes that he could have a chance to take on different characters or types. "It's not nice to play only a bad guy, is it?"

In 2000, he graduated in theatre directing at the 'Amsterdamse Hogeschool voor de Kunsten'. Since then he's directed many theatre projects. In 2009, he directed 'The Persians' by Aeschylus, performed by a bilingual company of professional and non-professional actors in Dutch and Persian. In 2010, he worked with a group of dancers from the Dox theater group in Utrecht, on 'A Ticket to Paradise'. "Until now, I've directed a few good works for theatre and I'm happy about them. But I want to produce more good work."

He is now busy with two new projects. "One of them is the 'Conference of Birds' a text from Attar, the Persian poet and writer of the 11th century, that has been translated into Dutch. Now I'm in discussions with my dramaturge about a new version we can adapt for theatre. Another project is a theatre piece in Persian by Bahram Beizaei, an Iranian writer and director, which I translated into Dutch a couple of months ago."

Political engagement
Alan does not want to be seen as a political activist on the stage, but he likes political performances. "I don't call it political theatre," he says, "but engagement with the society or the environment. There is not just one political party -- left or right. This does not really matter in theatre. What it's important to me is to engage the public with social issues and share some understandings."


He gives an example of his work. In 1999, he directed 'Tanchelijn' by Harry Mulisch for a school project. "When Shi'a Islam became a religious and political power in 1979, Iranian mullahs and clerics became the new messiahs for the Iranian people. The essence of the Mulisch's story was about charlatans who were acting like the new messiahs. I got the real meaning of this story because I used to live in the Iranian society."

He wants to see theatre makers focus more on concept than form. "To me political matters are never old fashion. Actually there was a podium for it, but artists let it be empty. Then a good thing happened: the public wanted to see something that matters. Now people stand and ask for it from artists." He is positive and wants artists to reevaluate the last two decades of being careless about their work and, instead, try to find out how they can make projects that are more engaged with society. For him this new podium is a good opportunity to tell his stories and produce his plays.

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