1-1 of 1 Results  for:

  • Theater and Drama x
  • African Literatures x
Clear all

Article

Pre-1952 Egyptian Drama, Popular Theater, and Cultures of Performance  

Raphael Cormack

There is a linear way to tell story of Egyptian performance history up to 1952: the country had not known theater in any serious way before the 1870s. As European culture entered Egypt, along with European power and capital, Egyptians created their own theatrical tradition based on the European. Translations were made of Shakespeare, Racine, and Corneille, which were produced by new theater troupes. At first, so this story goes, this was a slightly defective imitation of the European model. But, in the subsequent decades a theatrical tradition developed into a fully formed dramatic culture. By 1952, there were Egyptian playwrights and Egyptian actors, performing plays about uniquely Egyptian themes (even if the model of was essentially European). For much of the 20th century, this was a dominant narrative in both scholarly work on theater and on more public facing criticism. It was not always put so bluntly, but the basic model and its assumptions formed the analytical skeleton. After a while, this way of looking at the history of Egyptian performance began to face challenges. As well as being reductive and Eurocentric, it became clear that this approach excluded a vast range of performance traditions that have long thrived in Egypt. Studying Egyptian theater as merely a belated attempt to replicate a European style of theater left out a lot. No serious academic work could entirely ignore the long history of performance in Egypt which was not encompassed under the umbrella of “theater”—traveling farce performances, dances, shadow plays. But these were hard to fit into the dominant model of analysis so usually found themselves confined to carefully siloed introductory chapters. So a new way of telling the story emerged, which attempted to capture the complexity of late-19th- and early-20th-century theater. In this version, it would not be possible to create a cordon sanitaire around “proper” theater in this period and to study it in isolation. It was clear that theater practitioners took influences from a variety of places and performers themselves moved freely between nightclubs, cabarets, and theaters, challenging the rigid theoretical barriers erected between them. The influences of these earlier popular performance traditions could also start to be seen if the gaze was turned away from European theater. Likewise, the work of adapting European theater to Egypt was not one of simple imitation but was a creative process in itself. The history of Egyptian performance in the 19th and 20th centuries has always been a history of tension—between the “European” and the “local,” between the “high” and the “low.” Ought Egyptians seek to refine European—style theater that dealt with local concerns or use popular traditions that still had appeal to wide audiences? What, in reality, was the difference between a tragic actor and a nightclub singer? Should a barrier be erected between these two things or not? These tensions have never been resolved but continue to animate modern Egyptian performance and the academic study of its history.