Saturday,17 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)
Saturday,17 November, 2018
Issue 1350, (22 June - 5 July 2017)

Ahram Weekly

A glimpse of Ramadan

Nora Amin discusses stage acting on screen

In Ramadan, TV series become the our lives’ stage in the evening. We catch whatever we can amidst the harsh competition between satellite channels. Watching too many episodes in one evening can be confusing, one risks having events entangled and creating a peculiar narrative out of the combination of different dramas. Moreover, advertising has become so fierce the commercials literally undermine the structure and consistency of each single episode. With such continual interruption, we become trained viewers. Our training is somehow special because it is a training in watching and pausing our reception automatically when the commercials appears, so that we can continue smoothly once we go back to the scene that is interrupted. This skill in pausing our reception and perception develops with time and practice. It is somehow also linked to our general skill in creating a transparent wall towards reality or live events, a bubble. Watching Ramadan TV series is a direct training in creating instant protective bubbles.

While theatre performances are on hold during Ramadan, many theatre actors take up space on the screen, reminding us that the stage craft has sufficiently equipped them for screen acting. A number of clever actors who are now considered stars were trained in stage acting and, landing on screen, end up competing with an old way of acting which they efficiently manage to change, leaving us with the question of whether they will go back to theatre someday, or if stage acting is just phase in the training and development of any actor?

Mohamed Farrag, Mohamed Mamdouh, Mohamed Hatem, and Hanan Metawei – to name but a few – all come from a theatrical background. Metawei is a graduate of the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts, while Farrag and Mamdouh are graduates of the workshop of the Creativity Centre at the Cairo Opera House led by the brilliant theatre director and acting instructor Khaled Galal. Over several years, Galal has managed to present to the acting industry a whole group of young actors who are now playing the lead roles on screen and gradually changing the very notion of acting. The list is long, yet I am only mentioning the most striking examples of actors who have provided a new performance model. 


This new model is on the one hand based on believing the character, studying it, working on creating a history and psychological dimensions for it, and on the other hand it is based on perceiving fiction as a document, as a live documentary moment of the lives of the characters portrayed. This model of acting does not rely on social hypocrisy because it does not take a moral stand on or moral distance from the character, it does not employ pretension because it believes in acting as a parallel and temporary reality, it does not recycle modes of characterisation where the actor keeps reproducing the same attitudes, because it is embedded in finding the emotional truth of the situation in context rather than focusing on the actor’s image. 

The two big names who set the record for this new type of drama and acting are directors Kamla Abu-Zekry and Tamer Mohsen. Abu-Zekry has been presenting TV series with a documentary film flavour since Zat (2013). Her visuals are indeed cinematic, in terms of composition, light, camera movement, cuts, etc. And the way she portrays her characters and dramatic situations gives the impression of a live show, a reality show, a video document of testimonies and diaries of living characters. In (Signe El-Nessa) 2014 she employed an acting method that relies on instant improvisation to feed the scripted scenes, attributing high importance to the capturing of the moment, the real moment, versus the repetitive, fabricated pretension whereby actors have everything under control. Her lead actress Nelly Karim opened up new horizons on what can be achieved in acting on screen, before moving to join forces with Tamer Mohsen in (Taht El-Saytara ) 2015.

Tamer Mohsen has the absolute power to make viewers believe the actors on screen, as if there was no space between the actor and the character. He has the power to reinvent the same actor again and again, as if you have never seen them before. Mohsen belongs to the generation of theatre makers that started the independent theatre movement in the 1990s. I look at his work as a filmmaker and TV drama director, and I wonder what he would have contributed to the stage if he had remained there. I equally wonder what the three Mohameds might have done had they not left the stage for TV drama. Mamdouh, Farrag and Hatem have now become popular stars, but will they go back to the stage and help attract new audiences and produce progressive plays where their acting expertise might support a new wave of drama? Will those actors invest their popularity in taking theatre forward? Will the spectators follow them with the same enthusiasm and connect their theatre background to their current success and let the stage enjoy the reward? Or is it the case that stage acting, while it is the best training an actor can get, cannot offer popularity or sustain a stardom made on screen? 

I ask all those questions while imagining what it would be like to have new theatre productions, whether in state-owned venues or on the independent scene, made within this model of acting that transcends the current conventions of stage acting and reaches out to bigger audiences, bridging the traditional gap towards reality and challenging the “pause” mode that Egyptian theatre has been experiencing on and off for several years now.

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