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El-Kousha puppet troupe strikes again, this time in Egypt's working class districts

The El-Kousha troupe recently launched a new type of puppet show, currently touring around working class districts of Cairo and other governorates

Walt Curnow, Sunday 31 May 2015
  el kousha
El-Kousha puppets (Photo: David A Cordova)
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Out in front of the Darb El-Ahmar School of the Arts in old Cairo, the high-pitched voice of small hand-held puppets are causing a stir.

Scores of young children, and some equally curious adults from the street, gather in front of the seven-foot high makeshift stage. The blue-and-white striped curtain contrasts brightly with the old madrassa in front of which the show is being performed.

The puppets are playing out an old story of a villain who tries to kill all the other characters, who in turn want to kill him. He escapes it all.

This excites the children, who are constantly clapping and screaming throughout the fast-paced action, or as soon as a new character is introduced.

The El-Kousha puppet troupe began in Egypt about 15 years ago, though it was out of operation for a number of these years. It began again during the revolution in 2011 and is perhaps most famous for their giant depiction of Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) members during a protest when the military council was in power.

El Kousha
El-Kousha puppets (Photo: David A Cordova)

Although this new puppet show, who's title translates to "Don't Look, Loulou!", is smaller and not overtly political, there are still potential problems that may arise from performing in the street, Ziad Tareq Hassan, one of the troupe members and the current show’s single puppeter, tells Ahram Online.

“This is illegal,” Hassan continues. “We need paperwork from the government -- although it’s not for profit, we aren’t taking anything for this. But the police or someone could stop it. We’ve had big problems before with the big puppets.

“Once people in the streets threw water and rocks at us,” he says. “[The show] had a political theme to it. This was really bad for us.”

“It’s always been difficult to [perform on the streets], but now it’s even harder.”

This Thursday, children rush over as soon as they see bright colours and hear the noise of the performance, but adults from the mostly working class Darb El-Ahmar district also walk over and look on, with a sense of cautious curiosity and giddiness.

Despite its flamboyancy, the puppet show  – whose message he stressed was open to individual interpretation – is not just for children, says Hassan, although he admits he cannot see his audience during the performance.

“[Puppet shows are] not new, it’s a really old thing,” he says. “It used to be everywhere, people had a small stage and would do it anywhere.”

El Kousha
El-Kousha puppets (Photo: David A Cordova)

But, despite the obvious potential of puppet performances in Cairo, it is relatively rare to see an event like this.

The lack of similar troupes and shows is a result of a new generation that has lost touch with art forms such as puppetry, says Hassan.

“It’s the result of people having a TV and computer games, which makes people less interested in putting hard work into old theatre,” he says. “People prefer to sell TV shows or make animation. But the audience has always been there. It’s there, in the streets. The problem is not with the audiences.”

Hassan says that the current show doesn’t really try to impart a message.

“[The show] is some things that I came up with making fun of our situation in Egypt. It’s not direct, it doesn’t actually openly have a message, but it’s there in a certain way that, if you want to see it in that way, you will. But it’s very flexible, you could see it in different ways. That’s the importance of street performance: ‘owning’ the public space.”  

The show is currently touring around different poorer neighbourhoods in Cairo, as well as in Fayoum and possibly some cities in the Delta. It aims to take entertainment to districts where theatre, let alone puppets, is not usually accessible.

Performances are usually announced on the troupe’s Facebook page a day or two before the event.   

El Kousha
El-Kousha puppets (Photo: David A Cordova)

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