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Parental restrictions hold back potential artists ‘Whatever you want to do, you can do’

IN A world as complicated as ours, where humans are divided in almost every aspect of life; whether its religion, race, politics, culture or even little illogical disputes, there is always going to be division. The arts seem to unify people in such a way that everything else in life is somehow paused, and the only thing that matters at this moment of unity is art itself. This thought has been brewing deep within Yousef Al-Nasser, since he was five years old and it has only grown stronger as the years went by. Passionate about the arts from such a young age, he became one of Kuwait’s numerous aspiring talented artists; focusing on theatre and music. He is keen on spreading the work of art while he continues striving to become the best.

Following is the full text of his interview with the Arab Times recently:

Question: Tell us a little about yourself.
Answer: My name is Yousef Al-Nasser and I’m 19 years old. I’m half-Kuwaiti and half-Italian and have lived in Kuwait my whole life. Summing it up, I live for the arts in all its forms – whether it is music, theatre, dance, drawing or photography, you name it. I’ve done all of it from a young age, but I have become more interested in it in the past couple of years, thanks to my company – One World. I’ve been training with professionals from outside the country. I’m currently Studying Communications and Media at the American University of Kuwait (AUK), hopefully to get into journalism and basically to have my work published and recognized.
Q: Out of all the arts that you practice, in which do you excel?
A: I would probably say theatre, as I have been practicing it the longest. Recently, I have been pursuing and gaining more experience in both music and photography; but as a foundation, theatre is definitely where I excel.
Q: How long have you been active in theatre?
A: Well, since I was five years old, so that is 14 years of constant work in theatre. I have never gone through a year where I had no exposure to the field, there is always one show at least; because if I don’t maintain this, I would feel lost. My director always tells me, “If you’re not doing a show, you’re not the same person,” so I stick with it to make sure I’m still the same.  
Q: What made you pursue arts in general, and specifically the performing arts like theatre and music?
A: I have always felt that art in general is a part of my life and a part of who I am. It was never something that I wanted to do for fun; it has always been something I wanted to sustain for the rest of my life. My parents never had any artistic skills, and it all started with my elder sister when she focused on drama acting, but she played the flute as well.
Following her was my elder brother who mainly focused on music, and is now the lead guitarist for one of the most recognized bands in Kuwait, ‘Jelly Shot’. Because of my siblings, I have been exposed to these two arts – theatre and music, and because of my passion for the arts, I pursued them.
Q: There is always an event or incident that artists, sooner or later, experience something, which makes them realize this is indeed what they want to pursue, have you experienced this yet? 
A: This is actually very recent, a mime acting expert named Adam Darius came to Kuwait to train actors from One World Company, in which I’m a member, through a series a workshop. On his last day, we had dinner with him and I sat next to him. He grabbed my arm and told me “Yousef, I see myself in you, so don’t you ever give up.” At the moment, I told myself that I can’t stop doing this. I have to pursue this no matter what, either by entering a drama school or finding music. One way or the other, I should keep going.
Q: What about when you were younger, what made you continue down this road?
A: It was the love for it. No one really encouraged me and told me that I was good at what I do. It was just the passion that drove me forward, the feeling of performing completely different from anything else; it’s just uplifting for me.
Q: You mentioned that you are currently studying Communications and Media at AUK, and since you also mentioned that theatre is your strongest talent, why didn’t you pursue theatre academically?
A: Mainly because of my parents. My family is considered ‘Sayeds’ and theatre is frowned upon religion-wise. They also fear the possibility of failure if I attend a drama school; worrying about how I might take it. I repeatedly discussed attending drama school with them, but we will never know unless I try it. 
Q: Do you think that parental restriction is the dominant reason for holding back aspiring artists?
A: I would say that yes, it is. I think one of the reasons is they don’t want to damage the family name, which will be the case if their son or daughter goes into the performing arts and fails; and then sinks into the whole drug abuse scene. This is always a possibility. Moreover, there is always parental expectation wherein they want their children to be doctors or engineers; forcing the children to comply and keep their parents happy. But this phenomenon has been changing in the recent years, as children now have more say in what they want to do in life. I’m not saying that it has completely changed, it is changing slowly but surely. 
Q: Would you say that Kuwait is friendly towards the performing arts?
A: It depends on who you know, to be honest; because you have artistically-educated people who will encourage every form of art, but others will not do the same. For instance, Bayt Lothan has been more encouraging in terms of music. You also have a few theatre companies that are now branching out, so you can say Kuwait is picking itself up in this field. Unlike around 10 years ago, Kuwait is getting more open-minded in its arts. 
Q: Where do you see this development in the field of arts headed in the future?
A: Well, it won’t reach the level of Broadway, I’ll say that much. I guess it all boils down to the artist himself and how far he wants to take it, because there’s an Iranian actor in the West End in the United Kingdom and he played in the Phantom of the Opera for a few years, so reaching these levels of theatre is very possible, but it all depends on the actor, who they know and whether they pursue it enough themselves. It’s not enough for an actor to be told he is good at what he does as he needs to put in the necessary effort in order to make it. 
Q: Since you are an actor yourself, some studies suggest that individuals who enter the performing arts suffer from an external locus of identity, where do you stand in this regard? 
A: In some cases, yes, I agree. There are times you ask yourself the same question. Personally, when I feel that I’m at an all-time low and wanting to become someone else, become a different character; it makes me look at my life through a different set of eyes. While I act and                  become this other person, I live his life and then realize that in comparison to my life; there is really nothing to worry about, or there are only certain things I should worry about.
I basically turned this complexity to my advantage. I’m not saying all actors do so, but that’s the way I personally see it. It hasn’t been always like this, I think it is because I have been playing bigger parts in plays recently, and because I’m a ‘method actor’, meaning that I live the character’s life completely, just like Heath Ledger when he played ‘Joker’ in the movie ‘The Dark Night.’
Q: Do you admit to having this complexity? Have you come across some actors that severely suffer from this?
A: Yes, I do. I would definitely say that all actors suffer from this complexity, but it all depends on how you approach it. Unlike my case and how I twisted it around to benefit from it, some actors allow it to affect them to a point that they are constantly changing, even when they are not acting; leaving them in this almost bipolar state, eventually leading them down to this dark area and ultimately drug abuse. Sadly, this happens way too often, but not so much in Kuwait though.
Q: What about the emotional toll that comes with acting?
A: There is always going to be an emotional toll when it comes to acting, but it can be positive or negative depending on the actor and how he takes it. When it comes to the negative effect, the good thing about being an actor is that you’re always with the community, and they will be there to pull you out when you start to sink in. Sometimes you come across actors who won’t let the community pull them out, because of their pride and belief that they can do it without help.
Q: There is this stereotypical idea that males interested and integrated in the world of theatre are thought of as ‘gay men’. Where do you stand in this regard?
A: I think it’s obnoxious for one to assume a man is gay just because he loves theatre. I mean sure, it happens a lot, but they’re not like that because of theatre; it’s just that theatre helps them show who they really are. I mean no man has gotten into theatre and came out gay. If it did happen, it means he was not straight in the first place.  
Q: The Arabic Theatre is almost completely different to the English Theatre based on your experience, what can you tell us about this subject?
A: Based on my experience, when you compare Arab comedy and English comedy, you’ll find Arabs are more into physical comedy than the English. It is not so much about the context of what they say rather than how it is being delivered; the actions, the facial expressions and so on. I guess it’s all rooted from the culture. 
Q: Throughout your work in theatre, have you ever worked alongside the Arabic theatre?
A: There is an actor and director named Yousef Al-Hashash. We had a joint effort running the Arabic show named, ‘Akhnaton’. Our actors joined as chorus members and his actors were the main cast since it was an Arabic show. The experience in general was fantastic because of the way he worked. We had our director, who was British, and Yousef, a Kuwaiti. You get to see two completely different approaches to theatre.  Yousef’s approach was more rhythmic like 1+1=2; while our director works on numerous scenes. Put them together and see how it flows; if it works, it is great! If not, then he changes certain aspects.
Q: Your strongest talent is theatre while making music is your second. Tell us more about your musical experience and how you got into it.
A: I’ve always been singing throughout my work in theatre which started at the age of five. By age nine or 10, I started writing poetry, as my sister writes poetry too. She suggested that I give it a try. I did and it was pretty fun. One Christmas, my brother gave me a guitar which made me think that I should turn my poetry into songs. I have never stopped since then. I played the Clarinet for four years during elementary but I stopped as I got bored with.
Q: What’s your dream when it comes to the performing arts that you practice?
A: Either to become a star in West End in the United Kingdom or become a touring musician; both are very difficult to get into. With the arts, it is all about knowing the right people. Artists are almost completely restricted in Kuwait, I have to leave the country in order to get anywhere.
Q: In your opinion, why do performing artists feel restricted here in Kuwait?
A: Personally, I think it is because they want to keep Kuwait a religious country, and the idea that concerts or what might not ruin the image of the country.
Q: After all that has been said, if you had the ability to change something to improve the world of theatre in Kuwait, what would it be?
A: I would love to see more encouragement, whether it’s in school, at home or anywhere. For instance, if a Science teacher realizes a certain student is in some way artistically talented, they should encourage them to pursue it and inform the parents, convince them that this is good and make them come and see for themselves. I know a couple of teachers who have seen students excel in an artistic field but do not inform their parents, as they fear the parents’ reaction. Parents might get disappointed and stop their children from practicing whatever art their good at. 
On the other hand, if parents learn their child is artistic in any way, they should push him towards pursuing it. What I really don’t understand is why some parents prevent their children from pursuing the arts. If I could, I would also want to see more theatres built in Kuwait, and I mean, venues for plays and other theatre-related activities. The government should start recognizing this layer of the Kuwaiti society, because it is currently growing; if they don’t, it might reach a point where the theatre community will start demanding.
Q: What about in the international level, what would you change?
A: More shows; because the more plays there are, the more educated and aware the public gets. When it comes to theatre, you can’t really find it unless you look for it. Even with our shows, we have to go to schools and hand out flyers, or invite through Facebook, there is no real means for spreading the word.
Q: What’s the message you want to convey to other aspiring artists?
A: I have two messages. First would be, “Whatever it is you want to do, you can do. There is always a way to do it, you just have to go looking for it.” Secondly, “Thank the Italians for Nutella!”
* 19 years old, half-Kuwaiti and half-Italian, has lived in Kuwait his whole life. 
* Studied at the British School of Kuwait and is currently studying in The American University of Kuwait, getting a degree in Mass Media and Communications.
* Performed alongside some great talents at the One World Actors Centre, a British accredited company aiming to enhance and bring out the arts scene in Kuwait 
* Published a musical project called ‘Vintage Voices’ on
* Member of a Jazz group called “3am Shawarma” as the vocalist and guitarist
Achievements include: 
* An interview with Good Morning Kuwait on KTV 1 
* Working with the mime expert – Adam Darius 
* Directed own shows and performed at multiple diplomatic functions in Kuwait
* Participated in a workshop with West End stars who performed in the famous plays like Chorus Line, Les Miserables and War Horse in London, alongside my company 

By Ahmed Al-Naqeeb

Arab Times Staff

By: Yousef Al-Nasser

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