“If I show the moon and I play well, the public will not perceive my existence anymore.” That’s what Japanese actor, Yoshi Oida, who juggles so well with directing, teaching, and acting wrote. Same goes for teacher, writer, director, and actor Joe Kodeih who has created his very own acting style as well and fascinated his very own audience. He dragged into his constellation each person who entered the theater and managed to become “the invisible actor” who fades away and leaves his spectators each time with a different moon: Beirut, society characters, little Joe, and Superheroes…
Beyond the fear of being on stage, facing curious, enthusiastic, yet sometimes critical eyes, facing himself, in his own bubble, yet opening up to others, having the spontaneous eyes of that child in him and the mature voice of this professional actor, Joe kept his authenticity all the way to success. “Winning is nice if you don’t lose your integrity in the process.” And he didn’t.
I know it is hard for you to dissociate all three, but if you ever had to choose between being a writer, a director, or an author, what would you select?
The author; when I write, I don’t only limit myself to theater.
You have mentioned that it might be your last theater play. Still you also spoke about the ecstasy of being on stage. Why would you stop?
Nothing is definitive… and it’s mainly because of many things. I have other interests, plus I’m tired and I’m afraid that the audience would get bored of me. Still, if my ego tickles me again and if I have issues I want to talk about, maybe I’ll change my mind… but I doubt it.
What other interests are you talking about?
I would like to do a feature film or maybe just the director in plays.
What kind of plays?
I feel like working on Greek methodology.
What do you keep for yourself from this four-year journey?
Many good moments I have shared with the audience, many people who came to watch me, and the people I’ve worked with…
This play is different from your other plays in a way that it’s more than sharing your own experience; you go beyond your ANA to put social samples under the spotlight. Do you think this would change our reality?
Nothing will. I’ve already tried that before. Mainly all people who have responsibilities came, watched it, and didn’t do anything at all to change anything. They would only hear what they want to.
Why do you step on stage then?
To ask myself questions and even make people who come to watch my plays leave the theater with a question in mind; maybe we deserve to live in a better world.
You have used mixed media and sound effects in your “Film Cinama” play. Aren’t words enough? Or is it to visualize the cinema theme?
This play is like a feature film for me. I didn’t overuse visual or audio support; it was just to enhance the movie idea. Still, the technique is the same when it comes to scriptwriting or acting.
In “Film Cinama” ad, there are two joes. Your loyal audience knows Joe the actor. Plus, in real life, you have described him as 103 Kilos, 44, afraid of the plane, Joseph K… In your own words, who are both, Joe the actor and Joe in real life?
In every play, something comes back as a personal biography and it’s normal since I am the one who is writing. At some time, things I grab from here and there become me in a way. I am a needy person who seeks perfection, and yet, I’m so far away from it. However, I am always on a quest and I want to work more in order to make things better. Regarding the actor in me and me in the real life, I think they both come together.
Why do you look up to Superman?
It’s just a childhood dream, at a time when every kid wanted to have super powers. We all wanted that. In every play, the child in me who never grew old comes back and I’m never afraid of exhibiting myself.
Who are Superheroes in your eyes?
They are the people who are struggling in life and whose rights are violated.
Who are the Superheroes in your life?
Everyone for me is a Superhero in a way. You, me, my mom, your mom… everybody’s mom!U Harassed women, molested children, misunderstood people, people who work with underrated salaries just to feed their children, children who sell chewing gum in traffic jam… and the woman who is writing next to me.
Life is a movie, a theater play, or whatever… If you were to repeat a scene or a take from your life, what would it be?
None. I will keep it the way it is, with all the good and the bad things we had. I think that’s what makes us who we are. There is a quote I love that says “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
You end your play with a pessimistic attitude in your moves and in your words. Why this closure? Are you tired of speaking? Isn’t there hope anymore?
There’s always hope I think, but I also think that words are not enough. An action should be taken in this country. “J” isn’t only “Superjoujou.” It’s also “Jami3;” everyone. We’d better be in a better country with better representatives.
What about your documentation about Beirut? Did you get it from people you met?
It’s from people I met and things I do remember from the old Beirut. Unfortunately, the things I can recall are limited to my childhood or even to a time before I was born. I also used stories of elderly people that I gathered from fragments on purpose. I wanted to seek info from some friends of mine who lived in this era. I gathered a lot of info but I narrowed everything down in order to build a play and not a documentary.
What is it about this city?
It is where I live and where I dwell. I’m interested in this country. I still have some hopes… My hope is somehow tiny, but it’s still there. Even if I don’t believe in it anymore, it’s the kid in me who still wants to.
What about your next step?
I’m still wondering… I wish you could tell me…
In all his plays, Joe goes beyond the white and black plain colors of his acting space. He defies judgmental “good” “and “bad” etiquettes. He goes beyond our mediated society and gets into the complexity of human beings. Taking his own liberty to the universal level, he describes what he sees and feels in order to point out social injustice.
Let’s pray “Dionysos,” the god of theater, and hope that Joe’s “ego” tickles him, so that he steps back on stage again, with his on-the-move social eye-shots.
Relating our tragic daily life with a unique comedian talent and demystifying society taboos with funny yet satiric drama spirit and a deep approach, Joe definitely leaves question marks in his spectators’ minds, each time one of his numerous performances ends.
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