The state of Egypt’s independent theaters
(Mawlana) Stage show - Photo courtesy of Official Facebook Page

CAIRO: During the last few years Egypt witnessed a jump in independent theaters which reflect and discuss social and political issues through a number of different artistic expressions.  

The Cairo Post interviewed some independent theater directors to know their opinions, visions, and targets along with the obstacles that face them.

Theater actor and director Mohamed Abdullah told The Cairo Post Monday that the independent theater movement in Egypt was suffering from weak production due to overdependence on member financing. He said that “low ticket prices set to attract people, particularly to attend independent theater festivals such as Afaq, the French Culture Palace Festival and Sawy Culture Wheel Festival,” cause financial problems.

He said most of current performances focused on politics, but that his productions try to be different.

“Complicated social relationships are the main focus of my team. The current political experience in Egypt is still incomplete and many other teams have already covered the different political perspectives,” Abdullah said.

He criticized the censorship of some of his work by authorities, such as censorship of his “The Inheritance of the Wind” play, which pushed him to change its text.

Shady Sorour, another theater actor and director, told The Cairo Post Monday that theaters affiliated to the Ministry of Culture also suffered from obstacles.

“The theaters suffer from badly administrated bureaucracy and the Ministry of Finance reduced the budget allocated to the Ministry of Culture,” he said.

The reduced budget for theaters pushed the head of the Art House Theater Fatouh Ahmed to demand annual membership fees to collect money for quality productions.

“Nevertheless, the Ministry of Culture supports independent teams through its Hanager Theater and The Creativity Center,” Sorour said, adding that the ministry provides opportunities for independent theaters to participate in festivals in Tunisia, France and other international festivals.

Sorour said directing, dancing, and acting trainers had been provided to teams to improve their performance before travelling to the festivals.

“The media coverage provided by the ministry for independent theaters is stronger than its support for the teams affiliated to the ministry itself,” Sorour added.

Ahmed Ramzy, a theater director at Sawy Culture Wheel, told The Cairo Post that independent theaters were “different from free theaters.”

Ramzy said that independent theaters are established by professional actors, who belong to syndicates and have professional acting degrees, including “Khaled Saleh, Khaled al-Sawy, Ibrahim al-Baz and others.” Free theaters, on the other hand, may include individuals with no degrees or syndicate membership, according to Ramzy.

“The free theaters in Egypt need cooperation from the Ministry of Culture, and all concerned artistic organizations,” he said, “adding that we should look to the Italian experience with free theaters for a model.”

Ramzy said art, especially plays, lacks fair criticism, evaluation and support. He added that most of the academic art professionals did not consider the independent plays as “good plays” and rarely admit that the independents present cultural content.

“The teams collect money from their members to rent places for rehearsals, clothes and also places for live performances … youths require more financial support to be able to continue to produce,” Razmy added

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