Similar to other Drama, Diversity and Development’s ongoing street theater projects, Villages’ Train project has been performing on the streets of Egypt to highlight issues facing minority communities. The project employs street theater to initiate a discussion about the multi-layered faces of sectarian violence and its manifestation of discrimination and oppressions. By establishing self-sustainable theater groups in these small villages, this project intends to create an initiative with the artistic tools and conceptual knowledge to discuss gender-based issues within a sectarian paradigm. Shady Abdalla, Project Coordinator, spoke to the Drama, Diversity and Development project in a recent interview about his experiences working with the Villages’ Train project.
What did the Villages’ Train Project symbolize to you?
“This project has been a huge learning experience for me on both the personal and professional levels. Working with the project’s team and the groups from the 7 villages opened my eyes and heart to a deeper perspective than I expected to experience when I decided to work with this segment of Egypt’s marginalized communities. The content that the groups from the 7 villages decided to have in the performance made me understand their struggle and see them beyond what the society portrays them to be. I saw hope, dreams, creative thoughts and individuals who are able of manifest their whole being not just what we choose to see in them. This project represents to me the potential of building a strong street theater movement in villages in Upper Egypt and offering a space for self-expression and change, and also solidarity and linkage between different street theater groups in villages.”
What was your favorite scene/part of the performance? and why?
“My favorite scene of the performance is “The Wedding Scene’ where the girls rotate around the ‘Bridle Chair’ and speak their hearts out on how they feel about marriage. I feel connected to this part because it is not scripted and it based on how they actually feel during that moment of the performance. The genuineness of that scene and how the girls manage to voice their fears represents the essence of why I work in theater.”
What do you think your project was trying to achieve?
“I believe that the project is trying to build and develop the artistic capacity of the groups we are working with in the 7 villages around the Minya area. One of the main things we are trying to achieve is to bring out the diversity of each group by collectively writing and compiling a performance with each team of the 7 villages, and use theater to offer a space for expression and mobility in the villages themselves. In addition to building a strong network with the groups to continue offering support to one another and enhance sustainability to the project.”
How do you feel the targeted audience reacted to the message you’re trying to deliver?
“The performances were diverse and the audience reacted in different ways regarding every and each performance. One of the challenges faced by the audience was understanding the idea of street theater and accepting the presence of the performers on the streets. I consider this to be one of the constant struggles and challenges we have been facing throughout the project. I have been told by our audience that our presence and the idea of all these female performers to be on the streets performing is an achievement by itself. Through this remark, we as a team realized the change our performers’ presence on the streets is bringing and the paths it’s paving in regard to mobility and the right of existence in the public space, especially for women. However, it’s worth mentioning that the audience’s reactions varied based on their gender at certain points. The majority of women attending the performance loved the songs the girls sang during the show and the idea of uncovering the emotions around wedding culture. On the other hand, some of the men who attended the performance didn’t take it seriously, with few showing a little bit of hostility at the beginning of the show. However, after the group traveled to perform in Tunisia as part of Sfax Capital of Arab Culture Festival 2016, the men in the village started acknowledging the performance as a successful project and apologized for making mocking it earlier.”
After reaching the final stage of your project, what were the main challenges that you faced implementing this project on the ground?
“We are currently getting ready for the final phase of the street theater festival in one of the village, as we are trying to integrate our street performance in Al Mouald religious street celebration. Our main and constant challenge is the issue of safety and security in the streets. As sometimes large crowds gather to watch our street performances, it is harder to control their interaction with the actors and the performance. However, this wasn’t a big obstacle as street arts are very welcomed from the public in Egypt in general.”