Is the art of Arab theatre dead?


Sharjah struggles to keep the art of theatre alive (above) but elsewhere in the Arab world is enough being done to nurture young talent?
Sharjah struggles to keep the art of theatre alive (above) but elsewhere is enough being done to nurture young Arab talent?

Celebrated film and television actors and popular theatre artists from across the Arab world have called for a strong theatre movement in the region, stressing on the importance of identifying and nurturing young and upcoming talent right from the school stage.  Taking part in Sharjah Media Centre’s Ramadan Majlis debate at Al Majaz Amphitheatre, dedicated to “Emerging Talents Dialogue: Nurturing Existing Talents to Build the Future of Theatre,” popular Arab actors and theatre personalities expressed grave concern over the lack of young talent in the region.  

The third session of Ramadan Majlis saw a galaxy of popular Arab actors and theatre figures in attendance, including veteran Egyptian actor Hassan Hosny, known for his memorable roles in Egyptian cinema and television, Jassim Al Nabhan, popular Kuwaiti actor and former chairman of the Popular Theatre Troupe, Ahmed Al Jasmi, popular Emirati actor and Chairman of Sharjah National Theatre and Ibrahim Salem, Emirati actor and Senior Director at the UAE Ministry of Culture, Youth and Community Development, who moderated the discussion.      

Hassan Hosny recalled how the Arab world had a robust theatre culture in the 1950s and 60s. However, he went on to bemoan the fact that today, even when young people study acting, they do not have theatre in mind as a career.

Hosny Hassan
Hassan Hosny: “Theatre does not pay well nor does it offer adequate recognition.  In Europe and elsewhere, it is a different matter altogether with theatre still offering great recognition and reward”.

Hosny called for greater public and government support to theatre movement in the region, emphasising the need to concentrate on school theatre and inculcate a love of theatre from an early age.  He paid rich tribute to Sultan bin Mohamed Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, for his generous and constant support and patronage of the arts, including theatre, saying if it were up to him, he would gather all theatre artists from around the world in Sharjah.

Ahmed Al Jasmi, Emirati actor and Chairman of the Sharjah National Theatre, shared his concerns over the missing young talent in the region.  However, he said Sharjah and the UAE have been actively encouraging young talent.  “I am proud to say we have a very rich talent pool in the country with a number of theatre companies. We see promising young talent in these theatre groups. We also have at least 10 theatre festivals in the country,” he said referring to the strong school theatre culture in Sharjah and the UAE. 

Qatari actor Ghanim Al Sulaiti, agreed with him, describing Sharjah as the capital of Arab theatre.

Jassim Al Nabhan, popular Kuwaiti actor, called for nurturing young talent and from an early age, saying university theatre must be preceded by school theatre.  He said there was a time when school theatre used to run contests to pick the best talent.  The Gulf theatre was young then but it still articulated people’s concerns and issues, he said.  Urging public and private partnership in supporting theatre in the region, Al Nabhan said if companies that spend 5% of their earnings on advertising devoted even a fraction of it towards encouraging theatre and nurturing talent, it would do wonders to revive this distinct art in the region.

Referring to the example of the West, he said theatre still thrives in Europe and America because everyone knows the importance of supporting arts. “There must be independent entities in our part of the world to support theatre and other arts,” he emphasised.


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