Egyptian artist brings Saudi women, men to same stage

Mikhail, Al Monitor, April 29, 2018

Egyptian theater troupe Masrah Masr enjoys popularity across the region, but
can it become a model for Saudi Arabia’s performing arts scene? 
A scene from Masrah Masr (Egypt Theater) broadcast on the MBC Masr channel in
Egypt, posted Jan. 3, 2018. Performances by Masrah Masr also have been
broadcast on the Saudi MBC TV network.
Saudi Arabia has sought the help of Egyptian artist Ashraf Abdel Baqi to
establish a mixed-gender Saudi theater troupe in the framework of the
kingdom’s social policy of becoming less stringent.
Arabia recently opened its first cinema,
is going to allow women to
and held the first cycling competition
in which women participated. To develop its performing arts sector, the kingdom
invited Abdel Baqi, the founder of Masrah Masr theater troupe, to work in
the country. Performances by Masrah Masr (Egypt Theater) were broadcast on
the Saudi MBC TV network.
Baqi’s efforts to build the Masrah al-Saudia (Saudi Theater) yielded their
first results when a cast of 50 Saudi men and women put on two plays in early
April. “Dunya al-Alaab” (“Toy World”) and “Mamnou Doukhoul
al-Sayidat” (“Entry of Women Prohibited”) were performed on the
stage of the Society of Culture and Arts in Jeddah.
director of Gulf productions for the MBC Group, Ahmed al-Assaf, who
oversees the work of the Saudi troupe, said during a press conference April 5,
“The Saudi Theater is echoing the experience of Masrah Masr and aims
to train young talents,
and to turn some of them into theater and television stars.”
Assaf added,
“Masrah Masr has given many young actors a platform to shine and they have
become famous in Egyptian series. This is the aim of the Saudi Theater, too.”
Baqi told the local press during a
news conference April 17 that he chose 50 men and women from the
800 who auditioned over a three-week period; it took another three weeks
to train them.
said the selected plays do not offend local sensitivities. “Conservative
voices in Saudi Arabia expressed their gratitude after watching the shows
because I was careful to observe the traditions of the kingdom. … The shows
received wide public turnout. The first two shows were sold out and
tickets were booked for two full weeks,” he said.
Baqi added, “I handle the responsibility of directing the theater shows,
and I signed contracts for 20 plays that will be shown on the MBC
TV channel.”
Collaboration with
the Saudi Theater was challenging, Abdel Baqi said. “The accent was the
biggest challenge for me. The Saudis do not have a unified accent; Jeddah’s
residents do not speak like other citizens. I had to be careful because it is a
sensitive issue, and it took me a while to learn the nuances of each
accent,” he said.
In regard
to actors and actresses working together for the first time in a
theater troupe in Saudi Arabia, Abdel Baqi told the Saudi Al-Arabiya
March 30, “For the first time men and women took part
together in theater performances. I guided them in a way that
respected traditions in the kingdom, and I realized how talented they were
and respectful of social customs.”
He added,
“I was surprised to see these amazing talents and love for acting among the
young people. We managed to perform the first two plays that both carry a
social message and comic scenes that are appropriate for Saudi society.”
art critic Tareq al-Shennawi told Al-Monitor, “Egypt will play a part
in the artistic activity in Saudi Arabia, as it is the country benefiting the
most from Saudi social and artistic activity, just as it had been harmed by the
kingdom’s regression and oppression.”
He said,
“Egyptian art fits into Saudi society. For this reason, Egyptian singers such
as Tamer Hosny and Mohamed Hamaqi performed as part of the first
Saudi concert [in March]. Saudi Arabia resorted to Abdel Baqi for theater as
he has experience in the field.”
also said, “The Saudi Theater will succeed if it meets the standards that
conform to Saudi Arabia’s societal norms. The Saudi Theater will play an
important role in reviving theater in the kingdom.”
He added,
“In the next stage, Egypt and Saudi Arabia will promote their artistic
cooperation in the fields of cinema and theater. Egyptian and Saudi production
companies will coordinate to produce Saudi films with the participation of
Egyptian actors. In Saudi Arabia, Egypt is called ‘the Arab
Hollywood.’ Therefore Egypt must be part of the arts movement in Saudi
writer and director Yasser Madkhali, who is responsible for the content of
the Saudi Theater initiative, was quoted by the Saudi newspaper Al Yaum
as saying, “Establishing the Saudi Theater emulates the Masrah Masr
experience, but in a way that suits the spectator in the kingdom and the Arab
world, while ensuring the construction of the Saudi identity.”
He added,
“We want theater to become part of family entertainment. The Saudi
initiative will contribute to creating a market for theater and will motivate
creative people to show their plays for a longer time.”