Thursday May 23rd, 2024
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The Popular Imagination

Kicking off 2013's Mawaweel Festival, El Khayal El Shaby theatrical troupe is revolutionising children's theatre. Dalia Awad catches up with them after the show to figure out the method behind the madness...

Staff Writer

The Popular Imagination

While political symbolism and educational acting isn’t what you’d usually consider as Ramadan entertainment, El Khayal El Shaby –which translates to The Popular Imagination – put on quite the show at the first edition of this year’ s Mawaweel nights at Darb 1718. Organised by Cairo Jazz Club Agency, Mawaweel aims to provide ‘alternative’ entertainment for those long Ramadan nights and ‘alternative’ is exactly what the El Khayal El Shaby treated us to. The theatrical troupe has been together for over 10 years now, and they’ve been travelling the country, giving those who normally have no access to the arts a taste of Egyptian culture and more through energetic and educational live performances. We caught up with the pack of performers after their opening act to find out more.

With a clear aim to create engaging shows for children, you’d think the majority-adult crowd at Mawaweel would not have had the patience to sit through the 45 minute performance that saw Skittle-like actors, each dressed head-to-toe in one colours, teach us about the importance of working together, agreeing to disagree and giving back to society. However, the hip grownups were just as entertained as the children that gathered round the on-the-ground show that forced us to sit and listen close. “The idea of El Khalay El Shaby began for children but then we realised we could communicate with teenagers and adults too,” says Marwa Hussien, the red Skittle. “The most important mandate of our troupe is to bring theatre to those who are usually not exposed to it. We’re never usually in places like Darb 1718. We’re usually on the streets, in villages, in orphanages and even juvenile correction centres. The main point is that we go to the audience.”

Though the play we saw – which featured a cacophony of colours, rising up and fighting against the grey man, imprisoning him and his evil ways – had a distinctly political overtone, Hussein promises that their work doesn’t necessarily have a message. In fact, in over a decade, they’ve added a whole host of performance styles to their roster, working with local and international directors alike, with a stint with Clowns Sans Frontiers thrown in the mix. “The play you saw was actually written since Mubarak’s downfalls, and before Morsi was ousted a couple of weeks ago, kids we performed it made their own connection to current politics, screaming “yaskot Morsi, yaskot Morsi,” all on their own,” explains Hussien. Nevertheless, El Khayal El Shaby insists that it’s more about fun than education or political awareness, though they do try and stay current. Funded mainly by Al Nahda Association (Jesuit Cairo), with a project with Afok on the way, the troupe do their amazing work on a budget, relying more on their scripts and physical acting than effects and props. Using basic items like pots, buckets, ropes and sheets, they’re able to create a spectacle with simplicity, helping the audience focus on the theatrics instead. 

With hundreds of performances under their belt, El Khayal El Shaby aren’t slowing down anytime soon. Not only are the troupe getting the kids involved, with workshops up and down the country, focusing on underprivileged areas, but they’re taking their show global, with performances in Denmark and Sweden later this year. Painting smiles on the faces of children who could really do with a laugh, El Khayal El Shaby are a group to be commended because, not only are they teaching real life lessons, but they’re showing what a little resourcefulness and a lot of energy can do. And that’s something we can all do with learning.

Find out more about El Khayal El Shaby on their Facebook page here.

Find out more about Mawaweel Festival on their Facebook page here.