The young theater troupe Soubian we Banat (Boys and Girls) offered an evening of storytelling this week in Wekalet El-Kharoub in Gamaleya, the popular neighborhood behind Al-Hussein Mosque in old Cairo.
The troupe that presented the gem “Ali Al-Zeibaq, one of the freshest performances in Cairo last year, presented “Min El-Saharra (from the Old Trunk): Selections from the Popular Heritage. The company, led by Ali Samir, chose 10 stories, collected from narrators across Egypt in the mid-20th century, and interspersed them with old Egyptian popular songs.
The engaging stories and the festive songs created a lot of energy in the small auditorium. The young performers, ranging from 10 to 22 years old, utilized narration techniques, acting, impersonation and singing to engage everyone in the audience with such charm and skill. They generated high-spirited enthusiasm and full audience participation with their words and chants.
The performers and chorus started the show from the aisles, emphasizing their strong connection with the audience. They come from the people, and their community is watching them on stage, in the true sense of a community theater.
Dr Adly Beshay, the mastermind behind the Friends of Environment and Development Association (FEDA), believes that theater and art are an integral part of the developmental mission of FEDA. Empowering the people is as essential as restoring the derelict buildings. This empowerment does not only focus on health and education, it has to reach the heart.
“The kind of awareness that art brings goes straight to the heart and touches the souls and minds of the youth who are doing it and the community that watches them, he told Daily News Egypt.
Mohamed Bendary is a true example of the transformation that art can bring about. The leading performer in the theater troupe enamored the audience with his story about the newly found fortune of a young woman who is pursued by some charlatan. He captured the spirit and accent of the various characters in his story with wit and charm. At 19, he gained a lot confidence in performance with regular training with Soubian we Banat.
Bendary is a first-year university student, who juggles a full-time job in a workshop, with his studies, yet he always makes time for rehearsals. He thinks that theater changed his life and his personality, and he is keen on learning more from this opportunity and growing through the rich experience of theater making. “Through the exercises our director Ali Samir gives us, I learned to think freely, to imagine, to express myself, to create a story out of a word. Now I can connect to the audience, communicate with everyone around and engage fully with the people in my life.
Aya Abdou Hassan, one of the young storytellers, reiterates a similar conviction. Reminiscing on the days before she started her theater training, she said, “I was so shy, I couldn’t speak out, even at home or at school. I had no confidence and felt I have nothing to say. When you see Aya’s performance, or hear her speak with speed and passion, you cannot guess that the 16-year-old once had trouble being heard.
The founder of Soubian we Banat troupe, Ali Samir, is shy about taking credit for this change. He often talks about the group and the training; sometimes he refers to the struggles they all go through just to make time for rehearsals or to convince the conservative families of the value of theater and its positive impact on the lives of the youth.
The delight in his eyes as he watches the young ones step on stage for the first time and blossom in front of their audience, equals his pride in the veteran performers who trained with him for two years and are able to light the stage, and captivate the audience with their radiant energy, like the young singer and leader of the chorus Ahmad Adel.
This joyous evening of storytelling and community building could have been even more visually stimulating had it utilized the special architecture of the late ottoman building of Wekalet El-Kharoub with is columned arcades and balconies. Using the courtyard, arcades and gallery as the setting for their previous performance “Ali Al-Zeibaq lent solid strength to the play, which the current performance lacked in the over-crowded modern auditorium, missing the main charm of the Wekala.
As the troupe works on the ambitious project of dramatizing some of the marginalized characters in Naguib Mahfouz’s novels, they will continue to present evenings of storytelling and songs, showcasing the talents they are brewing and creating connections to the audience in the community. The young raconteurs’ artistic work creates a full circle between the stage and audience, emphasizing the importance of community in community theater.
For information on performances and activities in Wekalet El-Kharoub, call FEDA: (02) 2278 7217.