Receiving their visas one day before the shows were scheduled to take place and the many canceled and delayed flights didn’t stop each of the Caravan and the Launch of a Street Theater Group of the Sinai Bedouin Minority project of participating in Sfax Capital of Arab Culture festival 2016 in Tunisia. Despite the sleep deprivation and the exhausted bodies, the two groups managed to take over the streets with deftness and energy to perform their street theater shows. Performing ‘The Caravan’ and ‘The Land of Turquoise’ shows in the festival aimed at spreading the message of the Drama, Diversity and Development project to the different segments of audiences attending the festival. The groups’ participation aimed also at encouraging the use of street theater as a tool to promote diversity and combat discrimination, as these performances shed the light on issues of discrimination and alienation faced by Syrian refugees living in Lebanon and the Sinai Bedouins in Egypt. Mahmoud Sameh from Launch of a Street Theater Group of the Sinai Bedouin Minority project spoke to the Drama, Diversity and Development project in a recent interview about his experiences working with the project and his trip to Tunisia.
What does the Launch of a Street Theater Group of the Sinai Bedouin Minority Project symbolize to you?
“The Launch of a Street Theater Group of the Sinai Bedouin Minority Project has been a great opportunity on both the personal and professional levels. As the artistic director of the group, I gained so many skills and expertise working with a group of young Bedouin men and women for the first time in my life. This experience also introduced me to an aspect of the bedouin culture that I wasn’t aware of before. I was able at the same time to provide these youth with the artistic help and support they were looking for, to learn how to express themselves and talk about their issues in a street theater performance style. Seeing them grow and develop their artistic abilities gave me the joy and satisfaction I was looking for throughout the project as I was able to help them shed the light on issues that matter to them and the reality they come from.”
What is your favorite scene/part of the performance? and why?
“My favorite scene is what I like to call the ‘Shelter Scene’, which talks about the challenges facing displaced Northern Sinai bedouins in other Egyptian provinces and their struggle of finding refuge in these new places. By picturing the rejection these bedouins face by the communities they move into, as a result of the negative stigmas and stereotypes of Sinai Bedouins in the Egyptian society, this scene in particular addresses how this stigmatization affects this community that trying to find a new home and a shelter. Some of the stereotypes of Sinia bedouins in Egypt include viewing them as arms dealers, drug smugglers and terrorists. At the end of the scene we see one if the actors standing up and asking the audience: ‘do you have a solution for us or we don’t matter to you?’.”
What do you think your project is trying to achieve?
“The project works to change and challenge the negative stereotypes and misconceptions among the Egyptian public in general and in the governorates the Sinai Bedouin move into to find refuge specifically, through supporting their voices and giving them the space to talk about these issues in the framework of a street theater show.”
How do you feel the targeted audience reacted to the message you’re trying to deliver?
“I believe that art, especially street theater, is one of the most effective tools for delivering a message to a group of people or an audience that you are trying to target with your message. We had different groups interacting with our performance in a very great and interactive way, especially in the discussion part where we gave the chance for the audience to share their thoughts and feelings about what they’d just seen.”
After almost reaching the final stage of your project, what were the main challenges that you faced implementing this project on the ground so far?
“Even though we haven’t reached the final stage of our project yet, as we still have another month of performances to go, we definitely faced several challenges during the performances that took place already. Some of these challenges included security and safety threats, which at some point forced our team to cancel one of the performances. Moreover, harassment from some individuals in the audience by the end of one of our performances was another issue we faced. However, we had an agreement as a team that the moment the director gives the group the sign we agreed upon before if something bad happens, the team had to end the show without letting the audience notice and head immediately to the group’s car. Despite these challenges, I believe that our team was able to overcome them and learn how to adapt to different obstacles facing us while performing.”
How would you describe your experience in Sfax and what was your favorite part of the trip? Were the audience reactions similar to the ones you encountered in Egypt?
“Sfax was a rewarding experience as it allowed us to perform in a different country and in front of a different audience. Our team saw it as a new learning opportunity that was to reward our project in many ways. One of my favorite parts was witnessing how the actors were putting all their energy into practice before the show, and then seeing how happy and enthusiastic they were performing in front of the audience in Tunisia. During our performance in Sidi Bou Said, we had some individuals from the audience mocking the actors before the show, but when the actors started performing, the reaction of these individuals changed and we felt the audience’s solidarity with the issue our street theater performance was trying to tackle. One of the challenges we faced was that the play was in the Egyptian dialect, which sometimes made it hard for the audience to understand what we were trying to say.”
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