BY DALIA BASIOUNY Cairo Stunned by news that Rawabet Theater, the only affordable independent performance space in downtown Cairo was shut down, two theatre technicians decided to take matters into their own hands.
As technicians Saber El Sayed and Mido Sadeq knew how to turn empty, unequipped spaces into full-fledged performance venues. Rawabet’s abrupt closure in February for lack of funding triggered the ingenious idea to transform The Factory, a space run by the TownHouse Gallery, and debut an arts festival they dubbed “Alternative Solution”.
Converting this huge empty white-walled hall into an equipped performance space with a rigging system for the lighting, sound proofing and a ramp for audience seats was no easy feat. But with the determination of artists and technicians who volunteered their time, effort and equipment, the saga took four sleepless days of absolute dedication to the concept of creating an alternative space for independent art.
The team documented their efforts in a short video that was shown at the entrance to the space. The comical speed by which the work was presented allowed both audience and passers-by to witness the transformation and how huge practical challenges can be surmounted through collaboration.
“We are not organizers, we are technicians. We are always solving problems. We always work with ‘alternative solutions’. There is a deep shortage in artistic spaces. Why not do what we are doing all the time to solve the problem that is facing artists regarding space,” said Mido, the co-founder of the festival.
The 15 days of programming from March 24-April 17, were full of performances ranging from plays, film screenings, dance, music concerts, mime, stand-up comedy, clown gigs and open mics. Audiences filled the limited seats, and many were happy to sit on the floor to watch some of their favorite artists and to welcome new ones.
Egypt’s January 25 revolution was at the heart of this improvised festival, with most theater performances focusing on it. Documentary plays like “No Time For Art” by Laila Soliman, “Be Basata Keda” (Simply Like That) by Ana El-Hekaya Group, and El Warsha’s “Zawaya” and “No Exit” by Omar ElMoataz Bellah are cases in point.
The theatricalized poetry performance “Without Names” by Amin Haddad, directed by Reem Hegab, was a lyrical commentary by the poet on his complicated relationship with his muse, Egypt. It included a number of poems by Haddad, composed by Hazem Shaheen, co-founder of Eskenderlla, the mouthpiece of Egypt’s young revolutionaries including the powerful “martyrs’ song’ “From Maspero to Mohamed Mahmoud”.
In addition to many short films by rising filmmakers, there were a number of music concerts by the enchanting Nada El Shazly, the inspiring Yousra El Hawary and the popular Mashrou’ Koral run by Sallam Yousry. The program also included new fare such as Martial Art Brazilian Capoeira performance by Mohamed Tiger, Mime by Amro Abdel Aziz, HipHop Dancing by We Are Group, and stand-up by Ali Qandeel.
Contemporary dance performances included work by young and veteran choreographers. Ahmed El Gendy (aka Zero) performed his exciting work in water “One”, while Sherien Hegazy choreographed “Disturbance” and the queen of Egyptian contemporary dance Karima Mansour and her troupe were part of the festivities of the closing night.
A screen placed in the street outside The Factory allowed passers-by to follow some of the events in a practical move to stretch the boundaries of space with clown gig Outa Hamra (Red Tomatoes) surprising pedestrians as they ventured out into the street on an impromptu public performance.
“There was a great spirit in the festival,” said Saber, co-founder of the festival. “We all agreed that in post revolutionary Egypt no one is going to control us. We will present our art, come what may.”
He emphasized that the event was independent on every level. None of the artists or technicians were paid, and admission was free.
Saber describes the “unique energy of the event” whose successful first round has stimulated a search for other empty spaces, garages, or vacant lots. The scouting has taken them outside downtown Cairo, where most of the art scene is concentrated, hoping to reach audiences everywhere in the big city.
To keep the momentum going Mido and Saber are even considering showing short films by up-and-coming filmmakers in their friends’ apartments around town. The inspired and inspiring technicians are keen on rejuvenating the stagnant cultural scene through pursuing even more “alternative solutions”.
Their motto: “We will not stop. We will continue to change things. We are the change.”