’The place of intellectuals'

The Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus between dictatorship and the market


  • Ziad Adwan LMU München




This paper explores how the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts (HIDA) in Damascus achieved an exceptional degree of prestige in Syrian cultural life. Although operating under a dictatorship in a conservative country, HIDA still enjoyed unusual margins of curricula autonomy and free expression in a country that repressed other cultural and educational sectors. Like in many socialist countries in the Cold War, Syrian intellectuals were challenged by several factors, chief of which was the ability to confront the dominant status quo without being accused of disloyalty. Yet, while the theatre institute became ‘the place of the intellectuals’ at the national level, the interpretation of intellectualism provoked controversies inside the institute between the acting and the theatre studies departments. It is argued that the rise of commercial television and the success of accomplished alumni were among the reasons that gave the institute its prominent position in Syria and in many other Arabic-speaking countries. These two antithetical developments – the rise of serialized television drama, and the changing status of the intellectual – played a significant role in shaping the image of the institute, its curricula and in determining the image of the intellectual in Syria.

Author Biography

  • Ziad Adwan, LMU München

    Ziad Adwan studied for an MA in Text and Performance Studies at Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and King’s College in London, and then took a PhD in Theatre Studies at Royal Holloway, University of London; his thesis was on “Mistakes and Making Mistakes in Cultural Representations”. Ziad’s work comprises acting, directing and writing for theatre as well as academic research. He taught at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Damascus/ Syria 2009-2013. Ziad is currently based in Germany and is affiliated with the Global Theatre Histories Research Project, Developing Theatre (Building Expert Networks for Theatre in Emerging Countries after 1945) at LMU Munich, and publishes articles in several academic journals. Ziad co-founded TANWEEN Company for Theatre and Dance and has been directing theatre and performance projects in Germany.