By Rana Khaled
Between dilapidated old houses in Alexandria’s slums, a group of independent theatre artists from the nonprofit “El Madina” perform plays in the streets, hoping to insert different kinds of arts and culture into the daily lifestyle of the poor and underserved.
El Madina, which also supports youth initiatives and creates a culture market for local artists, has played a central role in supporting independent bands and theatre troupes in Alexandria since it was founded in 2007. However, it’s facing financial problems that may force it to close down.
A group of young artists came up with the idea for the nonprofit after struggling to find space to practice and perform, said Mohab Saber, the executive director of El Madina.
El Medina now provides an open space for meetings and performances, and provides training in acting, directing, lighting, and other areas for independent groups and youth initiatives. The nonprofit supports 124 artistic groups.
“We choose slum and deprived areas for implementing our training workshops as we aim to encourage people living in such places to rediscover their hidden talents and interests and increase their awareness about the different kinds of arts,” said Shehab Hassan, El Madina’s multimedia manager.
Through the nonprofit, Hadil Ali, a mass communication student, was able to rent space and equipment to shoot a talk show episode about atheism as a faculty project on a student budget.
“My friends advised me to go to El Madina as they train people and provide experienced professional help with almost no cost unlike other similar places,” she said.
As part of another project, called Four Walls, El Madina aims to encourage theatre performers to put on plays in closed rooms, according to the nonprofit’s website. The project focuses on presenting performances that aim to rethink current social changes and reformulate them in artistic forms, including theater performance, storytelling, open mic, standup comedy or dance.
Hassan said the 25 January Revolution encouraged people to go to streets, not only for expressing their political opinions but also for performing their musical, dancing and theatrical showings. Therefore, El Madina adopted the “training in the street” initiative in which they bring professional trainers from all over the Mediterranean countries to hold free sessions and workshops in the different artistic fields.
“The workshops achieved great success and large numbers of people used to gather from different districts to watch,” Hassan said.
Despite its successes, however, funding for El Medina has “declined dramatically” since 2013, he said, and the nonprofit is in danger of closing “any time”.
The team is working hard to find funding alternatives.
“We won’t give up our dream easily,” he said, “as it will prevent dozens of Alexandrian talented artists from achieving their goals.”