Street Theater Projects / Street Theatre

DDD empowering civil society organizations to establish a regional street theater movement: Interview with Mohab Saber from El Madina

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While the Drama, Diversity and Development project provides its sub-grantees with the needed support and platform to develop their ideas during the period their projects are taking place on the ground, it also provides them with the skills and capabilities to grow and sustain these projects even after their work with DDD comes to an end. El Madina’s Street Carnival project is a great demonstration of how DDD’s closed projects continue to use street theater as a tool to raise awareness about issues facing minorities in their communities. In addition to liaising with other groups to create a regional movement empowered to talk about issues facing many communities in the MENA region. Last month, the core team trainers of Street Carnival, which have been empowered during the Carnival tours in Egypt and Morocco through DDD’s support in 2015, traveled to Palestine to facilitate a three-days Street Carnival workshop with Palestinian artists. The group also organized two street performances in the old town of Ramallah during their trip, in the frame of Ramallah’s Summer Festival, which was organized by the Municipality of Ramallah with about 600 attendees.

After five years of work in the field of street theater, I realized that rule number one of having a successful street theater performance is to make sure that your audience is falling in love with what you have to perform”, said Mohab Saber, Street Carnival project’s manager, while describing what Street Carnival project symbolized to him. Street Carnival is one of DDD’s closed projects that were selected during its first round of street theater projects, which started in February 2015 and ended in December 2015. Through its street theater performance, the project highlighted the ability of the Nubian culture to integrate with the main Egyptian culture to overcome social challenges via its richness and diversity. “In the case of Nubians, what we needed to achieve was to make the Egyptian society understand the essence of their culture and fall in love with them”, Saber added. The project aimed at tackling the problems facing the Nubian culture from the vantage point of promoting its values as solutions for the problems facing the whole Egyptian society. Saber explained how the group adopted this method as they believed that tackling issues of marginalization facing the Nubian only might cause a gap between what the group is presenting and what the majority of their street audience is interested in. The group avoided this gap by integrating issues facing the Egyptian society with issues facing the Nubian community as well, which helped the group address mainstream issues the general public cares about and encourage conversation around issues facing the Nubian community in particular.

The main common challenge in Egypt nowadays is sexual harassment against women, which Nubian women are also facing outside of their community as a result of their different skin color or clothes”, Sabar explained. The project highlighted the great respect accorded to women in the Nubian culture and the obscurity of practices such as honor crimes or sexist attitudes towards women, which reflects the openness and tolerance of the Nubian culture. By this, the project aimed at inspiring the larger Egyptian population to see the Nubian community as a source of inspiration and insight into societal challenges that the whole Egyptian society is facing. As saber indicated in the interview, the group saw this methodology as a way of promoting co-existence and breaking out of the stereotypes and prejudices facing any different culture. In addition, this was a great opportunity for the Street Carnival group to employ street theater as a way to spread joy and tolerance and empower artists who can use it to encourage societal change and tolerance.

The Street Carnival managed to perform in Egypt earlier throughout the project and visit  Morocco and Palestine to perform in these countries. The trip to Morocco was in the frame of DDD’s project in 2015, as DDD aimed at spreading its sub-grantees’ different messages in countries other than the ones each project originated in.  The connection with Racines came from DDD training meeting in Amman in early 2015, which connected DDD’s team and grantees with each other,  Saber described. As it wasn’t financially feasible for all the artistic team members to travel to Morocco, only 8 members of the artistic team were able to travel and participate in the tour. These artists employed the Street Carnival methodology used during El Madina’s work in Egypt to help empower artists from Morocco organize a street theater performance. The performance in Morocco was a result of  a three-days workshop with artists from the Moroccan group Mix City, who wanted their performance to be focused on African migrants in Morocco and the challenges they face”, Saber stressed.

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El Madina’s trip to Palestine took a similar path to the one the group experienced when traveling to Morocco. Four members of the Carnival’s artistic team traveled to Palestine to facilitate a three-days workshop in collaboration with a group of Palestinian artists. The group was invited along with Fanni Raghman Anni group from Tunisia, one of DDD’s sub-grantees selected during the project’s first round of street theater projects, by the Municipality of Ramallah to perform in the city. Mohab Saber facilitated a one-day workshop on the topic of ‘Street Arts and Public Spaces’ for different art organizations working in Ramallah. The trip ended by a street performance in the streets of Ramallah’s old city as part of Ramallah summer festival 2016.

When he was asked about his favorite part of the Street Carnival tour, Saber stated: “My favorite part of the Carnival’s trip to Morocco and Palestine was the last day of the workshops we organized, especially when the local artists got to realize the methodology components and combination of organizing a street theater performance”. In terms of audience reactions in each of Egypt, Morocco and Palestine, Saber indicated that the audience in Egypt interacted spontaneously with the performance by singing, dancing and discussing the message the performance was trying to deliver. In Morocco, he described the audience to be very interactive and accepting to the message without showing any judgment. In Palestine, Saber felt that the audience weren’t as interactive at first, as they are not used to seeing street theater performances in public spaces, but as the performance proceeded the audience started getting more interactive and entertained.

El Madina will still be employing street theater and the skills learned during their experience with DDD to tour new different countries, and promote art and street theater as a tool to raise awareness about issues facing different communities in the MENA region.

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