IN'Tents: When clowns go camping in Egypt

Heba El-Sherif and Ati Metwaly, Sunday 15 Mar 2015

IN'Tents is being performed several times during the Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children. Currently staged at the Hanager Arts Centre in Cairo, the play will afterwards move to the Bibliotheca Alexandrina

IN'Tents (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

Under the auspices of the Hakawy International Arts Festival, two clowns from the US bring the tent to the stage of Hanager Arts Centre. The play 'IN'Tents' is being staged in Cairo on several days and will then move to Alexandria.

Unlike festival performances from the UK (Tiger Tale) and the Netherlands (Tetris), where children are invited on a journey through imaginary forms and concepts, IN'Tents introduces a different, yet probably an equally hypothetical, notion to mainly Egyptian children audience: camping in the woods.

Although Egypt is home to a vast desert, a culture of camping is yet to find a place among the country’s inhabitants. And there are few, if any, woods.

At the start of the show, park ranger Patricia Pinky and her quirky assistant appear from behind a dangling sheet on which a forest is drawn. The assistant, dressed from top to bottom in camping attire, keeps swinging around his gear clumsily, hitting her boss all the time. The ranger is strict and insistently orders her junior around. “Water is for saving,” she says, to which the assistant replies “Tamam Ya Fandem” (or Yes Sir).

IN'Tents (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

The cat-and-mouse relationship unfolds between the two protagonists and keeps the children engaged, and even invites them to interact.

In the play, which borrows a lot from the never failing to entertain commedia dell'arte, the props are simple, and so are the movements. The children laughed heartily every time the protagonists clown around, incorporating a lot of gags and elementary tricks into the main storyline.

To break the linear and consistent comedy that dominates the show, in two scenes the mise-en-scene imitates silent cinema techniques, shifting from dialogue to subtle pantomime while the lighting underlines the rigidity of the first celluloid films.

IN'Tents is definitely different to other performances brought by Hakawy from the US in previous years. In 2013, the festival hosted 'Aga Boom' and in 2014 'Frogz' — both plays relying on an abundance of scenography and props, and both highly imaginative with no consistent thematic development.

IN'Tents' storyline remains clear in its development and the play is imbued with many educative values.

IN'Tents (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

No doubt, for Egyptian children the play is an opportunity to present social and recreational habits practiced by other cultures. In a broader context, however, camping helps introduce young attendees to the many values that come along with it. And though the children are not necessarily provided with clear steps on how to set up a tent, the goal seems to be this: camping is fun, and so is teamwork.

The artists continued their educative message by inviting the children to a workshop organised after the performance.

Each year, AFCA, the body organising the Hakawy Festival, makes sure to reach the largest number of children possible. Apart from the regular audience, AFCA — in cooperation with NGOs — arranges to bring to Hanager Arts Centre children from economically underprivileged areas. And on Saturday, 14 March, buses from the Children's Cancer Hospital 57357 came with several dozen young attendees, who enjoyed the play and eagerly participated in the workshops afterwards.

Workshop with clowns, following IN'Tents (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Check the complete programme here.

Ahram Online is the official media sponsor for the fifth edition of Hakawy International Festival for Children.

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