Ramadan Khater was a born storyteller. When he spoke, reality became magic, fiction became fact, and everyone listening was entranced. The witty stories he told and retold made us laugh and want to hear more. A wonderful impersonator, he could switch accents at will, sometimes sounding like a man born and raised in Cairo, and sometimes like a southern Egyptian, from his hometown.
Born in Beni Mazar, close to Minya, Khater was already working with a local theatre group when he first met El-Warsha director Hasan Al-Gritli in 1989. Not only did he impress El-Gritli, but enticed him to explore the connection between storytelling and the new forms of intimate theatre El-Warsha was advocating.
Up until the day Khater died on Monday, he continued to work with El-Warsha. He also appeared in various stage productions in Egypt on a regular basis. In 2005, Khater formed Hakiy Masateb (Doorstep Storytelling), an independent troupe specialised in storytelling through new stories as well as historical oral traditions, such as Al-Sira Al-Helaliya.
A creative storyteller, Khater's dedication to this form of art bordered on the obsessive.
In the past few years, Khater was a regular performer at the Hakaya Festival in Jordan, organised by Al-Balad Theatre and the Arab Educational Forum.
He also created several pieces for El-Warsha, including Ramadan Khater's Tales and Popular Tales from Daqahliya, which he performed with Arefa Abdel Rasoul. Khater performed Hakiy Masateb in the opening session of the Hakaya Festival.
Listening to Khater performing Bayram Al-Tunsi's classical piece, Al-Maqamah Al-Hanemiya, you'd think that this piece was written especially for him. And his telling of Al-Sira Al-Helaliya was so unlike the conventional performances it made you wonder how he could improvise on such a masterpiece of folklore and remain convincing.
In Tales from Daqahliya, he brought to the stage his entire gamut of skills, creating a parallel world of shared intimacies and dreams. In the sketches he wrote himself, such as the Church and the Thaqafa Gamahiriya (Mass Culture), he turned everyday problems to issues of public concern.
Khater appeared in various plays including Dayer Dayer (Going Around in Circles), Ghazir Al-Layl (Ample Night), Rosasa Fil Qalb (Bullet in the Heart), Lenin Al-Ramli's Bel Arabi Al-Fasih (In Plain Arabic), Lenin al-Ramli's Al-Hadethah Al-Magnuna (Crazy Accident), Ghazl Al-Aamar (Spinning of Age), Elli Ye'ish (To Live Long), Holm Laylat Seif (Summer Night Dream), and Al-Dafira Al-Shamsiya (Sun Braids).
Khater appeared in a dozen films including Ahmad Abdallah's Heliopolis and Khalid Yousef's Hina Maysara (Till It Gets Better). In Ibrahim Al-Battut's Ein Shams, Khater was able to use his skills to great effect.
Despite his illness, Khater continued to work to the very end. In October and through the first two weeks of November, he performed the Hakawi; a show that incorporated religious litanies and church songs, as well as three stories about national unity.
Khater's love for humour enticed him to perform songs by the famous comedian Ismail Yasin and some of Sheikh Imam's satirical songs in an inimitable style.
Never one to put fame and fortune before simple dedication to art, Khater will continue to inspire those who knew him closely. His absence was particularly devastating to members of Al-Warsha, who lost in the same week the brilliant director Husein Younes.
By way of condolences to the friends and families of both, I offer these lines from a poem by the late Salah Jahin:
Crazy with art
Sleepless over art
Embracing it for dear life
Even if threatened with a knife
Having art indeed
Is having all we need