Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1338, (30 March - 5 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Days to remember

On World Theatre Day, action was pitted against wishful thinking

Days to remember

Since 2013 the Egyptian association of the International Theatre Institute (part of an international network established by UNESCO since 1948) has made a habit of celebrating World Theatre Day. Collectively written by its prominent founders, including the president of the association, the late professor Nehad Selaiha, the opening speech in 2013 emphasised the values of freedom and human dignity. The energy of the revolution of 25 January 2011 was still in the air, and everybody had faith in change.

The founders, Essam Elsayed, Nasser Abdelmoneim, Samia Habib, Girgis Shoukry, Hazem Azmy, Mohamed Samir Elkhateeb, Gamal Yakout and Amr Kabeel, gathered on the initiative of the hard-working scenographer Hazem Shebl, and under the leadership of Nehad Selaiha. It was a new chapter in advocacy and empowerment in theatre. Selaiha regarded this gathering as a contemporary ground to launch a National network of theatre practitioners who would create their own local training activities, international exchanges, and artistic presentations via the association. She considered the somewhat long phase of registration under the Egyptian law of NGOs just a preliminary phase before the creative field work began.

Four years after the launch of the Egyptian Association of the International Theatre Institute, and six years after the revolution, things have never been worse. The state’s economic crisis has affected all aspects of cultural production, whether within the governmental sector or the independent one. Budgets have been drastically cut. Opportunities shrank. And the challenges to any performing arts practitioner have grown beyond reason.

The cultural administrative system in Egypt does not make it any easier. The funds required for the daily operations of the Ministry of Cultural shockingly exceed all the cultural production budgets. Requesting funds from the state and then receiving them entails so many complications that the process itself is a means of chaining the request. Every performance venue is obliged to function in austerity. Production proposals are stacked in piles. And the most brilliant theatre directors would have to wait in line for years before their project is accepted and implemented, by which time the core of the project, which may be timely, will have faded away.

For nearly three years Mohamed Abou Elseoud has been preparing and rehearsing his new piece for the Hanager Arts Center, yet he cannot stage it to date. Indeed there is a danger that Abou Elseoud, who has been a prominent figure in the independent theatre movement since 1993 – theatre director, Sawiris award winner, author and scenographer – will retreat from his artistic practice out of frustration.

With a difference of four days separating the Egyptian International Theatre Institute’s celebration at the Hanager Arts Centre (23 March) and its celebration of the World Theatre Day at the National Theatre (27 March), the newly registered association has proven active in spreading hope and solidarity, a message that Selaiha deeply cherished. Yet real action needs to be taken in order to rescue Egyptian theatre from poverty and stagnation.


Days to remember

“An Evening for the Love of Life: In Memory of Nehad Selaiha” was held at Hanager, with Selaiha’s daughter Sarah Enany – an academic, translator and performer – bringing to the stage her mother’s humor, irony and resistance. Hazem Azmy, theatre critic and scholar, presented several video testimonies about Professor Nehad Selaiha from around the world. Khaled Galal gave a very touching speech about how she changed his life and put him on an artistic path after he graduated from university. It was a very emotional moment to remember how such a mentor contributed to shaping the lives and careers of so many theatre makers from the 1990s and until 2016. Khaled, who is an accomplished theatre director and educator besides being the chief of the cultural production sector at the Ministry of Culture, reminded us of the necessity of solidarity within the theatre field in order to reclaim the power of the group and of the independent theatre community.

On 27 March, in the presence of Minister of Culture Helmy Al-Namnam, the gathering at the National Theatre delivered the World Theatre Day message written by Isabelle Huppert. In my opinion the speech is much less powerful than those of previous years. One cannot help remembering the fabulous words of the Brazilian Augusto Boal, the founder of the Theatre of the Oppressed, or the words of Dario Fo in 2013. Only the presence of Nabil Al-Halafawy and his delivery of the Arabic translation of the speech gave it the required tone and impact. The love and passion disseminated in the Hanager event “For the Love of Life” generally remains a much stronger theatrical message than Huppert’s.

Professor Mohamed Enany wrote the Egyptian message for the occasion, and Sarah Enany read it on his behalf. Again the presence of Sarah brought the impression and passion from Nehad’s event into the stage of the World Theatre Day. I was sincerely hoping that the audience would be confused whether the event was related to theatre or to Nehad Selaiha again, I was imagining that the two events and the two meanings would be fused in Sarah’s presence, since all that we have left now for our theatre community is the human solidarity and the quest for survival, something that Selaiha always emphasised and worked to enable. Our only option is to extend her legacy, the legacy of theatre, and stand by each other. Maybe solidarity is our only remaining weapon in the face of elimination and oppression, after all this is one of the clear lessons of the revolution of 25 January 2011. Or is that just wishful thinking?

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