“Egypt is currently in the throes of a bitter battle against terrorism, yet we have managed to hold a theatre festival in which 53 theatre groups competed for two full weeks. This is something we should all be proud of.” So said Culture Minister gaber Asfour at the closing ceremony of the 7th edition of the National Egyptian Theatre Festival last week at the Cairo Opera House. Addressing an audience among which a substantial portion were young people, Mr Asfour quoted the Egyptian modern poet and playwright Salah Abdel-Sabbour (1931 – 1981) saying that “freedom and justice will come to life”.
“Freedom is not only freedom of creativity,” the Minister stressed, “it is the freedom to establish all that is new and beautiful; and justice is not only social justice but the dissemination of knowledge and culture.”
“Dream with me”
“Dream with me of tomorrow,” Mr Asfour told his young audience, “and it is my duty as Culture Minister to work to fulfil the dream.” He stressed that theatre was a potent cultural tool, and asked the young theatre producers to take their works to remote areas of Egypt that do not get the generous cultural input accessible to Cairenes for instance.
In the same vein, the head of the festival jury Yusry al-Guindy demanded that the State should work to support the theatrical movement in Egypt, especially in case of small provincial groups, and should provide for more scholarships abroad for Egyptians in the theatre field while also inviting groups from other countries to perform in Egypt. “Only a strong, diverse cultural climate can work against the dissemination of extremist thought,” Mr Guindy said.
Mr Asfour then handed the festival prizes to the winners. The play The Trial, staged by the National Theatre, swept the main prizes: best play, best actor Ashraf Abdel-Ghaffour, best director Tareq al-Dweiri, best stage scenery and best music. The play was inspired by the American 1955 play Inherit the Wind by Jerome Laurence and Robert Edwin Lee which focuses on the political struggle between free, progressive thinking and closed, revisionist minds.
Performing for sick children
This year’s edition of the National Theatre Festival was the first to hold performances for sick children; the puppet show musical Al-Leila al-Kebira (The Grand Evening) and other plays for children were performed at Abul-Reeash Children’s Hospital, the Children’s Cancer Hospital aka 57357, and the Qasr al-Aini Tumours Institute.
The power outages that have become recurrent in Cairo interrupted several performances, but the audiences did not appear to mind and kept on coming in unprecedented numbers. Almost all the shows were sold out.
The National Theatre Festival was first held in 2006 and became an annual event that was only halted during the years of the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 and 2012.
29 August 2014