Art newsCulture

On the Importance of Being an Arab: Egyptian independent theater celebrates 20 years

On Monday 2 August, Rawabet Theatre in downtown Cairo hosted the closing act of its 3rd Annual Independent Theater Season with a performance called An Ahamiyet An Takoun Araby (On the Importance of Being an Arab).

This season, which started in mid-April under the auspices of el-Hanager Arts Center and the Independent Youth Artists Association (IYAA), celebrated 20 years of independent theater in Egypt.

Among the founding troupes participating this season for the first time was the Temple Independent Theatre Company, whose founder and artistic director, Ahmed el-Attar, is the performer and director of An Ahamiyet An Takoun Araby. The performance is autobiographical, making el-Attar both the material and the tool of presentation.

It opens with el-Attar sitting center stage on a chair placed on a cement brick, a representation of Cairo “home of the cement” designed by Hussein Baydoun, accompanied by a loud audio montage of “Cairian Shaabi” music created by Hassan Khan (which sometimes overshadows el-Attar’s conversations). The 40-minute performance consists of different phone conversations, video projection, and body postures, accented with smooth and brilliant light changes designed by Charlie Alstrom

The artist’s life is presented through a series of selected excerpts from love letters, unfinished manuscripts, and letters to his parents, among other places, and projected on a screen behind el-Attar, while he sits on a chair, holding phone conversations with friends and family through an ear piece.

Phone calls range from conversations with a friend about the “fake hope” behind American president Barrack Obama and their opinions on Islamic preacher Amr Khaled, to a conversation with his father about his health and wedding preparations.

“I am not an actor,” el-Attar clearly stated. “I am imitating myself, yet my body movements and speech are not correlated. This difference between the physicality and the words create a sense of detachment; a distance between myself and myself.”

However, “clichéd” self-expression is not the main idea behind el-Attar’s performance. The idea started out some two years ago, when el-Attar, together with music and video artist Hassan Khan and set designer Hussein Baydoun, obsessed over one question: What does it mean to be an Arab?

“We thought of conducting a survey, asking Arabs and ex-pats that question, yet we realized that the survey process has its limitations,” el-Attar explained. “Consequently, the idea diverted from the very public to the very personal, to have me as a random sample that neither represents anything, nor proves anything.”

El-Attar is a director and writer known for his socially relevant performances. F**K Darwin, How I’ve Learned to Love Socialism (2007), About Othello or Who’s Afraid of William Shakespeare (2006), and Mother I want to be a Millionaire (2004) were performed to public and critical acclaim throughout the Arab world and the West. He is also the founding member of Studio Emad Eddin.

An Ahamiyet An Takoun Araby started its European tour in 2009. Next it plans to stop in Italy and Brussels.

Related Articles

Back to top button