Workshop redefines actor/audience relationship

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

In a recent workshop organized by the Townhouse Gallery and visiting American performance group My Barbarian, there was much more than the prospect of rich cultural exchange: it offered the opportunity to learn progressive techniques for expression.

The workshop, held from Dec. 18 to 24 wasn’t limited by set frames or classic structuring.

“Even though our performances allude to both ancient practices as well as the bleakness of modern Western civilization, it also inspires hope that we can regulate our resources in life through envisioning new ways of life that transcend pre-conceived notions in recognizing ourselves and others, said My Barbarian while explaining their objectives during the workshop.

“My Barbarian’s mixed-arts performance is recreated through the styles of the local participating artists, in a way that enriches cross-cultural dialogue.

Over a period of six days, working three hours daily, members of the My Barbarian group worked with local and resident artists to enrich each other culturally and creatively, concluding their time with a celebratory performance produced by the workshop.

During the workshop, the My Barbarian members and the participating artists discussed various topics, such as art, life, theater, the relationship between the actor and the role he plays, and his/her relationship with his audience.

The actor’s persona is ever-present within the character he portrays, thus My Barbarian pushes the artist to reassess this relationship in a way that makes the performance enjoyable while simultaneously allowing room to address contemporary socio-political realities the artists are experiencing.

Hence, the artist becomes not only an actor, but a story-teller in a parallel artistic universe.

The workshop included discussions, psycho-drama exercises, choir singing, motion, dance, and improvisations based on real-life situations.

As they see no sense in limiting artist creativity by conforming to classical schools, My Barbarian avoids calling its shows “theatrical. Instead it’s a mixed-arts performance, combining numerous art forms: theater, contemporary dance, music and literature, entwined around one theme.

The theme for this workshop was “The 11th Sense. The group believes that humans possess more than the known five senses, including the senses of beauty, danger, place, extrasensory perception (ESP) and sense of community. With the evolution of science and human civilization these senses fade and necessitate more of an effort to remain accessible. And since they are part of human nature, people just need to believe in them, dust them off, and work on amplifying them, the group says.

Through exploring the theme of unused senses, the participants put together a performance with a comic outlook of the realities of living in Egypt. It included improvised sketches depicting the metro station, downtown Cairo, Zamalek, Alexandria and Luxor, as well as scenes from everyday-life in New York, Los Angeles and the Egyptian and Arab traditions.

My Barbarian’s methods involve interacting with the audience and leading them to become active participants to add value to the performance.

As an Arab artist, I was happy to be taking part in a workshop without the set guidelines and boundaries usually found in other workshops. Everyone here was interacting and actively participating in choosing topics of discussion and styles of performance.

One exhilarating element in my experience with My Barbarian was that they enabled actors to disregard their apprehension towards the audience and transform that into the thrill of delighting them.

It was more of a channel through which artists can get acquainted with new lines of thought and progressive techniques, which will hopefully be encouraged by Arab cultural institutes as well as avid Arab artists.

Maliha Maslamani is a Palestinian independent writer and artist.

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