"We are in the fifth year and it's time to look at the history we already managed to build. As we reassess the wealth we already gained on the one hand, we introduce new projects and reach out to new locations on the other hand," Mohamed El-Ghawy, founder and artistic director of the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children tells Ahram Online.
Organised by AFCA for Arts and Culture, an institution founded by El-Ghawy in 2004 with an aim to educate children and young people in art and culture, Hakawy -- the only theatre festival in Egypt addressing the youngest of audiences -- is scheduled to take place between 9 and 17 March in Cairo and 18-19 March in Alexandria.
Stepping beyond its regular formula of a few theatre plays addressing the young audience, this year the festival comes with a package of interesting new initiatives.
Its launch will be paralleled by AFCA's inauguration of the Campaign of Children's Rights to Art and Culture.
The campaign comes at the crossroads of three occasions: AFCA's 10th anniversary, the 10th anniversary of the UNESCO 2005 convention for Cultural Diversity, and the 25th anniversary of the UN convention of the Rights of the Child.
According to AFCA's website "the campaign is based on eighteen principles expressed in 27 languages to state the right of all children, all over the world, to enjoy arts and culture" and it's objective is to "launch a non-profit cultural promotion campaign in Egypt, expressing rights of every Egyptian child to enjoy arts and culture in four different ways in order to reach the biggest number of children and families and to help raising awareness of its importance."
The exhibition of paintings which serves as a commentary on the eighteen principles will be inaugurated together with the opening of the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children, on 9 March at the Hanager Arts Centre.
As its name indicates, Hakawy (or Stories in Arabic) is about telling stories to children through a variety of performing tools.
The first festival held in 2011 relied on simple storytelling, the second stressed the importance of language and education, the third introduced music and rhythm, while the fourth one told stories through movement and dance.
"This year we will combine all the previously explored themes bringing to the young audience performances that will touch on a variety of art forms. The festival will host dance, clowns, circus acts, experiment with modern theatre forms and more," El-Ghawy elaborated, adding that the festival will have a presence of troupes from the UK (Scotland specifically), the Netherlands, France, USA and Egypt.
El-Ghawy points to the performance from Egypt as an important play, a co-production between AFCA and the BuSSy project.
Directed by BuSSy's main dynamo, Sondos Shabayek, the performance targets teenagers aged 13 and more. Titled "500", the play tackles issues of gender as well as combining an educational aspect with a theatre performance.
"The process that lead to ''500'' is equally, if not more important, than the final play," El-Ghawy explains, saying the lengthy preparatory process included a series of workshops held with high school students and the development of a knowledge base about issues that the young people face. "It was all extremely valuable."
Other plays included in this year's Hakawy bring fascinating tales to children of all ages.
Scottish artists come with the Tiger Tale, a dance performance based on a famous story titled The Tiger Who Came to Tea.
"The performance breaks with the classical forms that characterise many plays for children. The young audience will have an opportunity to enjoy a very unique experience, modern and experimental," El-Ghawy explains, though he refrained from revealing more details about the show which he nevertheless promises to be one of a kind.
He goes on to mention other plays, including Tetris, a physical dance quartet from the Netherlands or IN'Tents from the USA, where clowns invite the audience to the camping culture.
Unlike previous years, when US performances relied on complex scenography, props and costumes – such as Aga-Boom in 2013 and Frogz in 2014 – this year's show has a less artistically extravagant format yet promises to be entertaining and engaging.
It is evident that this year the young audiences will be offered a lot of promising events and as usual, large crowds are expected to flock to the Hanager Arts Centre's halls. In previous editions, the troupes performed two or three times making it challenging for the organisers to accommodate all the audience, a fact that resulted in occasional skirmishes between the parents hoping to assure a place for their children.
To address the troublesome issue, El-Ghawy changed the programming strategy: "This year, we brought fewer performances and we made sure that each troupe will give a large number of shows. For instance, the USA play will be staged a total of 14 times: 11 in Cairo and three in Alexandria. This will definitely allow everyone to see it."
The ticket sales will be made available online and through the dozens of outlets managed by ticketsmarche.com. Following the past edition's practice, with the help of a number of organisations working with underprivileged communities, El-Ghawy also reached out to children from public schools and the governorates, assuring that transportation and free entry will be organised for them.
The theatre performances will be paralleled with a number of workshops for the artists.
The French troupe that comes with circus arts will give a special workshop to the Egyptian Al Darb Al Ahmar Arts School, an entity that teaches music and circus arts to socially and economically underprivileged children. The USA performers will hold three sessions of clown workshops, while the Scottish artists will share their experiences with the Contemporary Dance Company which is managed by Karima Mansour.
This year, for the first time the performances expand beyond Cairo and chosen plays will be also staged at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Alexandria.
"While Alexandria will see Hakawy for only two days, we will still be able to create a unique festive atmosphere by staging more than one show in a row," El-Ghawy explains.
Check the full programme of performance staged in Cairo here
Hakawy's performances in Alexandria will take place from 18 to19 March. We will be announcing the program separately.
Ahram Online is the official media sponsor for the fifth edition of Hakawy International Festival for Children and AFCA's Campaign of Children's Rights to Art and Culture.