Saturday,24 February, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Saturday,24 February, 2018
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Around the world in 80 plays

A pair of vagabond artists tell Nourhan Tawfik about their work and life

cu1901
cu1901
Al-Ahram Weekly

 “It was surreal. We had just met and already we were sharing our wildest dreams, among which was the aspiration to travel around the world and especially to Africa,” Fanny Schorr and Anna Will, two fervent travellers, theatre artists and singers from Berlin, tell me about the bond that hastily developed between them on their first meeting in high school as we sit in a cosy café on Mohamed Mahmoud Street. Known as Fannannya, which is a cool amalgamation of their first names, Fanny and Anna are in Cairo for the second time since they first decided to leave Berlin and wander around the world. Their list of visited countries has swelled and now includes France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Kenya and Tanzania.  
Though they had founded a street theatre group with other friends during high school in Berlin, Fanny and Anna had no original plans to merge travel and street art. On the contrary, their trips were a blend of spontaneity and adventurous hitchhiking across borders; they resorted to travelling by air only when attempts at soliciting free rides along the road failed.  This time in Egypt, Fanny and Anna tell me, they are delivering workshops that aim to tackle the issue of violence. At the time of writing, they are back in Berlin to spend the Christmas holidays with their families, having delivered a number of theatrical performances in the streets of Cairo.  
As they sip their cappuccinos, Fanny and Anna tell me about their trip to Cyprus in the Christmas of 2012. With a thoroughly unplanned itinerary, they walked around the city until they stumbled on an empty building in which they decided to stay. The next day, the owner of a restaurant close by invited them in for breakfast; and for the next few weeks, daily chitchats over breakfast cemented a friendship between them and the café owner. One morning, he came in shouting at them to hurriedly pack their belongings because the owners of the building were on their way. Luckily, Fanny and Anna took to their heels before they showed up. But despite such comic encounters, Fanny and Anna assert that one of several advantages of their impromptu trips was the wonderful people they came to meet. For instance, they recall the girl working in a coffee shop who happily hosted them for a while, and the Sufi sheikh they met while meandering through the Turkish side of Cyprus, who invited them into his building and called them Mariam and Amina for the duration of their stay.
After their venturesome trip to Cyprus, Fanny and Anna set off to Egypt on their first couch surfing experience in February 2013. They recall that their first performance was in the tiny street that lies next to Sufi Zamalek. “It was crazy, some passers by stood and observed. A man ran out of Sufi shouting, ‘Come inside: you perform street music, I’m a photographer’.” Soon, Fanny and Anna were performing in Sufi and receiving positive feedback, a success they attribute to the nature of the Egyptian street and how passers by take notice of what goes on there. “What we love about Egypt is that, unlike Europe where you have to exert a lot of effort to impress pedestrians, Egyptian onlookers are always alert to what unfolds on the street. And this is why we believe that there exists abundant possibilities for the blooming of street art in Egypt where it can be utilised as a tool to break taboos and misconceptions deeply ingrained in society.”
Despite initial plans to spend five days in Cairo, Fanny and Anna ended up staying for three months. “We were fascinated by everything in Egypt. We made some lovely friendships and, furthermore, the growth of our street audience pushed us to explore new possibilities through our art.” This realisation fuelled an interest to discuss gender issues and in the process fight the deeply entrenched sexism they had discovered in Egyptian society on arriving to Cairo months earlier. “We wanted to focus on this issue, and attempt to understand and reflect on it. We ourselves were subject to harassment and were almost kidnapped one time.”
The awaited opportunity arrived on International Women’s Day when Tahrir square played host to an anti-harassment performance put together by Fanny and Anna. Their act was driven by an interest in channeling their overwhelming anger through a seamless merge of art and subtle yet potent messages. “We perform theatre to reflect on the workings and problematics of society. This is how theater becomes a spacious space where we unearth these problems and discover possible solutions concurrently. In other words, theater becomes a method for us to uncover possibilities that would enable us to deal with our grievances.”
This decision to defy sexism, as Fanny and Anna explain, was fraught with danger. “I mean, going to a densely-packed Tahrir and performing about women’s rights was always risky. To limit the possibility of being subjected to harassment, we followed a strategy of quick two- to three-minute performances that would allow us to quickly move onto a different area and kept repeating the act in different spots. But this drained us of a lot of energy as we would always have to be particularly attentive to our surroundings. We could not withdraw or claim that it was not our problem. We were living here so of course it was our problem.”
Smiling whispers adorn their faces as they tell me about the positive vibes they began to receive from the cheering crowd, which hinted at the possibility that their work was thought-provoking. Furthermore, they were happy to find that their work grabbed the attention of other street artists and opened up possibilities for cooperation. In their performance on Women’s Day, Ahmed Hayman, photojournalist and founder of Al-Mazzikateya, a celebrated street-music group, approached Fanny and Anna; soon after that, Al-Mazzikateya and Fannannya performed together twice, producing a mantra of the accordion, nai, tabla and doff that jiggled the souls of their street audience. In addition to their street performances, Fanny and Anna also gave acting workshops in different venues like Sufi and Emadeddin Studio. “We felt like it was about time for other art-lovers to join us in street theatre and so began giving workshops to 20-30 year-olds.”
Determined to visit Africa before concluding this year of travel, they set off to Kenya where they taught theatre workshops to children in slums and schools. “Our one year away from home was coming to an end and going to Africa had been an old dream of ours.” In the place of the disturbing sexism they had encountered in Egypt, in Kenya Fanny and Anna were shocked to witness ugly forms of injustice and poverty. “We were furious at all those affluent ‘white’ men coming in and depriving the country of its resources, only to go back home and make abundant wealth as Kenyans further sank into their poverty.” However, Fanny and Anna say that conversations that followed with a European man working in Kenya provided a space for mutual understanding coupled with the realisation that he was part of a power structure that he could not easily give up though, in his striving after profit, he had no bad intentions.
Here, the fervent humanism that embroiders Fanny and Anna’s art becomes so vivid. “It makes us sad what is happening in this world; humanity is embroiled in killings, inequality, unjust power structures; all of which separates us, making it difficult for humans to deal with this world they are living in. If we can all learn to coexist, in a world of peace and freedom, it could all be much nicer. The basic and most profound idea is that we are, first and foremost, humans. There is no need to bicker over ideological affiliations or categorise one another as harassers, capitalists, pro-army supporters or Muslim Brotherhood backers. Putting these unnecessary labels aside, we are all humans, everybody is somebody and when you meet them you will love them.”
The decision to spend the holidays in Berlin, as Fanny and Anna tell me, is no easy task because their personalities have undergone many changes. “I mean, to just pack and set off is easy, you’ll visit different places, experience freedom and have the needed space to be yourself. But to go back to your original home after having drastically changed, that’s really difficult.” For Fanny and Anna, who hope everyone could set off wandering through the world, this year of voyaging has been an eye-opening experience as they now have an idea about the course they want their lives to take. “I don’t feel like we’ve lost anything actually. During this year of travel, we were able to cross things off our bucket list, especially during our stay in Cairo, where ideas and possibilities would always arise.  For us, this year proved that if you believe in your wishes, they do come true.”
Fanny and Anna’s future plans include giving street theater workshops at anti-harassment organisations and other venues in Cairo. In addition to this, they are preparing for an upcoming project that aims to combat everyday violence. “This project derives from our belief in the importance of theatre as a space for continuous experimentation — a platform where we speculate on aspects of our everyday lives and figure out how we can live it differently.” The scheme targets people seeking to work on their everyday problems in order to avoid their unconscious projection on other members of society. “We feel that violence is engrained in all societies and by violence we do not just mean physical violence, but other forms as well. This is a grotesque reality and we are aware we cannot change it overnight, but believe we can alter it in the long term.” Fanny and Anna are looking for German sponsors to finance this project, since they hope to make the workshops free of charge. “As for Egypt, we are looking for artists who are passionate about the idea, or art venues that share the same objectives.”

To communicate with Fannannya, visit their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/fannannya.

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