On 25 Feb 2018, the morning programme ON Morning (ON Sabah) aired on the ON Live channel, hosted Adel Hassaan, director of the Youth Theatre Troupe (Masrah El-Shabab).
The discussion with Hassaan revolved around the acting workshop titled Start Your Dream (Ebda’ Helmak) he recently launched under the Youth Theatre, as well as The Forty Rules of Love (Qawaed Al-Eshq El-Arbaen), a highly successful play he directed last year with the theatre's troupe.
Hassaan was appointed director of the Youth Theatre Troupe on 17 June 2017, according to the announcement released by Ismail Mokhtar, head of the Artistic Theatre House, a body operating under the Ministry of Culture.
The troupe has a very unique position in Egypt’s theatre world, since their actual home has been closed for restorations for over two years now with no indication that it will reopen soon.
Thus the Youth Theatre Troupe is usually adopted by other stages across Cairo, as was the case with their The Forty Rules of Love, performed for over 100 nights at the Salam Theatre. Likewise, the Start Your Dream workshops will be held mostly in two venues: at the Giza Cultural Palace and the Malak Theatre in Downtown Cairo.
The dream of becoming an actor is reachable
Hassaan was already well-known in the theatre scene for his work on other plays, Mot Fawdawy Sodfa (Chaotic Accidental Death) and El-Gabal (The Mountain) before his appointment as the troupe's director.
Since then, Hassaan started studying the current state of the theatre and opportunities for development, especially among the youngest people. It is within those contexts that a few months ago, Hassaan came up with an idea of the Start Your Dream workshops.
Among the main aims of the workshop is to revive the theatrical movement, following the spirit that was known to Egypt in the 1960s. The idea was abundantly advertised in a variety of media, including social media.
“We received 5,200 applications. We spent three months on the screenings, choosing the final 150 young people from them,” Hassaan explained in the ON TV programme.
He underscored that, keeping in mind a large number of talented people who showed up to the auditions, the filtering was not an easy task. The applicants came from all social strata and many Egypt’s governorates.
“We saw a large collection of talents. They vary from students at the Academy of Theatrical Arts, the Cairo Conservatory, the Arab Music Institute to first-time amateurs who simply have passion for theatre. We are especially happy about the latter group since they did previously not have any opportunities to join the performing arts practice or study,” Hassaan clarified.
Provided completely free of charge (as it is paid for by the Artistic Theatre House, the Ministry of Culture), the workshops aim to prepare the participants for the art of theatre and acting. However, the courses touch on many aspects of the performing arts.
Hassaan stressed that the actor must know the Arabic language well, excel in proper pronunciation, he should know basics of music, be able to sing and to dance. He needs to understand the art of scenography and costumes, alongside having some skills in writing, especially drama.
To reach this goal, Hassaan designed the courses to train the students in the performing arts disciplines for six months: four days a week, attending four hours a day, totaling 500 hours of training.
“We divided the chosen applicants into two groups, one trained at the Giza Cultural Palace, another at the Malak Theatre. The workshops are also divided into two segments: acting and storytelling,” Hassaan elaborated adding that the workshop will eventually generate ten performances, whether music, singing, dance or theatrical, big and small, allowing the students to set their knowledge into practice.
The director pointed to the team of trainers which consists of the renowned figures from Egypt’s theatrical movement.
“The students will work with directors Ahmed Taha, Ashraf Farouk, artist and theatre trainer Ahmed Mokhtar, choreographers Tamer Fathi, Diaa Shafik, musician Ahmed Hamdi Raouf and scenographer Amr Ashraf, among others. They all have long curricula of training young people," he said.
Passionate about theatre and young people, Hassaan also explained that theatre is a special kind of art that carries a lot of magic and as such is very different from work in television or films.
“In theatre, it is all between the actor and the audience. There is no space for mistakes on stage," he said.
To Hassaan, lack of the permanent home for the troupe and for Start Your Dream is not a deficiency.
“I consider myself very lucky. My relation with theatre began with the Palace of Arts in Fayoum, before I came to Cairo and began studying at the High Institute of Theatrical Arts. My experience outside Cairo taught me how to work in any place, even on the streets, in coffee shops, at any open space. We were always persistent and incessant. Hence, even if official stages were closed for any reason, we continued working, always finding our way.”
Overcoming challenges with The Forty Rules of Love
This persistence was very obvious during Hassan’s work on the play based on Elif Shafak's The Forty Rules of Love (Qawaed Al-Eshq El-Arbaen), in Salam Theatre.
“We never expected the play to be so successful, and this feeling was probably partly motored by the many problems we faced during its production. At first we hoped to perform it at the stage of El-Talia Theatre but then we had to move to Salam Theatre. Two weeks into the rehearsals, Salam Theatre closed temporarily and we tried to solve this problem. Eventually we held our premiere on 28 March 2017,” Hassaan revealed during the programme.
He added that the play had been staged over 100 times before it moved to El-Gomhoria Theatre, then to Luxor and most recently to the Cairo University theatre stage before an audience of 2,500. The play was also hosted in Bahrain where it took part in a Music Festival, being the only theatrical addition to the event, and was attended by 1,200 spectators.
The ON TV anchors pointed out that Egypt’s audience is always interested in theatre if the play is well executed, if it has unique music such as the Sufi singing braided into The Forty Rules of Love, or if there is a good story that has a deep soul and is not too commercial.
Hassaan added that “even if we did not expect such success and we were even worried we would not have an audience for first 15 performances, The Forty Rules of Love was a very special experience.”
The play’s text was generated during the playwriting workshop headed by Rasha Abdel-Moneim who worked with two young writers: Khairy Fakharani and Yasmine Imam.
“We worked with 46 artists – actors, dancers, scenography team, costume design team and others. All very dedicated and serious about their work. Undeniably it was a great risk to present a play that lasts for two hours without a break. Yet each night, the audience watched till the end, following the events taking place on the stage, and some people even waited after the performance to talk to the cast about it. We were also very lucky to have a big interest of press and critics," Abdel-Moneim said.
The director also highlighted that in comparison to the neighboring countries, Egypt is very lucky in the field of theatre. “The state offers an average on 6,000 theatre performances per year across all Egypt’s governorates. They vary between amateur theatre, university theatres, independent troupes and troupes working under the Palace Authorities of the Ministry of Youth," he explained.
"The theatres working under the Ministry of Culture’s Theatre authorities produce around 50 plays a year,” he added.
Hassaan went on to explain that a large number of plays are short performances staged by a variety of troupes, across many governorates and on many stages, in the clubs, cultural centres and palaces, among other venues.
“What we really lack is proper theatre criticism, which was present in the 1960s for instance. Back then, theatre also benefited from the exposure in the Egyptian television and other media," he said.
In the final segment of the discussion, Hassaan tackled the topic of improvisation, a practice included in the workshop's curriculum yet which in Egypt is often negatively perceived as excessive freedom on stage that breaks the rules by dropping the text.
“Improvisation does not mean ignoring the text,” Hassaan explained.
“This form of theatre is linked to a fixed concept, [the character of] a miser for instance. We allow the actors to form their ideas around this character trait. He begins to think about his looks, about his surroundings, actions and relations with others," he explained.
"The actor follows some rules on which we agree during the training sessions. While on stage, he might add some elements, he might get inspired by something from the audience, and each audience is different giving unique feelings. And this is exactly the magic of theatre,” Hassaan concluded.
*To watch the complete programme please visit the ON Live YouTube channel "نقاش حول ورشة "ابدأ حلمك" بمسرح الشباب ومسرحية قواعد العشق الـ40 .. عادل حسان"
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