It’s a summer Friday and families in Port Said go out to enjoy the last hours before sunset by the sea. The breeze of the sea air seems part of the typical night out, but something about this night is different: a street clown show has arrived in the city.
Outa Hamra, a clown troupe, joined Mahatat for Contemporary Art on their fourth Art of Transit tour, bringing their unique performance to four Egyptian cities: Port Said, Damietta, Mansoura and Cairo.
For three days, between 12 and 14 June, Outa Hamra performed twice in three different cities, and will end its tour Tuesday with a performance in Cairo.
From public spaces around markets and universities to busy spots where families go out, Mahatat has selected different locations to maximise their outreach. Through Art of Transit, along with other programmes, Mahatat aims to decentralise art and make it accessible to passers-by in public spaces, particularly in cities where there are few or no art events, according to the tour’s press release.
Outa Hamra previously performed on the Cairo Metro in 2012, as a part of an initiative by Mahatat. When the troupe was invited to join Art of Transit, it was a perfect fit with their goals.
“Our primary work targets areas that are deprived of this kind of art,” explains Hani Taher, co-founder of Outa Hamra.
“We’re always very happy to get opportunities to perform outside Cairo.”
Blending music, acting and acrobatic art, the performers engage with the audience for around 45 minutes. At least 150 people of different age groups have attended each show so far.
“Hey you! Why are you dressed this way? What brought you here?” Taher said in a harsh voice, quoting comments received from the audience.
“People are usually surprised in the beginning and this is when some unpleasant comments come,” Taher elaborated.
“After a while, they become familiar with what they see, they laugh and they come to talk to us after the show. Some people even invite us to their homes.”
According to the accessibility of art in each community, responses differ, Taher said.
“We once performed in Sohag, where there are almost no events. As we performed, people didn’t know what they’re supposed to do. They did not believe that they can just watch us for free.”
“Some people only have access to what they see on television. It’s hard for them to believe that there can be art on the streets that doesn’t feature pop stars they see on the screen.”
While the troupe pinpoints values and social issues in their performances, humour remains their main focus.
“If you go to an area that has no access to art, your show has to be fun,” Taher explains. “The message is important, but humour comes first.”
Inspired by the French group “Clowns Without Borders,” Outa Hamra was founded in 2011 by a team of four performers: two Egyptians, and a Swedish and a Spanish national.
“Over the years, people joined and others left,” Taher Said. “For the past year and a half, we have been five: three Egyptians, a Swedish and a French.”
In addition to performances in theatres and public spaces across the country, the troupe organises workshops of “social theatre.” Through these workshops, participants, usually of marginalised groups such as refugees, talk about their experiences and express them in performance at the end.
“We’re planning to take a break during the month of Ramadan and then come back with a workshop as a part of a programme with the United Nations Refugees Agency,” Taher says.
Outa Hamra also supports younger groups that are still in formation.
“We’re currently helping two groups, in Agami, Alexandria and Ain Shams, Cairo, to launch their troupes and train others too.”
On Tuesday, 16 June, Outa Hamra will perform in Manial, Cairo at 4pm on the last day of Art of Transit’s fourth tour.
Ahram Online is official media partner of Mahatat in Art of Transit.