INTERVIEW: El-Genaina Theatre returns to activities

Ati Metwaly , Thursday 8 Oct 2015

On the eve of El-Genaina resuming its activities, Ahram Online talks to Ashraf Kenawy about the changes the theatre underwent, moving from under the Culture Resource's umbrella to the company he heads

El-Genaina Theatre
Tunisian singer Ghalia Benali performs at El-Genaina Theatre in August 2013. (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

A two-floor villa located in Cairo's Maadi district is filled with testimonies to the history of El-Genaina Theatre. The posters of events held by the theatre throughout the years decorate the walls, with flyers and brochures spread across a table in the villa's hallway.

The atmosphere breathes of the many accomplishments that El-Genaina Theatre brought to Egypt's scene: from aspiring Egyptian talents to well established regional musicians, from the performances of Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School to a large assortment of artistic activities that attracted a variety of social strata.

"Situated in Cairo’s Al-Azhar Park, adjacent to the Ayyubid wall that borders the park to the west, El-Genaina Theatre is a semi open-air theatre that seats around 500 people. El-Genaina has become an increasingly popular venue since its inauguration in 2005, and its programmes of concerts, music festivals and other unique events — open to people of all ages and social and economic backgrounds for nominal prices — have stimulated a fresh dynamism in the Egyptian capital’s musical life," reads the website of Al-Mawred Al-Thakafy (Culture Resource), an NGO that was directly responsible for El-Genaina's activities over the past few years.

However, in November 2014, after one decade of unprecedented dynamism on the regional level, the Culture Resource announced it was suspending its activities in Egypt. For several weeks, the destiny of El-Genaina Theatre was unknown. In May 2015 the newly founded El-Genaina Company for Arts and Culture Services announced stepping into the scene.

"El-Genaina now operates under a limited liability company that borrows its name from the theatre itself. The company is overseeing the arts and music activities that were previously run by the Culture Resource in Egypt," Ashraf Kenawy, the company's director (and formerly El-Genaina Theatre director) revealed to Ahram Online. He swiftly underlines that since the Culture Resource’s suspension of activities in Egypt, El-Genaina Company became disconnected from any organisational or financial link that the theatre used to have with its former mother-NGO.

The newly established company adopted two of the Culture Resource's sectors: El-Genaina Theatre, which provides a stage to a number of art events, including the Hayy and CirCairo festivals, as well as Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School, an entity that teaches circus arts and percussion to children from economically underprivileged areas. It is worth mentioning that under the Culture Resource, the theatre also hosted the Spring Festival, a regional music event. However, the festival's 2016 edition will take place in Tunis, Beirut and Amman only.

As expected, weeks and months of organisational change do not pass without minor hiccups, one of which took place in June/July when the already established El-Genaina Company moved the Hayy Festival to the GrEEK Campus at the American University in Cairo's Downtown grounds.

Kenawy links this decision to the inauguration of the restored Tarabay Al-Sherif complex and Ayyubid historic wall that partially borders El-Genaina Theatre. The event that was organised by Al-Azhar Park management on 15 June at El-Genaina Theatre, and attended by a number of officials, implemented some changes to the backstage allowing the audience to see the historic wall behind the theatre. The modified setup emerged too close to Hayy Festival's date and in order to run the event as planned, Kenawy decided to move it to the GrEEK Campus.

“Since the agreements with the artists had been already finalised and the festival's time was approaching, we decided to move the whole event to another location, GrEEK Campus,” Kenawy explained, underlining the support received from the GrEEK Campus’s management, despite the short notice.

El-Genaina Company now returns to activities in its original location, El-Genaina Theatre. The line-up of events scheduled for October includes Elhafla Square (El7afla), a mini festival comprising double bill concerts. The first are two concerts, on 9 and 10 October, followed by additional two at the end of the month. The events will include well known names such as Osama El-Hady, Asia Madani, El-Door El-Awal, Egyptian Project featuring Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School, among others.

Al-Darb Al-Ahmar Arts School is also coming back with their newest production, Balalika, taking it first to Alexandria where it will be performed at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on 19 October, then in Cairo at El-Sawy Culturewheel and El-Genaina Theatre, on 23 and 30 October respectively.

With El-Genaina returning to its activities, the location is again open as a focus for cultural events. However, unlike with several events organised at the theatre over the past few years, El-Genaina Company had to opt for raising ticket prices.

"El-Genaina Company is now a business model. We have to rely on profit," Kenawy says, explaining that tickets are set at LE50. 

Kenawy remains optimistic, however, believing that El-Genaina's renown and a dynamic team within the company will not disappoint audiences used to gathering at the location in recent years.  

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