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Play for teenagers cancelled, organisers explain why

Play director Sondos Shabayek blames censorship, co-producer Mohamed El-Ghawy cites unwise choice of governmental venue

Ahram Online , Tuesday 17 Mar 2015
Still from video from the rehearsal of '500' performance, a co-production of AFCA and BuSSy (Photo: Ahram Online)
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On the final day of Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children in Cairo on 17 March, Sondos Shabayek clarified the reasons behind the cancellation of the '500s' performance, rectifying the earlier announcement released on 15 March, which cited "technical reasons."

'500s' is the gender-centred storytelling project directed by Shabayek who also heads BuSSy. The performance was a cooperation between BuSSy and AFCA and was scheduled to take part in Hakawy festival, an annual event run by AFCA.

'500s' is based on - and inspired by - issues perplexing adolescents: from harassment and bullying to eating disorders and the endless anxiety posed by failing to fit in.

In the statement, Shabayek writes that the Hanager Arts Centre's director Amany Youssef halted the performance.

“We would like to clarify and announce, as BuSSy and AFCA, our refusal of censorship that doesn’t follow clear guidelines but is only based on the personal views of those in authority,” the statement released by Shabayek on facebook on 17 March reads.

"I knew that this was going to happen," Shabayek told Ahram Online, adding that Youssef criticised the show's exploration of masturbation among teenagers.

However the play's director also revealed that partial information about the content reached Youssef through one of Hanager's technicians and when Hanager's director asked to attend a rehearsal, Shabayek refused.

"Agreeing to that would have meant we are consenting to being subjected to censorship," Shabayek told Ahram Online.

In 2010, BuSSy staged its first performance outside of the American University in Cairo, in which the project originated. Emad Abou Ghazy, then the secretary general of the Supreme Council of Culture, allowed Shabayek and her crew to perform at the cafeteria of the council, located at the Cairo Opera House grounds in Zamalek.

"We mimed half of the script," Shabayek recalls, after authorities forced them to perform the censored version of the show.

The '500s' play's co-producer and Hakawy festival director, Mohamed El-Ghawy explained that the Hanager Arts Centre's decision did not come as a surprise.

“We knew it's challenging material but we were dealing with it like with any other challenge, be it organisational or thematic, which can be resolved should it appear," he told Ahram Online.

He added that the theatre play is based on a profound one-year research conducted in public schools.

"Our approach to the content was scientific," El-Ghawy explains, adding that BuSSy and Sondos Shabayek have a long experience in putting together lectures and film screenings that tackled women's issues, a notion which quickly ventured into performances that rely on personal accounts.

El-Ghawy called the show's cancellation "a bad situation, but no one is to be blamed. Hanager Arts Centre operates under the Ministry of Culture and as such belongs to the specific system where everyone looks at the authority above him or her."

He said that in his conversation with Youssef, the director did not object to the performance on a personal level, but as the Hanager's director, she wanted to see it first.

"She has regulations to follow and any problems from the authority would harm her and the centre."

Despite the incident, El-Ghawy remains positive about the Hakawy festival calling the organisation and cancellation of the play '500s' "a learning process."

"It was important to tackle issues that '500s' addresses but maybe in a different location, a place that does not operate under the Ministry of Culture."

The team plans to take the performance into other independent venues at a later date.

The Hanager Arts Centre that hosted this year's Hakawy festival operates under the Ministry of Culture and is physically located at the Cairo Opera House grounds with a different management to the Opera.

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