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Netherlands' Egg-tion Hero defends boredom, explores art at Egypt's Hakawy festival

The slapstick performance engaged with its young audience while introducing questions around art appreciation

Soha Elsirgany , Sunday 17 Mar 2019
eggtion hero
EGGtion Hero, performed by Lisa Groothof and Dwayne Toemere from MAAS Theatre en Danse (Netherlands) (Photo: courtesy of Hakawy festival)

Egg-tion Hero by 'MAAS Theatre en Dans' company from the Netherlands was staged five times at the ninth Hakawy International Children’s Theatre festival (4-16 March) in Cairo, including the final day of the festival's plays held on Friday.

Four of the performances took place at Hanager theatre, and one at Megawra center in Old Cairo.

The performance would start before the audience entered the theatre, with the troupe giving out glasses to all the young members of the audience. It took a while for people to realise they were only frames, with no actual glass in them.

Once the audience settles inside the theatre - a full house on closing day - the performers Lisa and Dwayne introduce themselves as staff members of Mini MoMA, a minimal version of the world’s top art museum.

Their museum has just one “very valuable” work of art on display, Egg, which they are guarding, while encouraging everyone to look at it with their “art glasses” and admire it.

Lisa and Dwayne carry on the show with simple theatrical props and lots of energy, relying on slapstick comedy and their own physicality to animate their simple script.

“I like this form of physical theatre. With movement you can express so much without having to explain it,” Dwayne Toemere told Ahram Online after the Friday show.

The pair dance, shout, whisper, and make little sound effects and mimic dramatic soundtracks.

Comedy ensues in the friction between the characters’ different personalities: Lisa is more strict and professional, while Dwayne is enthusiastic and clumsy.

Lisa touches the air with her fingers, complaining that the weather is a “bit dry.” Dwayne rushes to the rescue with a water spray bottle, directed at the dry spots near the young audience in the front, who happily catch some mist.

He then sprays it too close to Lisa’s face, flustering his co-worker but winning a round of laughs from his audience.

Between each little skit or comic interaction between them, the young audience is brought to focus again on “Egg” in silence, which barely lasts.

‘Hey you, look at Egg!” Lisa tells the children, who respond in collective giggles.

Dwayne shared what he loves most about making theatre for children.

“It’s the honesty that I appreciate so much. They either like it or not, and it’s very clear. I find it so interesting to try and keep their attention,” he said.

He adds that while all theatre for young children has to be simple and to the point, with Egg-tion Hero it was more of a challenge, because they wanted to use boredom as a theme.

At its heart the show is about embracing boredom, and highlighting how so much can happen with a bit of imagination even with a “boring” notion like an egg in a museum.

To make use of this boredom, the performers break the fourth wall from the start, interacting and engaging with the children while involving them in the mission to protect Egg.

When the lifeless Egg starts moving from its display place on its own, Dwayne panics and looks to the children for reassurance.

“What just happened?! Did it just…move?”

The children are already squealing in shock and glee, finishing his own sentence: “It moved!”

Their enthusiasm doesn’t dwindle as the action builds up, when Egg disappears completely only to reappear in strange places, like beside Lisa’s eye, in Dwayne’s ear, or among the audience.

At MAAS, which specialises in theatre for youth, the idea development is democratic and organic, stemming from the performer’s own ideas.

A member would pitch an idea to the company, which they then develop collectively and rehearse it.

Dwayne is one of the people who initiated and developed this performance.

“I can put my own questions or search for answers into a show. Like what is art? And who decides what an artwork is?”

In some versions of EGG-tion Hero, they start by asking the children that question.

“It’s amazing how kids always have all sorts of answers. If you ask a room of adults, almost no one would raise their hand or claim they have the answer,” he says.

The performance aims to celebrate the imagination of children, while stimulating their thoughts about their world and perhaps laying the seeds for some conceptual ideas about art.

Perhaps for some youngsters, Egg is their first example of Dadaism and art of the ready-made, echoing Dwayne’s own questioning of the art world.

The pair perform around the world, and says that children everywhere are very similar, “whether they open their mouths silently in fascination, or scream with excitement.”

The only difference is if there is a language barrier. On some nights at Hakawy, there was a live translator between the children and the show, who was as much a bridge as a hindrance.

When the children can understand the performers in English, it makes for a more direct interaction that the performers can build on and improvise around.

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