Friday, October 24, 2008

Trouble for the Home Team

An Egyptian critic covers the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre. She talks of how the festival is highlighting the homegrown fringe of the host nation, but her pre-festival piece gave this warning:

It is possible, of course, as some pessimists cynically maintain, that this is all a show staged for the benefit of our foreign guests to peddle to them the idea that the Egyptian system and its cultural policy makers encouraged free expression and non-governmental initiatives. To corroborate their view, those pessimists could quote the mortifying item in the festival statute which stipulates that for any independent troupe to be allowed into the festival at all, even as a fringe performance -- let alone to be considered for the international contest -- it has to mask its independent identity and present itself under the name of a state theatre company or any government-affiliated organization.

In her second installment, we find out that she was right:

I would not have believed it possible that a festival which chose the alternative theatre as the theme of its central international symposium and organized a special roundtable on the independent theatre movement in Egypt would have the cheek to blatantly ignore the only two performances which represented the movement, and ones that had been especially recommended by its appointed selection committee too. But it did happen, and for two days the young artists in both troupes were dazed and kept wondering what had happened and why they had been so unfairly ignored.


Dalia El-Abd too had a taste of that rudeness. When she contacted the festival's office to inquire where she could perform, she was flippantly told to 'go and play at Al-Hanager'. The person who told her this did not bank on her taking him seriously. Though Al-Hanager has been gutted out and is currently unfit for human use, El-Abd and the members of the Wogooh troupe persuaded Huda Wasfi, its artistic director (who, unfortunately, was away in Germany for medical reasons while all this was happening), to take the person at the festival's office at his word and follow his spiteful, facetious advice to the letter. Wasfi and her dedicated staff are currently doing the best they can to make the stage at Hanager usable and put back the seats which had been wrenched out and piled up in a corner of the dusty auditorium.


Indeed, the symposium was better-organized and much more serious this year than ever before, simply because it had fewer speakers who, therefore, had more time and could present their ideas in some detail and argue them in relative depth. It was also better attended than in previous years, mainly because the members of the independent troupes in Egypt flocked to it since the kind of theatre they have chosen to embrace was the subject under discussion. Their enthusiasm and diligence were touching, and however engrossed I was by what the guest-speakers said, every time I caught a glimpse of a young, eager face, avidly attentive, I felt a sharp stab of pain and was stung with shame at the way their elders were treating them.

Here are all three installments:


They are quite lengthy, but worth a read.

No comments: