Italian writer, actor and Nobel Laureate Dario Fo tells a timeless and border-neutral tale in his 1977 classic text Il Risveglio (Waking Up) which follows a woman as she panics in the early morning at the notion of sleeping in and arriving late to work without finishing her chores at home.
Independent actress and storyteller Doaa Hamza takes the Egyptian adaptation -- written in the 1980s by actress and critic Menha El-Batrawi -- and improvises the text to a performance on the modern-day low-income Egyptian woman in her solo performance ‘Sahhy Al-Nom’ (Waking Up) at the Nahda Association for Arts and Science Theatre on 12 and 13 June.
Previously performed last month in Rawabet Theatre, Hamza’s rendition of Waking Up stole the hearts of audience, who laughed and interacted with her throughout the 40-minute performance.
Based on two months of improvisational sessions which Hamza conducted on her own, Waking Up offers a glimpse of the morning on which she awakes from a nightmare where she loses her fingers on the machine she works on at the factory. The character goes on to panic that she rose out of bed late, unable to find the time to complete her domestic chores -- such as feeding her baby, doing the laundry and cooking -- before heading to the factory job.
While engaged in these chores, Hamza’s character shares the stories of how she got married, her childhood, her frustrations with her mother-in-law and the sexual harassment she faces on the street, with the pressures she added by her husband and employer thrown into the mix.
Hamza’s skills on the stage and her luminous personality allow her to carry the solo performance successfully. The actress and director manages to make her audience imagine the rest of the performance’s characters without them ever appearing except in simple audio recordings at the start of the show created by Sherif El-Wassimy.
Using limited props, the scenography allows the audience to visualise an entire house with front door, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and balcony -- from which the character fights with her neighbours -- all on the tiny stage she moves through.
The turning point in the performance is when, at the door, the character realises she has misplaced her key.
“This key is the key to the story, the key to her life,” Hamza tells Ahram Online. “Through her search for the key, and retracing her steps from the previous day, we get to see a day in her life,” she explains.
Through this day, we discern her frustration with her life, which she is living, but not really living, like many Egyptian women. The pressures of daily life force most women to work, while at the same time being in charge of all the chores at home, turning most women into a “machine” as the artist puts it. Not to mention that everyone, from the woman’s parents to her husband and her employer, releases their own frustrations on her.
This struggle of women, while Hamza admits she has it easier than most women of a lower income level, is what finally inspired the actress to take a spin at directing the performance. Recently having a child of her own and working as a producer in Egyptian television, while at the same time pursuing her theatrical passions, Hamza found herself relating to Dario Fo’s text more than ever. Despite having been exposed to the text several times already – while training as an actress with Al-Warsha Theatre Troupe at the start of her acting career – it had never struck home as powerfully.
Hamza undergoes a unique and in-depth preparation process before each performance. She is a fan of improvisation and believes it is of utmost importance in imagining the character beyond the text: what makes her smile, what frustrates her, what she likes to wear on a given day or what kind of phrases she uses frequently. Although she does not necessarily employ all of these details in her performance, they help her bring the character from paper to reality.
The artist also always sprinkles a dash of herself into the characters she plays; if she is unable to tap into that connection with the character, she may even refrain from doing the show. “When I feel close to the character it translates into the performance in a meaningful way,” she asserts.
Hamza, who has been mainly focused on storytelling since the outbreak of the revolution, feels that these experiences helped her shape the performance of Waking Up. Also, her study at the Actors Studio with Ahmed Kamal, during which she learned about improvisation and balancing it with a script, served in shaping the performance in the way it is presented.
Waking Up is performed and directed by Hamza, with support by its executive director Tareq Shalaby and light design by Saber El-Sayed. While this performance is independent in nature and without any funding, Doum Foundation for Culture was a supporter in giving the team a free space to host all of their rehearsals.
Waking Up will be performed Thursday 12 and Friday 13 June at 7.30pm
Nahda Association for Arts and Science, 15 Al-Mahrani Street, Al-Faggala, Ramses, Cairo