Young theatre-makers not ready yet to do the Revolution justice

Hanaa Abdel Fattah, Tuesday 10 May 2011

Despite a number of attempts, the events of the Egyptian Revolution have not yet been successfully transferred onto the stage


Although many theatre troupes have directed their energy towards reflecting on the January 25 Revolution, performances in large numbers have failed to provide a multiplicity of artistic visions.

On the contrary, most of the revolution-related theatre productions are in fact very mediocre shows, and artistically inadequate portrayals of the Revolution. Such unfortunate depictions of Egypt's historical events have become a major artistic trend among many young creatives.

Despite the fact that many of those behind theatrical productions are actually representatives of the revolutionary youth, so far they have not succeeded in transposing the revolutionary spirit and values onto theatre stages.

Many performances, fail to capture the real spirit of the Revolution and with such flaws their creators become essentially absent. Not only do those productions affect negatively the revolutionary spontaneity, commercializing all values of the revolution, but they also damage the core ideologies put forward by Egyptian youth. In terms of artistic qualities, it is surprising that many of those performances made it onto the stages of Egyptian professional theatres.

Hanekteb Dostor Gedid (We Will Write A New Constitution) performed at Miami Theatre, El-Nafeza (A Window) at the stage of El-Ghad Theatre, Taskara ela Tahrir (Ticket to Tahrir/Liberation) at El-Taliea Theatre and directed by Sameh Basiouny, are among many theatre productions of unacceptable quality flooding the artistic market.

The programme notes of Hanekteb Dostor Gedid present a director’s manifesto in which he expresses how revolutions change nations and how they are trigger the creation of new artistic forms. But has the Egyptian Revolution inspired the troupe generating creative visions? Unfortunately not! Mazen El-Gharbawy, the director, claims in his manifesto that he chose a completely new form for our [Egyptian] theatre. He goes as far as saying that his ambition is to formulate a new theatrical trend. “We, a new generation of theatre-makers and intellectuals, aspire to create a new theatrical movement in Egypt. We will work to develop it through future theatrical experiments and – with God’s help - it will be a new worldwide framework.”

This manifesto is nothing but a pitiful demonstration of the lack of theatrical awareness of the young creator, and also raises serious questions as to how such statements are formulated in Egyptian professional theatre (operating under the Ministry of Culture), and how they were overlooked by any artistic and academic consultation.

The main worry is directed towards the future of Egyptian theatre, apparently now in the hands of young creatives lacking solid theatrical visions; and their anti-artistic beliefs work against theatre and the January Revolution itself.

Hanekteb Dostor Gedid has been removed from the Miami theatre stage before completing 30 obligatory performance days. 

The crucial problem apparent in new theatre productions is in the lack of both vision and distance. Stage reproductions of events and slogans cannot serve as valid artistic propositions. Theatrical arts provides many fascinating tools which can help those young creatives to show another side of the January 25 Revolution - its theatrical interpretation.

There are many issues which could be tackled in such productions and as such they would add an important angle and possibly a new artistic perspective to all those performances. Film documentaries are extremely important tools at this stage of events, and any other documentation trials – especially those taking place on Cairo theatre stages – turn out to be an appalling copy of the Revolution, bad documentation, sometimes filled with bad jokes.

I would like to see new creative energy, a spirit which looks into the future, which asks questions, which holds analytical values, an energy which could be as powerful as the one we witnessed during the days of the January 25 Revolution.

Young people living in this critical moment in Egyptian history have a huge reservoir of issues which need to be picked up and developed into valuable and extremely important theatre propositions.  What is next? How can we avoid repeating mistakes from the past? How do we assess the changes?

During the days in Tahrir Square, people from all over Egypt, all cities, people on the streets, are an enormous inspiration for any artist. Tahrir and all Egypt serve as a great source for creativity and as such it can lead to wonderful new expressions in theatre. There are tens if not hundreds of themes which can help us create valuable productions and eventually lead to a precious new Egyptian theatre – a true representative of all those young people.

How do those young creatives interpret the wonderful liberation of girls and women, who finally found strength to be present in social and political life? How did they finally manage to step outside the taboos and borders of societal pressures? Women became active participants of the Revolution, going hand-in-hand with their male colleagues.

How did the revolutionary personality evolve? How was consciousness shaped in the span of only 18 days, and how did every Egyptian become actively involved in the change happening in his country? How did each of them mature?

Those are all important questions which need to be addressed. They are only a few of hundreds of questions and thousands of themes which can or even should be drawn from the January 25 Revolution but which, unfortunately, were not triggers behind current theatre productions. Pure documentation and poor artistic standards testifies to the sad fact that theatre has lost its very important role.

Instead of adding something new to the energy in the country, so far, through their commercialized reproduction of the Revolution on stage, theatre-makers have actually betrayed the revolutionary spirit.

Until now, Tahrir has proved to be the real stage with real, truthfully-valuable artistic propositions. Art in Tahrir was maturing, day by day, very fast. Unfortunately, in contrast to the youth of Tahrir's maturity, current young theatre-makers are not ready yet; they are not mature enough to transpose profound ideas from Tahrir onto theatre stages.

It seems that creatives need more time; they need to stand at a distance and properly analyze and study the events. Silence of artists is a crime, but visions need to mature before they are transferred into theatrical production. And, even if the process takes months, the results will be worth all the time, as they will be generated by profound and fully-grown reflections on the most important event of our history.

There are a few artists who, instead of jumping into theatrical commercialization of the January 25 Revolution, chose to keep their distance. Even though they are not rushing with their artistic contributions, they will eventually be the young theatre-makers who will give justice to the Revolution and to Egyptian theatre. Until this happens, poor re-plays of the Revolution performed in front of ten audience members (mostly actors’ families and friends) carry neither artistic nor social meaning.


Hanaa Abdel Fattah is a theatre director and a Professor of Theatrical Arts at the High Institute of Theatrical Arts (in Cairo) where he was also the Head of the Acting and Directing Department in the early 2000s.

As a translator, Abdel Fattah has translated tens of dramaturgical and works on the theory of theatre from Polish to Arabic. He is a theatre critic and has published hundreds of articles on the theatrical arts in renowned art and theatre publications in Egypt and the Arab world.


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