Cairo’s iconic Rawabet theatre to reopen: Cultural manager Ahmed El-Attar talks plans, vision

Ati Metwaly , Saturday 6 Mar 2021

Ready to reopen its doors to artists and audiences, the Rawabet theatre will now operate as Rawabet Art Space, under Orient Productions, headed by Ahmed El-Attar

Rawabet, an iconic space hosting new voices of the field will now reopen under the new management: the Orient Productions

The small quarter around the narrow Hussein Basha Al-Meamari street has been one of the most important cultural spots of Downtown Cairo. 

After several months of stagnation, due to the administrative complications followed by the pandemic, the area is now ready to return to its dynamics. 

For the performing arts community, Rawabet is an iconic theatre which over past years hosted new voices in the field and it will now reopen as Rawabet Art Space and under new management: the Orient Productions.

An important cultural player in Egypt, the Orient Productions headed by Ahmed El-Attar, is already known for the studio Emad Eddin, the Downtown Cairo Arts Festival (DCAF), the newly launched Maktabi work spaces, among other achievements of the company and its creator. 

In its turn for the artists and art-lovers, until recently the Rawabet’s area was known for the theatre launched in 2005, in addition to two other locations – Factory Space and the former Townhouse Gallery – that  focused on visual arts among other activities.

The Townhouse Gallery was established in 1998 as a non-profit organization and with time acquired other venues overlooking their operations. In the recent past, the administrative dynamics have changed with the Townhouse’s operations being affected by numerous factors including: reported issues with the authorities, partial collapse of the building, departure of its director William Wells and the recent passing of his Egyptian business partner. 

Replaced in early 2020 by the registered company ‘Access gallery’, the contracts with Rawabet and the Factory Space have ended, leaving the destiny of the latter two unknown.

(Photo: courtesy of Orient Productions)

Today, as Rawabet moves under the management of Orient Productions, it will continue following its main vision, whereas its main focus remains on performing arts on the large sense.

Naturally, with all those changes, we are all curious to know more about El-Attar’s plans and priorities for the venue.

“Our choice of Rawabet was an obvious one,” El-Attar said to Ahram Online adding that, “for over 15 years, Rawabet has been an important venue for independent and alternative performances in Cairo. To many young artists it was their starting point. In Orient Productions we knew that losing Rawabet will create a significant gap in the cultural sector. It had to be reinvigorated in a way or another. Over the past months, we have renovated Rawabet to be a true multi-disciplinary stage that can host talks, rehearsals, workshops, performances, dance, theatre and music events etc.”

The theatre is registered in the district as Rawabet Art Space and it goes without saying that it will function as such especially in the hands of Orient Productions, which will be now in charge of all the operations taking place in the theatre providing the management team for the venue. 

As El-Attar reveals he is the artistic curator of the venue underscored that “we are open to the whole sector. We are welcoming all proposals, ideas, etc. As long as we are able to financially maintain the operation, we’ll be happy to do so. At the same time, Rawabet Art Space also has PR, Marketing and technical teams dedicated fully to the theatre.” He adds that the new manager of the venue is Mram Abdel-Maqsoud working with Orient Productions on implementing its vision.

The new space comes with many new face-lifts which, as El-Attar believes, will infuse fresh blood into the cultural scene, boosting its presence and development. 

(Photo: courtesy of Orient Productions)

“Basically we have had the whole venue re-done. We changed the place of the stage, renovated all floors, walls, auditorium, office spaces etc. The equipment and the sound-proofing have been improved and expanded. We also worked on anti-fire installations, electrical circuits among many other elements. We now offer better facilities for both the audience and the artists backstage.” 

El-Attar clarifies that the auditorium which can now seat an amount of 150-280 members of the audience – a number increased from the previous 120 – in a much more comfortable manner.  

We all remember the large crowd gathered on a tiny street in front of Rawabet and at the nearby coffee shop while waiting for the performance to begin. El-Attar points to the new, larger lobby with all necessary facilities that can accommodate the show’s attendees.  

“In short, everything has been revamped to the highest standard possible within the context of our work field course. We have a better venue, we are better-equipped, something that will serve the performers, the audiences and the cultural scene at large,” he said. 

Once the operations begin, the improvements will definitely have a direct impact on the community of artists who will hopefully find the needed comfort and professionalism at the venue. 

At the same time, the audience will have an opportunity to embrace and benefit from the new creative dynamics.

El-Attar added that Rawabet Art Space will start operating fully after Eid (after Ramadan), while the soft opening will last throughout the upcoming weeks and the month of Ramadan.

“We are trying to find ways to produce the works by young people, as well as the established ones, those in their 30s. We want the wheel to start turning fully after COVID-19. We will also have a proper season which will kick off in September, preceded by a semi-season that would span throughout the summer months,” El-Attar said. 

(Photo: courtesy of Orient Productions)

As El-Attar explained, apart from hosting individual events, Rawabet will also be giving its stage to festivals and other larger cultural events. 

“Our long term plans are linked to serving the cultural sector, to be there, to present new and fresh work. We want to continue developing the audience while we’re working on the sustainability of the venue.”

Though El-Attar’s priorities are focused on young theatre-makers, he does not want to limit the space to one group of artists. “We are open for everyone who wants to experiment and present new fresh works. 

Usually the young generation has a fresh outlook on reality, so I expect we will host many of such productions. However, we are not setting any intentional limits on those operating within the scene at large. We are ready to work with everyone.”

For the time being, the interested artists can contact Orient Productions by email. As the operations begin, Rawabet will announce the channel of communication with the venue. The theatre will implement regular procedures in terms of bookings, contracts, etc. The requirements will follow the procedural aspects of the scene, such as approval for the text issued by the censorship authority. 

“We will definitely look at the quality of the submitted projects. For this reason we will also produce our own works to be performed in Rawabet and probably other venues across Cairo, other governorates, and why not internationally,” El-Attar added. 

With the Rawabet Art Space reopening soon, El-Attar is already laying plans for further developments. “We hope to keep boosting equipment as we go. Proper air-conditioning also needs to be addressed, but this is something to still be thought about in the near future,” he concluded.

(Photo: courtesy of Orient Productions)

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