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Newly revamped Cairo experimental theatre festival to return after 5-year hiatus

The 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre will be held from 20 to 30 September

Hatem El Salem, Friday 9 Sep 2016
press conference
A press conference detailing the events of the 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre took place on Wednesday 7 September at the High Council of Culture, in Cairo. (Photo: courtesy of CIFCET's organisers)
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The 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre will return to Cairo later this month after a five-year hiatus with a long list of diverse workshops, lectures, and performances.

For many years, the festival, which used to be called the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre, was one of two large scale state-run festivals taking place in Egypt, with the second one being the Cairo International Film Festival.

Both festivals attracted dozens of creatives from all around the world and Egypt's Ministry of Culture provided a large budget to organise the events. Those proceedings have been challenged by the 2011 revolution, with many commentators citing either budget constraints or security issues behind the postponement of the festivals.

The Cairo International Film Festival returned in 2014, but the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre however had to wait until this year to see a fully fledged return, and under a new name that indicates the inclusion of contemporary theatre troupes.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Dina Amin, the festival's director, explained that the name change will allow the festival to be more inclusive of a larger variety of artistic expression.

This year’s festival, which runs from 20 to 30 September, is presided over by the former president of the Academy of Arts, Sameh Mahran. The members of the festival's board include theatre-makers such as Nasser Abdel Moneim, who was also head of this year's National Theatre Festival; Essam El Sayed, who is the festival's general coordinator; Dina Amin, the festival's director; and Abou El-Ela EL Salmouny and Fahmy El-Khouly. 

This year, the festival seems to be as ambitious as many of its previous editions. It will include contributions from more than 13 countries, about 5 of which are Arab countries. Among the distinguished guests are talented directors, actors, and leaders of their own troupes and festivals from the United States, China, Egypt, Kenya, the United Arab Emirates, and Nigeria.

According to the festival’s organisers, the festival will allow Egyptian young people to see international and Arab, specifically Egyptian, theatre and equips them with the knowledge of international theatre they otherwise would not have wide access to.

During the press conference El-Khouly talked about how traditional and repetitive Egyptian theatre has been in the past, and says he sees the festival as a railway switch, geared towards making Egyptian theatre more dynamic and diverse.

Amin talked about this year’s festival as also being that of “the Arabs in exile”, or Arabs who have migrated to other corners of the world.

“After 9/11, life for Arabs abroad changed drastically. Bringing them to this year’s festival will provide us with insight into the Arab experience abroad through their work in theatre,” she said.

Alongside the performances and workshops planned for this year’s festival, there are a number of lectures planned on a variety of subjects. According to Amin, the festival aims to bridge the international and Arab theatre communities with that of Egypt.

This year’s lecture topics include addressing how the international community views Arab theatre as well as the experiences of Arabs in exile, and issues within Egyptian society.

The lecturers and workshops that will cover a multitude of different aspects of experimental and contemporary theatre including cinematography, directing, acting, stage orientation, will be held in the Pyramisa hotel and in other venues in the Opera complex, Metropol Theatre, Falaki Theatre, and other theatres across Cairo.

The workshops will be conducted by the Egyptian and international experts from countries such as Chile, the United States, Pakistan, and India, among others.

In addition to the workshops, lectures, and performances, the festival will also screen films to further contribute to the festival’s vision of diversifying Egyptian theatre. Among the screenings we will find films such as Thunder Storm by Chinese director Chen Dalian, and Ya Sim (Oh, Poison), directed by Egyptian filmmaker Shereen Hegazy.

Unlike in previous years, this year’s festival will not be one of a competitive nature, hence no awards will be distributed. Previous editions included major awards -- for best play, director, actor, actress, scenography -- alongside numerous smaller recognitions.  

“You cannot compare Kenyan theatre to American theatre”, El-Khouly commented on the suspension of the competitive element. 

Asked if security concerns had lowered the number of troupes interested in participating in the festival, the organisers denied those claims, adding that this year they had received a thousand applications from all across the world, a fact which testifies to the large interest in the event. 

The 23rd Cairo International Festival for Contemporary and Experimental Theatre will kick off on 20 September and run until 30 September, with many plays being staged at the Cairo Opera House. The festival’s workshops and lectures will be happening simultaneously at the Pyramisa hotel and at other theatre locations, from 21 September until 29 September.

More details and a full programme will be released soon.

Updated: 19 September, 2016

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