Revolutionary street theatre in Egypt

Street theater in Egypt has re-emerged since the revolution as a way to express the desire for freedom and democracy. Photo: Art Protest in Egypt - Courtesy of Ati Metwaly / Ahram Online

CAIRO, November 9, 2013 — Since the Egyptian revolution of January, 25, 2011, a new era of arts has erupted in Egypt. The public started a new socio/political environment to embody the dreams and aspirations of a nation which has longed for freedom and democracy.

Through the revolution, a new public culture was born in which artists played a pivotal role in the protests. Likewise, many genres of arts emerged such as “street art” in order to document the spirit of the revolution.

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 Young enthusiastic artists spread their art through political songs as well as theatrical performances. During the last two years, a new street theatre, or “verbatim theater” was born. According to Dr. Nehad Selaiha, one of the most prominent theatre critics in Egypt and a professor of drama and criticism who won the Egyptian State Award for Superior Achievement in Literary Studies 2013, theatre played a vital role in the revolution. Dr. Selaiha discussed the future of theatre after the revolution:

Anwaar Abdalla: Do you think that the political unrest has affected the theatrical movement after January 25th, 2011?

Dr. Nehad Selaiha: The 25th January revolution and the political events that followed have certainly affected the theatrical movement by bringing theatre artists on the streets with performances that reflected the anger of the nation, its hopes and dreams, and contributed to the raising and sustaining of the demonstrators’ morale. These performances, which can be grouped together under the general rubric of revolutionary street theatre, drew on the arts of dance, music, poetry , graffiti, storytelling, parody and satire and also introduced a new form of documentary theatre which may be classed as verbatim theatre- meaning a theatre that documents historical events as they happen through the testimonies of active participants and eye-witnesses. Such performances however are generally put together through improvisation on the spur of the moment and are of necessity closely attached to the events that immediately inspired them. Many of them, therefore, may not survive the events which inspired them in terms of impact on the audience. It may be that we have to wait until things have settled down a bit before we can hope to see a drama that deals with the events of these two turbulent years in depth and with profound insight into the human side behind them.

Anwaar Abdalla: Can we define the new theatre phenomenon that emerged after the revolution?

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Dr. Nehad Selaiha: As I mentioned above, verbatim theatre, or a theatre of the real, in Carol Martin’s definition, can rank as a new theatre phenomenon that emerged during and after the revolution.

Anwaar Abdalla: You once commented that the street theatre is an old phenomenon. Why do you think it is suitable now?

Dr. Nehad Selaiha: Culture and art in Egypt have been longed denied the masses. To reach them, we need all varieties of street theatre, including the type developed by Augusto Boal, which he called “theatre of the oppressed”, and which aims at raising consciousness, training the audience in democratic practice, and motivating them to tackle their social and political problems in a peaceful but effective way.

Anwaar Abdalla: How do you see the future of Theatre in Egypt?

Dr. Nehad Selaiha: Right now I am optimistic about the future and hope that through close cooperation between the ministry of culture, the mass culture organization, civil societies and the independent theatre movement theatre will spread to all corners of the country, so that every village, small town, or district in a big city will have its community theatre, or resident local theatre troupe, and every school will introduce theatre as part of its regular, extracurricular activities.

Art and creativity are the fuel of a revolution, but theatricalising a revolution is a different story. Hence, a revolutionary theatre protects the dreams of a nation which pursue democracy and freedom.

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Anwaar Abdalla

Anwaar Abadallah Khalik Ibrahim has her Ph.D. from Ain Shams University (1999, first degree honour) and currently lectures on Civilization and Cultural Affairs for Helwan University.  Dr. Abdalla Kahlik Ibrahim also works as an official coordinator for the cultural exchange program between Helwan Uni and TSU in the USA entitled “Cultural Immersion 2011-2014.”

Additionally, Ms. Abdallah is a member of the Egyptian and Arab women’s writer’s union and the Cairo Women Association.  She is also the translator of several books published by the Ministry of Culture including Shadows on the Grass, Impossible Peace and The Secret Rapture. Dr. Ibrahim is also an accomplished author and essayist in both Arabic and English publications. 


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