Pari Saberi, Acclaimed Iranian playwright and director

I believe that art transcends all barriers and brings people together. It gives humanity joy, freedom and love. If we put aside bitterness and pettiness, we will see that brotherhood, generosity and love take their place.

I don't know if I chose theatre or if it chose me. My love affair with this immortal art started when I was 8 years old. My name Pari means butterfly (in Persian) and that is the role I was chosen to play in school.

My mother herself stitched the costume. I vividly remember the first time I wore it and stood in front of the mirror, it was as though I were looking at myself but at the same time looking at someone else. I felt like those butterfly wings were a real part of me.

When I went on stage, I saw my mother and my teachers. I froze. I couldn't remember my lines. My teacher kept prompting me from behind the curtains but her voice didn't even register.

I was so lost that I had to be carried off the stage in a half- conscious state. But it didn't matter. I had discovered my love for theatre and it gave me the wings I needed.

I was exposed to art and history during my formative years.
I was lucky, our family moved to France (from Tehran) when I was very young.

I didn't have to go through a transition or a culture shock that I would have had to endure had I been older. History and art were an important part of my education and right from the onset I was taken in by theatre.

My father was heartbroken when I told him what I wanted to do. He had different aspirations for me. He wanted me to get into a more 'respectable' profession, like being a doctor.

But he didn't oppose my choice. I think it was only after a few years, when I got married to a doctor, that he felt better.

My work can be divided into two periods.

I studied at the Vaugirard Cinematography College in France. I owe what I have learnt to my teachers in France. I could not have been who I am without being exposed to the rich cultural heritage France offers. During my career there, I directed many performances of contemporary European dramas.

In 2004, I was honoured to receive the Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres (French Literature and Art Cavalier Badge). The previous year I received the Avicenna prize from Unesco for two performances staged in France.

But after the (Iranian) revolution I turned my focus from staging plays by Western dramatists to adaptations of Persian literary texts.

My work in the West actually helped me in adapting the Persian texts. When I returned to Iran after the revolution, art was going through a dry spell because the country's focus had shifted to other issues.

I felt the urge to revive theatre and art in Iran. The people needed to come together to hear and feel the message of love and harmony that art conveys.

I had always been a fan of the works of (Iranian poets) Attar Neishabouri and Hafez. I realised that this was my opportunity to express ideas I admired in my own language and culture. (From 1984 onwards, I wrote plays inspired by (Iranian) literature as well as biographical performances on the lives of (Iranian) artists and poets.)

The works of the West are my teachers and I will always be grateful to them, but my love for Iranian literature is like a child's love for her mother.

Antigone at the Colosseum
In 2000, when the Colosseum re-opened in Rome after 1,500 years, three countries were invited to participate in the event - Greece, Italy and Iran.

King Oedipus was proposed to Greece, Colonus to Italy and Antigone was proposed to me. I was delighted at being presented the opportunity to stage a play like Antigone using a traditional Iranian style of theatre.

In the play, when Antigone is being tortured by Creon, she is overcome by love and she says, "I was born to love not to take revenge." This sentence is the very essence of what I want to convey through theatre.

I teach through my plays.

I never impose my ideas. I only propose what I want to do. I am seen as a role model by women in Iran but I am only doing what I love to do.

I have never tried consciously to influence the younger generation but all the people who work with me tend to be between 18 and 30. This makes me happy, as it is imperative for the youth to be connected to their roots.

I teach through my performances. People who work with me learn while they perform.

Women in Iran
Iranian women are extremely powerful. People have misconceptions about us. Women in Iran are lawyers and doctors. Iranian artists like Shirin Etessam are known in every part of the world.

Even when I went to India, I was delighted to see how the people there responded to my play Seven Cities of Love by Attar. I felt as though I were right at home. Iran has a rich culture that inspires artists regardless of their sex. Art on the whole is opening up more and women are involved in every sphere.

Leila and Majnun is only the beginning.

I would love to stage the works of Attar here in the UAE. I am confident that the message of art will continue to find its way to people's hearts all over the world.

Like the great poet Sa'adi said, "We are all part of each other and originally created by one gem. If one part is in pain then the rest will suffer too."