Second mime festival features an underrated art
CAIRO: In the downtown Emad Eddin Studio, young, enthusiastic actors and directors sit in groups to rehearse for the Second Annual Mime Festival, which will be launched today at the Al Sawy Cultural Center and will last until Saturday, July 8.
This festival is one of a kind in Egypt. According to Ahmed Ramzy, the Sawy performances coordinator, the reason for this lies in official institutions’ fear of hosting an event solely for mime, since there might be a lack of participants or the few who might be interested might be below international standards.
However, after hosting last year’s Mime Festival in Al Sawy, these fears proved baseless. “We were surprised to find that there were a very good number of professional artists, that there are efficient mime actors, Ramzy says, adding, “This year there is an unprecedented atmosphere of competition, many people are working very hard to win. Not only that, as there is also a big number of amateurs.
While until the 19th century there was a big difference between mime and pantomime, currently the two have become identical in all but two points: in pantomime absolutely no stage props or sounds are used.
Mime is one of the oldest arts in the world and it is still practiced in primitive African tribal dance, where tribesmen mimic wild animals by using body language and regulated rhythmic steps.
According to Professor Sami Salah, a mime specialist in the Haram Theater Academy, unfortunately no attention is given to this art in Egypt. “Except for a few individual initiatives there are no major mime performances carried out in the country, whereas in places like the United States, there are many troupes that specialize only in mime and pantomime, says Salah.
So far the only Egyptian actors known to have performed mime or pantomime are Ahmed Nabil, who is considered a pioneer in this field, Hamada Shousha, Mohammad Sobhi and recently Hisham Abdel Hamid. However, in spite of their efforts, mime has never been fully appreciated on the Egyptian stage.
Like last year, this year’s mime performances, which last no more than half an hour each, revolve around a wide variety of political, social, romantic and comic themes.
Bassem Ihab directs the opening performance, “The World is a Box. “My play portrays a regular day in a regular Egyptian’s life, Ihab says, refusing to add any more details that might ruin the surprise. Ihab, an engineering student who has been acting on stage since childhood, is directing a mime performance for the first time with his troupe, Dreamers. Joking about how inexperienced he is, Ihab adds, “Directing is very difficult and if it wasn’t for my friends who are specialized in mime and from whom I have learned a lot I would have withdrawn.
“Lady Boss is another performance directed by Mohammad Hamdy portraying a humorous social view of the man/woman power relationship. Through three very short scenes (the performance is only 20 minutes long), the idea of the exchange of gender roles is treated humorously, beginning with the past when men ruled over women, going through the present where women are acquiring more power and predicting a future in which women will rule over men to the extent that men will become pregnant and take care of domestic chores instead of women.
Talking about what attracted him to this artistic field, Hamdy, who has been acting on stage since high school and who has worked with mime actors like Hamada Shousha, says, “People use signs and body language all the time; it is an essential part of our interaction with each other and unlike spoken language it is more universal and can be understood by many more.
Mohammad Al-Saeedi, whose performance won the best actor and actress prize last year and who came in third place in directing, is again participating this year with a performance called “Klakeet. The performance revolves around the idea of plagiarism. It is about four thieves who steal three of Shakespeare’s plays and claim them as their own.
Unlike last year, Al-Saeedi is only directing and, as has always been the case with him, he is experimenting with a new technique in this performance. Although he has participated in many experimental theatre festivals both inside Egypt and abroad and is currently working on a cinema project, Al-Saeedi believes that mime is essential for any future actor or director. “Mime or pantomime is the soul of the theater, it is the base and is necessary in the formation of great actors, he says, adding, “Since it is based only on an idea and how it is physically performed, it allows for more creativity and imagination.