Tomorrow, March 21st, Lebanon will be celebrating Mother’s Day one of the most precious days to all of us. Everyone will celebrate this day in his/her own way either by buying presents or gift cards to their mom or by posting some nice words to their mom’s face book page or putting a flower on their grave … some bring them cake and some take them out on a date but no one ever remember that today, March 20th Lebanon is celebrating Child’s Day.
Childhood is the best part of anyone’s life and its known that anything that the child encounter in his early days will stay with him till the end of his/her life. Actually this is very true, and talking from a personal experience, my childhood has carved the person whom I became. Looking back to my childhood I realize how much blessed I was, having the opportunity to play real life games with my siblings, neighbors and friends , enjoying quality time with my parents and relatives and watching ethical cartoons and kids shows; things that today’s generation lacks.
Out of all the shows that I used to watch when I was a kid, the only one that still comes on my mind in a blurry memory was “Malaeb Al Sigar”, my, and definitely every kid back then, all time favorite TV show. I searched the entire World Wide Web to find any episode of this educational show but did manage to find any, except the title song, Very frustrating I know, fortunately though I managed to find Mrs. Samar EL Zein and if you don’t recall this name she was the hostess of this TV show along with Mr. Hikmat Wehbe(RIP). I was very excited to talk to her and even more excited when she agreed to answer any question I have in mind; Such a great feeling when, for a while, that 5 years old version of you has the freedom to ask any question and receive an answer from the lady you used to admire and wait for eagerly at the beginning of every episode. If you are interested to know more about her life, career journey, current status, lovely personality or sneak peak of one of the rarest episodes of “Malaeb al Segar” on the internet, keep scrolling down, I promise you won’t regret it!
Question: Can you tell us about your childhood, the neighborhood you were raised in and the School you attended?
Answer: My childhood was beautiful. I grew up in a big loving, supportive and secular family. Communication was very open and easy between my parents and me. I have six siblings, which is wonderful, and that meant that someone was always available to pay attention and listen to you if you needed to talk lol. I love big families.
My father use to take us every Sunday on a field trip to explore a different part of the country and I used to look forward to all of these Sunday trips. It was his way to educate us about Lebanese history and ancestors.
I was raised in a very popular neighborhood called “Khandaq Al Ghamiq.” The connection between everybody in the community was very strong and I still remember each one of our neighbors.
I attended a School in Ashrafieh called “Saint Famille” also known as “Notre Dame du Liban”. It was very beautiful with a colorful garden and large entrance. I loved my school and the nuns who use to teach us. They were very caring and very smart; sometimes funny, but sometimes very strict.
Question: What did you want to become when you grow old?
Answer: I was shy as a child and a big dreamer. I felt at that time that I had so much power in me and that I could change the world. I use to dream of becoming an astronaut and I still find the universe magical. When I moved to USA I bought my kids and myself a huge Telescope and I use to follow the stars almost every night; I’m very fascinated by the stars and the planets above… the Milky Way is very mesmerizing. I was really good at school and always the first in class also I was very good in science. Yet, I loved watching TV and around the age of 11 I knew I wanted to be a TV host.
Question: What was your favorite Cartoon, Children TV Series or Character?
Answer: All time favorite was “CASPER The Friendly Ghost.” I used to wait eagerly to watch that show. I also used to like watching “Tom and Jerry.”
Question: You majored in Theater at the Lebanese University, Institute of Fine Arts and then studied Movements and Physical Theater at Ecole Jacques Le Coq, France. Why did you choose these majors and did your parents agree on these majors back then?
Answer: When I finished High school I was already on TV hosting a children show called “Majalati” and I was also a journalist in a magazine called “Al Moushwar.” But since I was good in science too, and since at that time computer languages started to be in big demand, I learned computer programming languages like “Fortran” and “Cobol”. My mind was always wandering back and forth between science and arts. During this time I was casted in “Malaab Al Sighar”. I finished my degree in Computer Science but I knew in my heart that I could do better for myself and, hopefully, the others if I pursued Theatre as my career. Having a degree in Computers and being already on TV made it easy to convince my parents because I showed them I could succeed in either path.
Question: How was the university experience in Lebanon where it was in the middle of a civil war and France where peace along with cultural & open minded mentality were the Norm?
Answer: In Lebanon, the University was inconsistent and dependent on the events of the war and whether or not we were even physically able to go to college. But, there was an elite group of professors such as Dr. Ra’if Karam, Roger Assaf, and Yakoub Al Chidrawi (to name a few) teaching and being there for us. I really appreciate them even under the bombs and the snipers they enabled our resilience and our drive to learn. Those four years at the institute of Fine Arts were overwhelming and freeing at the same time because they taught me that my capability is dependent on my will.
In contrast to this extreme survival experience, the peace in Paris was relieving, however, again, my years there were intense academically, but in different sense. It was hard adjusting to the consistency of the school, for instance we had to work 9 hours every day interacting with students from various nationalities. I had to fit in a unique new structure and discipline at Jacques Le Coq and never had breaks.
Those two years were difficult and rewarding at the same time.
It was hard in Lebanon to be open about your opinion, whether it was on stage or on TV. In order to keep my career, I had to watch what I said. In France, I saw that the politics never governed what I could and couldn’t do in art.
Question: You have a very rich and diversified CV along with interesting career progression that reflects an intelligent mentality and authentic personality, from newspaper reporting to TV and Radio hosting can you tell us about your first steps in this long journey?
Answer: When I was sixteen years old I went to studio 7 on LBC and I asked for Samir Abou Nassif, the creator of the series “Majalati”. My purpose was to get his interest in ideas; I had to create a new show where I will be the host. He listened to me and very diplomatically rejected my ideas because he already had his show. About two years later, my friend and successful photographer, Nabil Ismael, helped me to become a journalist in the magazine “Al Moushwar”. I was assigned to make a report on the mother of the president of Lebanon, Mr. Sarkis, who had passed away. Coincidently, Samir was looking for a new face and he read my report so he called and specifically said “if you are the same Samar El-Zein who came to me 2 years ago and if you still have the same motivation, energy, and enthusiasm that you had when I met you, then I have work for you.” And that’s how it all started.
Question: How did you become the Hostess of “ملاعب الصغار”? Can you remind us about its segments?
Answer:I had already two educational shows for children and teen agers “Majalati” and “Ma Al Chabab” and they were successful with children and respected by parents. Nicolas Abou Samah the director of “Malab Al Sighar” was looking for a new face and a natural and spontaneous personality. He heard about me and he asked me to audition. The show had 300 hundred episodes thoroughly educational. It was much like a visual encyclopedia for children.
Question: Did you enjoy this experience, what was your Favorite memory from this Program?
Answer: I did enjoy the experience tremendously. My experience was incredibly rewarding professionally. It took three years to finish the 300 episodes and we used to work on and off depending on the security situation of the country. We were like a big family. I had a great bond with Abou Samah’s family, Nicholas, and his wife Mary Badine. Also, working with Hekmat Wehbe (rest in peace) was a very pleasant experience. He was a great colleague and great a friend and like a brother. We use to laugh a lot because of his great sense of humor especially when we were stuck in Brumana for months in order to film and we weren’t able to go to our homes. I use to cry everyday not knowing what’s going on with my family. But, Hekmat tried to make everyday a little easier. It was impossible not to have a good time in his presence.
Question: Halfway during your career, you changed your career path to become an assistant director for several documentaries and having leading acting roles in movies and theatrical plays along with and participating in Lebanese delegations in Regional and international film festivals, Can you tell us why did you do this shift?
Answer : My contract with “Malab Al Sighar” stipulated that I was not supposed to host or create any children show that could compete with it for 5 years. And since performing arts was my major source of income I managed to get a position at the ministry of culture and information which allowed me to participate in festivals and to meet great directors like Georges Nasr and Borhan Alauoia, who were addressing fundamental existential subjects related to the country. Their work addressed suffering and the remarkable qualities of the Lebanese people and their survival.
Question: Did you find yourself more in performing the scenario rather than reporting it?
Answer: I am equally drawn to every stage of creativity that conveys a valuable message to elevate the well being of society groups and better their interactions. That gives me a great fulfillment and joy whether I’m in front of the camera or behind it. My career no longer became about me wanting to be in the media or to be seen. It was about messages and dialogue. Theatre, TV, film, and news broadcast were just the media I used to fulfill my career.
Question: Can you describe for us how Lebanon was in the 80s and 90s (based on your personal memory and experience) and what was your expectations about the Future Lebanon back then?
Answer: I have no idea how Lebanon used to be in the 90s. I left in the middle of the 80s and by then the war was still taking place. The situations politically, economically, culturally, and the safety were getting worse and worse. The expectations of any improvement in Lebanon were very low. Leaving the country was the most rational choice.
Question: At a later stage you moved to the US and became a theater, drama and movie instructor and then Founded your own company “The Kinetic Theater” that you have been managing and developing since January 2000, Can you tell us more about it, where it is located and what inspired you to start it?
Answer: I wanted to enjoy my motherhood fully, yet still have a flexible time for my professional career. And so, I founded “The Kinetic Theater” in Princeton, NJ. One of the main purposes of this company is to explore the integration of theatrical arts in education by doing residencies in Schools and workshops in libraries. I offer my workshops to children and women. At schools I taught mime and masks, in addition to working with the music teachers to help the students translate a topic in their curriculum into a performance.
Question: What are your current workshops and the causes you are addressing? What is your aspiration for Kinetic Theater? Click here to Check Kinetic Theater Website
Answer: Recently I’m focusing on helping women translate their stories into a corporal expression and find their own natural rhythm. My audience tends to be mostly abused women or women with breast cancer. I love to work with people without prior experience in acting or dancing and help them get in touch with their own movement. This helps enforce their sense of creativity and power. I would like for Kinetic Theater to be able to visit refugee camps, work with children and women, and empower them.
Question: In your opinion, if you didn’t have the opportunity to leave Lebanon and move abroad, did you have manage to reach your anticipated career goal?
Answer: Had I stayed in Lebanon I probably would have reached my career goals, but maybe they wouldn’t have been the goals that I did develop. Who knows? Or I would have died.
Question: Looking back to your career journey, can you tell us if you are satisfied and proud of what you have done so far or regret some choices that you took or lost opportunities that you didn’t take
Answer: I started under adverse social circumstances as well as adverse personal circumstances such as discrimination based on religion and gender. And under that context, I feel that I made all the right choices. The road was not easy however I’m very happy and proud where I am now.
Question: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
Answer: 10 years from now, I see myself in Tyre or Byblos by the beach having my own studio, teaching, creating, improvising, serving a community creatively and laughing a lot.
Question: Did you visit Lebanon since you moved to The US? What did change in Lebanon from the time you left till the day you visit it?
Answer: I visited Lebanon after 24 years. Lots of things had changed there was no more borders between the east and the west side of Beirut. The landscape looks beautiful as usual. However, it seems that the same problems still exist; the religious tensions, the absence of any national unity, the lack of electricity, water, security or the rights of human beings. The same people, families and mentalities that created the war are still there and the problems that existed previously are now even more complicated.
When I visited, I kept hearing the people talking about how the government and that the system should be changed to enhance the country. It’s less obvious, however, that this isn’t the only thing that needs to be changed. The society should change and the people should be aware of their rights and begin to unconditionally accept and respect one another as Lebanese for the sake of our country.
Question: What is your message/advice to the generation that you addressed 30 years ago? Do you think that you have succeeded in raising a creative, intelligent, and respectful generation by participating in an educational Children TV Program “ملاعب الصغار”
Answer: That was my aim and purpose and I hope I succeeded at that. The future is in the hands of the children. Children naturally are fresh, intuitive, intelligent, open minded, and forgiving. The most important years in a person’s life and society’s future are the childhood years because whatever you teach a child is what is going to come back. So, I was hoping through majalati, maa shabab, and malaab al sighar, we would be able to give attention to the spirit and to the nature of those years to preserve them and help them develop. If we, as parents and as a society, keep killing the child’s nature then we will never change.
Question: Being a professional in this field, what is your advice to the people who would like to major in the Theatrical arts?
Answer: I don’t really like to give advices but I think it is important to take any path you choose in life seriously and give it all you can as long as it makes you happy. Rumi said “let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Question: Would you like to add anything?
Answer: Thank you for reaching out to me. It makes me happy when people remember my show and send me messages about how they wish the children in Lebanon could watch a quality program similar to mine. I strongly believe in the power of television and the power of children. I think it is essential to educate them in order to build a future for Lebanon.
Edward Murrow, the most significant news reporters in history said that “TV can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it’s nothing but wires and lights in a box…” I hope Lebanon can see a day where TV is used to change the society. Right now it has not reached its potential, to be polite. Love and Light to all.
By ending this remarkable blog interview, let me first thank you for the time and trust you put in answering my curious questions, it’s an honor to interview one of the few inspirational persons whom I encountered in my life.
Thank you for sharing with us you bitter sweet memories, the ones that shaped my generation’s childhood and the ones that summed up your generation’s life style.
Thank you for telling us that a person can succeed if he/she has the will and motivation to do so even if the circumstances weren’t in his/her favor for a period of time.
Thank you for informing us that Lebanon today is still the same or even worse than the one you left 30 years ago and we are not evening getting close to developing it.
And Above it all, thank you for reminding us that the final destination of the Lebanese Diaspora should be their home country, Lebanon.
I am sure that the generation you addressed long time ago are now married and have their own kids, career and responsibilities, but after reading this post and watching the below video I am sure they will go back in time, even for a while, to the days when they used to have no responsibility or worries, when life was full of hopes and anticipations, when they wanted to change the world with the help of their small toys and friends, the best days of their lives.
Mrs. Samar Al Zein, Much Respect.