CAIRO: The 18th Cairo International Festival of Experimental Theater was officially launched on Wednesday by Minister of Culture Farouk Hosni and festival President Fawzy Fahmy Ahmed in a crowded press conference at the Dar El-Opera complex.
Unveiling the line-up for this year’s festival, Hosni stressed that his aim is that the event go from being “a local reality to a truly international one. He added that the festival would play host to some of the most important theater troupes currently performing on the global stage.
The minister was also keen to emphasize the “fresh, experimental nature of the work that will be presented. “Theater is just like science, he says. “Science too is all about experimentation. We have to try out new ideas and see how they work. Later he spoke of how the inspiration for the festival came from the Festival d’Avignon in France, and the lasting impression that the innovative work he saw there made on him.
Meanwhile, Ahmed announced a special role at this year’s festival for Lebanese theater, perhaps as a gesture of solidarity after the recent Israeli onslaught on the country. This year’s session will feature the first Lebanese acts to perform at the festival, some of whom have had their tickets to Egypt paid for by the pop star Amr Diab. In addition, special conferences will be held on the contribution of Lebanon to the development of Arab theater.
Some questions at the conference focused on safety concerns following last September’s disaster at Beni Suef, where almost 50 people were killed in a theater fire caused by an accident onstage. Hosni tendered his resignation after the tragedy, but President Hosni Mubarak refused to accept it, a decision criticized by some Egyptian intellectuals at the time. Hosni insisted on Wednesday that all the necessary security precautions had been taken for this year’s festival and urged the country to draw a line under the incident and move on. Eight officials were convicted of negligence in the case in May.
Concerns were also raised about whether the festival was accessible and relevant to the Egyptian public at large. Responding to suggestions that more of the performances ought to be televised, Hosni made it clear that all the performances would be recorded, as they have been for the past 18 years, and that footage would be made available to appropriate TV channels if requested.
Hosni did admit that the festival was not likely to attract the interest of huge numbers of ordinary Egyptians, remarking, “if only it were so, but went on to say that Egypt’s theater-going public was nevertheless large enough to sustain the festival.
On a lighter note, some wry criticism of the event’s organization so far prompted laughter amongst the assembled journalists. One correspondent bemoaned the lack of information from the festival’s press office and pointed out that he had been given two copies of the same picture in his press pack.