In the past, there were always banners everywhere announcing new plays here or there, especially in the private-sector theatres, which were once a source of national income.
The competition was fierce between giant artists like Ali El-Kassar, Najeeb Al-Rihani, and later Ismail Yassin. Later, the competition emerged between Adel Imam, Saeed Saleh, Samir Ghanem, Mohamed Nejm, Mohamed Sobhi, Suhair El–Bably, and Ahmed Badir. About 20 years ago, there were more than 20 plays performed at the same time during the summer season. Now, the private-sector theatre has disappeared.
Daily News Egypt sat down with some theatre specialists to understand the reason behind this crisis.
Theatrical critic Ibrahim Al-Husseini says: The reason for the death of the commercial theatre is due to the wave of comedy films that suddenly spread, which distracted people from watching any theatrical work. Any tourist visiting Cairo was initially keen to watch the plays of Adel Imam and Samir Ghanem first. After this, he is busy watching summer films, which cost him only several simple pounds. The most important reason for the death of the private sector theatre is a large number of cinemas in exchange for the lack of theatrical theatre. Today, any garage closes, you find the owner of the architecture opening a cinema in the place. This is because the cinemas have become profitable, and their films make high profits, whatever the value of these films. Any film in its first week will be released in more than 60 cinemas, and thus the financier guarantees that it comes with the costs of its production unlike the theatre, which costs exorbitant amounts and does not achieve gains.
Lack of producers
Theatre director Khaled Galal agrees that the ticket price and wages of actors are behind the disappearance of the private theatre. This is in addition to the migration of the producers of the private sector theatre to cinema and television, which achieves their great material gains, especially after increasing the number of cinemas and the number of satellite channels and their demand to buy new films immediately after being shown in cinemas.
Director Samir El-Asfouri, who had the most successful experience in the private-sector theatre, objects to the word “disappearance”. I would prefer to say that the theatre has stopped indefinitely because the theatre is determined to rely entirely on the current movie stars. In fact, the theatre contributed to making their stardom and gave them the first opportunity, and they also gave it their effort and time.
He adds: These stars are not free to the theatre, and all their concerns are to provide films that achieve high revenues. Thus, they practice theatrical activity at leisure after their cinematic work. This was also happening in the past, but we were aware that the life cycle had to continue. When a star was busy with a certain activity such as cinematic activity, we were looking for another star to replace him until theatrical activity continued. For this, in order for the private sector theatre to recover and the soul bounces back to it again, the producers must discover promising young elements and give these elements good texts and directors who have the ability to discover them. This is provided that we allocate large budgets for advertising. These stars will not be substitutes for the current stars, but they can achieve the artistic existence that compensates for the suffocation of the Egyptian private theatre, which has only one or two shows in the season.
A group of clowns
Theatrical director Gamal Yaqout says that the reason for the decline of theatrical art is that the poor works was exposed. All the actors who were repeating themselves every year were also exposed. They presented ridiculous shows for one or two nights per week, and this is it. Those in charge of these shows did not try throughout the years in which they made their performances to present the real theatre. I do not mean the real theatre to be bleak, but it must be a serious theatre, whether it is a comedy or tragedy. The catastrophe is that there is a group of clowns who led to the death of the Egyptian theatre, who is currently heading to the cinema in order to eliminate the rest of the art in Egypt.
Veteran actor Ashraf Zaki says that he is very sad for the situation that the private sector theatre in Egypt has reached, which with the Public Sector Theatre suffers many challenges and a struggle from satellite channels, and from comic films that are extensively shown in the summer season, which is the peak season for the theatre. This is in addition to the actors’ preoccupation with work in the Ramadan series, in which work begins in the summer months, which generates more material sums for actors than work in any theatrical performance. This is ignorant because the issue is not purely material but the culture and history of a people that must continue in various ways.
Lack of demand
Theatrical writer Ahmed El-Abyari confirmed that he had predicted the death of the private sector theatre for years, and he stated this in all his press and television conversations because the Egyptian society does not want a theatre and has no awareness of the importance and value of the theatre in the life of any people. This is unlike the societies abroad in which all NGOs, associations, companies, businessmen, and individuals join hands until new and different theatrical experiences come out. In addition to that, one of the reasons for the collapse of the private sector theatre is due to the intervention of the star in everything, starting with his choice of the text, the author, and the director to the heroes participating with him. The problem is that they interfere with ignorance, not with knowledge, logic, or understanding of the principles of theatrical work. This is what led me and others to produce and present real art. But the theatre died clinically by the audience and its reluctance, so how can we write a theatrical work, produce it, and do rehearsals for nearly three months and suddenly, you find the theatre empty? I see the solution in my point of view in the awareness of the audience, whose behavior must change in addition to the strong texts and the participation of the beloved young stars until the theatre returns to its previous era.
Veteran actor Ashraf Abdel Baqi says: I cannot deny that there is a failure in the private-sector theatre in the summer. When we started the summer theatrical performances years ago in Alexandria, we were about 15 acting teams, and we were working at the same time, but unfortunately, this situation did not continue. I stressed that the private theatre crisis is due to financial reasons; massive wages of artists and high costs of advertising as ad companies deal with theatres as if they are consumer goods, so the producer is forced to reduce expenditures, which negatively affects the theatre.
Veteran actor Ahmed Badir believes that the private sector theatres’ crisis is due to many reasons, the most important of which are its high cost and the high wages of artists, which ultimately lead to high prices of tickets that simple families cannot buy. Consequently, the theatres’ producers were in a state of frustration, and also the stars felt that they were presenting the shows without an audience. This is in addition to the presence of some theatres in places that are not suitable for human use. He says, “Unfortunately, the summer theatres’ crisis has become very difficult and sad, especially since the drama and cinema have kidnapped the rug greatly during the summer season from the theatre, especially the Alexandria Theatre, which was an outlet and a great opportunity for a large number of audiences for years. But the stars fled to the drama and cinema.”
He adds that the return of tourism, especially our Arab brothers, may be a reason for the return of the recovery of the private sector theatre to attract adult theatre stars again in presenting summer theatre performances, especially the Alexandria Theatre, which has many memories within every person.