With a number of clown shows, open air performances, origami, visual arts, concerts, workshops, puppets, and storytelling, this year's third edition of Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children has put a special emphasis on arts and culture in a child's upbringing.
"Our purpose is to bring newly developed ideas to educate and enrich our children's upbringing," says Mohamed El-Ghawy, founder of the AFCA Foundation for Arts and Culture and the festival as a whole.
AFCA for Arts and Culture was established in 2004 as an independent organisation aiming at adding arts and culture to a child's education. Using Arabic, French, and English languages in its programs, AFCA encourages children's creativity and artistry to develop personal skills. According to its statement, "AFCA uses education through the arts to build creative generations and empower children and youth."
"During Egypt's turmoil, I believe it is the arts and culture that would prosper the future of Egypt through this young generation who will eventually lead the country," El-Ghawy says.
"Arts and culture are as crucial as education, stability, and safety yet they remain of less importance to the regime."
At El-Hanager Theater within the Cairo Opera House grounds, AFCA's team of employees and volunteers entertained and played with children who came from different places around Egypt to have some fun and learn something new at Hakawy.
The internationally acclaimed American Aga-Boom circus group founded by Dimitri Bogatirev was among the main features of this year's Hakawy edition; "Literally Riotous," according to the LA Times, is "subtle circus art." In Egypt, Aga-Boom was presented by two clowns that managed to entertain a large crowd of all ages and not only children.
Aga-Boom (Photo by Bassam Al-Zoghby)
The audience laughed excitedly at their comedy sketches that included a number of props which served as important protagonists of the show: unwrapping toilet paper, playing with broomsticks, and a mop. For three consecutive nights, Aga-Boom attracted a larger crowd to each show to a point that El-Ghawy, at the show on Friday 15 March, asked parents to take their children on their laps to make room for a larger audience.
"I am happy with the audience reception but wished I had received more support from the authorities," El-Ghawy told Ahram Online. "At first, I wanted to reserve the Opera's main hall to accommodate more audience but the management refused."
El-Ghawy received many rejections from cultural authorities and police officials prior to settling on El-Hanager Theatre to host Hakawy due to the unrest in the country.
According to some members of the audience, "the Aga-Boom troupe is skilful and professional; creating live characters from the objects they incorporate in their comedy sketches." At some point during the show, the Aga-Boom clown used the plain white backdrop into one of his circus tricks, in which he puts his arm inside and bring it back out at its other end, giving the illusion of prolonging his arm. Such a trick was received with big laughs and astonishment by children.
In addition to Aga-Boom, Hakawy featured yet another circus show entitled Outta Hamra (Red Tomato), an Egyptian troupe who takes their circus performances outdoors engaging with children. Outta Hamra's show had a completely different character where passionate amateur performers combined circus with theatre elements, captivating different audiences, though mainly lower middle class. Many of the audience were children from outside Cairo, brought to the festival by buses.
Outta Hamra (Photo by: Bassam Al-Zoghby)
The audience dynamic was definitely different during the Outta Hamra show. "It is difficult to monitor those under-privileged kids coming from poorer areas; we let them run around and be children, and have fun," El-Ghawy says.
Hakawy ended last night, Saturday 16 March. Similarly to previous years, this year's festival featured a number of workshops that specifically address the under-privileged children from all around Egypt. Over 300 children participated in those workshops coming either with their schools, funding NGOs, or families.
"Among the general art related workshops, this year we incorporated the smaller version of our Sexual Harassment Arts Workshop."
AFCA's sexual harassment arts workshop is originally designed for NGOs who work with street kids across Cairo. Children are engaged into self-expression and learn the values of respect and what's right from wrong through their own drawings and paintings. "At the end of that workshop, a young boy came to me and said: I never knew that harassment was wrong and I am sorry," El-Ghawy recalls.
Whether inside El-Hanager Theatre or at its courtyard, all events and shows were free of charge, for the AFCA team believe in the importance of art and culture being accessible to all young generations.
In case of indoor shows, AFCA asked audience either to reserve through its Facebook page or call ahead of showing up to the theatre; an act which some audience members thought to be segregating as if AFCA was targeting a specific social class.
Commenting on the accusation, El-Ghawy said, "It is only to help us organise the festival and have it under control adding to the fact that we were given one small hall that only accommodates 120 seats."
In parallel, due to sufficient publicising the festival, AFCA, as stated, were able to reach different families from all over the country, reaching a variety of social strata.
"We want Egyptian children regardless of their backgrounds to be able to explore the arts and culture of other nations at their convenience, in their country."
"We believe that Egypt needs more events like Hakawy as this young generation is the future and needs to give a more important place to children and youth," El-Ghawy adds.
In line with this aim, AFCA is currently working on its upcoming project entitled "Around the World in 80 Minutes," where AFCA and its guest international artists will tour streets of Cairo and other cities for one whole year, introducing the arts and culture of a number of countries to children.
"We want Egyptian children to travel in their minds to different countries through arts and culture, exploring a variety of performances and music shows." Currently, AFCA team is coordinating this initiative with a number of public schools and NGOs.