Osiris: One-year-old venue enlivens Cairo's independent theatre scene

Soha Elsirgany , Wednesday 20 Jan 2016

The nascent culture space is now moving on to bigger projects catering to the theatre scene

Osiris space in Garden City (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

Launched in January 2015, Osiris was created as a space dedicated to supporting art at large, and theatre specifically. Today, as it celebrates one year of activities, its founder Omar El-Moataz Bellah assesses the last 12 months of his journey.

“There was a need for more spaces that support theatre. Some people rehearse plays in gardens and garages, and other than that there’s only couple of spaces where people can practice and learn about theatre,” El-Moataz Bellah, who is also an artist and theatre director, tells Ahram Online.

Despite the fact that in recent years many small independent plays have been produced, both the independent and the national theatre scene remain quite stagnant and, according to El-Moataz Bellah, practitioners lack depth of thought and vision to fully exploit the rich genre and are impatient with undergoing the creative process.

“At all the festivals [in Egypt], like the National Theatre Festival for instance, you can see Hamlet and Macbeth being staged dozens of times, all remakes executed in the same old ways, no one is even reading new material,” he says.

Borrowing its name from the ancient Egyptian god of resurrection and immortality, Osiris aims to act as a fertile ground for young independent artists to learn and create, armed with more and better knowledge, so they can in turn inject the art scene with better quality works.

The space offers several functions across three main channels: training, Osiris talks, and events.

The venue is like a stage in itself, furnished simply and prepared to be molded according to one’s vision and functional needs. There are two rehearsal rooms that can be opened up and connected to form a larger space, along with the apartment’s wide corridor, and a warmly lit office resembling a set from a period play.

“During the day it’s a learning space, open to rehearsals, workshops or projects, and on the evenings we regularly host selective events or performances that add value,” the founder says.

Since it’s launch, Osiris has organized several workshops including an African dance workshop and another modern dance one, as well as a theatre lighting workshop.

Moving forward, February will see the launch of the Osiris Training Programme, which will offer a more structured set of classes. The programme will span four disciplines: directing, acting, scenography, and critiquing, and will conclude with participants being certified.

“For now they will be certified by Osiris. I want Egyptians to learn from Egyptians before we look to any foreign instructors or certifications,” he says.

“The tutors are all young people who have the knowledge and academic background, as well as teaching experience and, more importantly, are really invested in and concerned with teaching others.”

An example is Hany Taher, director of the play Forsa (Opportunity) which was held on 18 January at Jesuit instead of the currently closed Rawabet theatre.

“I want this programme to bring out peers for me and my colleagues, not just students who follow. We need rivals, challenging competition and collaborations, let’s make a scene!” he says, in both excitement and frustration.

Enchanting Opera Night at Osiris in September 2015 (Photo: courtesy of Osiris)

Every month for Osiris Talks, the space brings an experienced speaker who was handpicked, or in El-Moataz Bellah’s own words, headhunted, to give an enriching talk in a discussion circle.

One of the recent speakers this month was Mariam Naoom, scriptwriter of the highly successful Ramadan series Taht El-Saytara.

“She is not only a successful scriptwriter, but also the daughter of a great one. It’s not enough for people to watch her shows, applaud and walk away, we should cultivate the mindset of asking these people questions, learning about their process and their work,” El-Moataz Bellah says.

Other speakers were Nahed Nasrallah, costume designer of Youssef Shahin’s films, and a wealth of knowledge, and Lenin El-Ramly, renowned television, cinema, and theatre writer, active since the 1970s.

“I’d like to bring back the habit of a culture salon that was present in Egypt before, where intellectuals regularly met up to converse and share their ideas,” he says.

“We are also trying to set a quality standard. It’s a welcoming space that is relaxed, but I don’t want it to turn into another cafeteria. It’s also important that we remain an independent space, with no entity imposing an agenda or anything that steers us away from our mission,” El-Moataz Bellah adds.

“People are leaders, they direct opinions, influence tastes, and enrich minds by sharing ideas,” he says, asserting that it’s a responsibility for artists to offer people quality work.

The space hosts evenings of performances, musical and theatrical, which are hand picked projects exhibiting an attempt to expanding the artistic discourse.

In late December Osiris hosted an interactive performance titled Labyrinths of Memory by Nora Amin, a result of an acting workshop also held there.

More recently, the space hosted Deliverance, another interactive play directed by Mahmoud Sayed with El-Moataz Bellah as scenographer.

Here the audience was encouraged to roam around the set, exploring the rooms and touching the props. One of the ‘tips’ the play’s descriptive material announced was “Feel free to follow the actors or make your own route within the world of the play and explore as much as you can. In all cases you will catch the plot.”

El-Moataz Bel’lah gives international theatre workshops on utilizing spaces.

“You can have a play anywhere, in a coffee shop, in a bathroom, really wherever,” he says.

In his own production of No Exit, which is still running since 2013, he adapts the set in response to the different performance venues.

Osiris also hosted a screening of Charlie Chaplin’s The Kid a little differently, with Mohamed Nagla playing live piano to the silent film.

“This is how these old films were screened in their time. The audience were really excited with the live piano,” El-Moataz Bellah says.

Starting off, Osiris faced many challenges before eventually getting on its feet.

“The plan was to launch the space with a big event, but it didn’t really materialize the way we wanted because we weren’t known yet. So we decided to start with holding activities (workshops, events, etc.), but now we have a network we can build on,” says El-Moataz Bellah.

Among Osiris's upcoming events are a music performance on 21 January titled Ma Lam Yuqal an El-Hob (Whatever Hasn’t Been Said About Love), featuring singer Amira Reda with George Qolta on the piano and Saadoun on the clarinet, followed by a poetry night on 31 January with the prominent poet Sayed Hegab.

Osiris Art Productions and Training space (Photo: Soha Elsirgany)

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