Egypt is the birthplace of much that is great in Arabic theater. Egyptian playwright Tawfiq al-Hakim cannot perhaps be considered a “founder” of Arabic theater, but he certainly is one of its greatest practitioners. Yusuf Idris dabbled in theater. Alfred Farag wrote significant, society-challenging plays.
But, Hanaa Abdel Fattah argues in Ahram Online, Egyptian theater has fallen into disrepair, thanks to censorship, religious red lines, and “bad commercialism.”
…even if, in some cases, directors tried to tackle “sensitive topics” or were reaching for important literary texts which related to social needs, due to a series of strict limitations and several other factors, their execution of the themes usually turned into theatrical fiascos.
Abdel Fattah might have used the play “BuSSy” (بصي) to illustrate his point. Inspired by The Vagina Monologues, the annual performance explores women’s lives in Egypt, tackling topics from sexual harassment to incest. 2010 was the first year that “BuSSy” left the AUC campus in an attempt to reach a wider audience.
But, after the first performance at the Opera House, several audience members apparently complained to the Supreme Council of Culture, which in turn demanded that BuSSy censor its second show.
Actor Nadine Emile wrote in Al Masry Al Youm that director Sondos Shabayek already had a feeling something like this might happen:
As she was trying to secure a space for the performance, Shabayek got rejections from el-Sawy Cultural Wheel, the French Cultural Center, the Russian Cultural Center and the Mahmoud Mukhtar Museum’s new theater among other venues. Some were honest to say that the script was not appropriate and half of it would have to be omitted, while some refused to answer calls altogether.
Abdel Fattah writes, in his call for a theatre revolution, that removal of this sort of censorship are a given. He continues:
A change in attitude is [also] a crucial aspect of today’s theatre revolution. The theatre scene in Egypt needs new people and new ways of thinking. Looking for new theatre directors and new creators doesn’t necessary mean reaching to young people only. Art does not have age limits.
Meanwhile, one revolutionary theater project—“Tahrir Monologues“—is already underway. The deadline for submission of stories and testimonies is today; the organizers’ email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
A performance is set for the 31st of March in Asr El Nil Theatre downtown, at 7:30 p.m.
Other theater news:
One country that seems to be having its own theater revolution is Yemen, where students are reportedly gathering around an open-air stage and producing political and comedic sketches.