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Thursday, 05 August 2021

Egyptian National Theatre Festival: A controversy behind the scenes

Controversy arises after troupe led by director Islam Emam refuses to take part in festival competition

May Sélim, Thursday 21 Aug 2014
Muhakamat Al-Kahen
Muhakamat Al-Kahen (The Trial of the Priest). (Photo: Bassam El-Zoghby)
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An official statement by the cast of Elli Bana Masr (The One Who Built Egypt) announcing their withdrawal from the official competition of the National Theatre Festival, has raised a controversy. Directed by Islam Emam, the play consists of many young actors who perform alongside veteran actor Mahmoud El-Guindi who, in the statement, refused to be evaluated by the festival's jury.

Emam commented on behalf of the whole team: "We are not against anyone. Despite his illness and to respond to the audience's expectations, El-Guindi agreed to perform at the festival. All evenings were sold out! But he has the right not to take part in the competition. We are neither looking for a prize, nor for the festival's compensation; we care about the audience. The festival should be a panorama of the best performances of the year not a competition! It also should be held across all governorates."

The president of the festival, Nasser Abdel-Moneim, denounced the request, while Ahmed Fattouh, the festival's director and producer of the play, spoke about a "chivalrous act" that deserves encouragement.

"They [the play's cast] are all professional and accomplished actors. They wish to leave the opportunity to win the prize to the young participants of the festival," Fattouh commented to press.

For many years now, the similar polemics arise behind the scenes at the festival and it is not the first time that the accomplished troupes and actors do not want to abide by the rules. Since its inception in 2006, the competition usually looks at all the troupes, the professional, accomplished, beginners along with amateur troupes, and does not create different sections for different troupes and their experiences. As such many renowned professionals refuse to compete against amateurs or beginners.

Ahmed Fouad Selim in the protagonist role of the play Al-Muhakama (The Trial), as well as Mohamad Ramadan acting in Rais Gomhouriyat Nafso (President of His Own Republic), refused to play at the festival. Their decision is based on rejection of the festival's selection criteria.

"There is always an eternal conflict between professionals and amateurs. It's hard to find one solution that will satisfy everyone. If we cancel the competition part, we risk losing the interest of the young, eager to prove themselves," commented Hassan Attiya, a member of the jury.

The Egyptian National Theatre Festival, which kicked off on 10 August and will continue until 26 August presenting a large array of performances from a variety of Egyptian troupes, among which over 40 take part in the official competition.

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