Tiatro is an independent theatrical troupe that was formed by 26-year-old Omar El-Moutaz Bellah in 2001. They started with five members and have now reached 120, 15 of whom come from other countries. Interestingly, none of Tiatro’s members was originally a theater person.
The relatively young El-Moutaz Bellah – commonly referred to as Egypt’s Hitchcock of independent theater – got his degree in fine Arts from Helwan University along with a diploma in cinematography from the American University in Cairo (AUC) and he is currently working as an art director.
El-Moutaz Bellah s very first step into experimental theater came during his undergraduate years when he directed a play called El-Mowaten Mahri (Underdog Citizen). Then he and his cast worked on another play called Ellaqat Mareeda (Sick Relations), which Al-Ahram newspaper reviewed in half a page.
El-Moutaz Bellah never went to a theater school. For me drama depends on readings, visions, explorations and experiments, says El-Moutaz Bellah who has quite a unique vision of his mission as an artist. I believe God has gifted me with special talents that he wants me to use and communicate with people and deliver them a message, he explains.
Later, El-Moutaz Bellah wrote and directed Ann Takoun Adam Al-Hakim (Being Adam Al-Hakim), which Tiatro performed in 2003 on the periphery of the Cairo International Experimental Theater Festival at Hanager Theater. The play was a great success both in Egypt and regionally.
Tiatro had the chance to take part in the Arab Theater Festival in Jordan where they performed Adam Al-Hakim, representing the first time an Egyptian play had participated in this festival. It was the first time for me during the festival to interact with colleagues from Iraq, Palestine and other countries in real life, away from TV news, says El-Moutaz Bellah. This made me feel more responsible for delivering their voice and I started writing The Penguin right after I came back.
Penguin: Hallucinations about Freedom and Terror is the most recent production by the group. The actors participating in the production, like El-Moutaz Bellah, come from diverse backgrounds, seemingly unrelated to theater.
One member of the cast, Ahmed Hamdy, is a 26-year-old architect who has been performing as an amateur actor for four years now. Interestingly, his role in Penguin is the first time he’s acted in an experimental play. I had a bad experience with experimental theater after I attended a few plays and understood almost nothing, comments Hamdy laughing. But with Penguin: Hallucinations about Freedom and Terror, the case is different, he adds. When I read the script and sat with El-Moutaz Bellah, I found out that my role would make an effect with its different shifts and the space it is given.
Karim Qadry, is a 29-year-old electrical engineer working for a petroleum company. His relationship with the theater started in 1997 when he was an undergraduate performing with a troupe at the French cultural center. He formed a theatrical troupe called Panorama in 2000. I worked on The Penguin: Hallucinations about Freedom and Terror for three weeks. I still belong to Panorama. So it is as if El-Moutaz Bellah outsourced me! he says smiling.
Hebba Seif Eddin – who plays one of the wailers – joined Tiatro only one week before the performance. The 23-year granddaughter of the late Abdullah and Hamdy Gheith showed interest in poetry recitation dating back to her primary school years. After joining the faculty of mass media at Helwan University, she became an active participant in college theatrical activities.
Sara Khalil, who plays another wailer, is a long-time Tiatro member. The 22-year-old is a photographer who has a special interest in theater. She got her BA in French literature and was also actively involved in performing in plays during her college years.
George Attef – the play s soundtrack composer – got his degree in construction engineering this year from the AUC. He has been playing base guitar with contemporary bands for years. Yet, this is the first time he’s composed a soundtrack. Though he gave the audience the feel that there was a string orchestra playing, he used only his keyboard combined with modern technology and computer software programs to compose the music.
Ahmed Ali is fine arts student in his last year, specializing in décor. According to Ali, the design was ready beforehand, but a carpenter made all the set pieces in only three days. To create the appropriate décor, Ali watched the whole play performed by El-Moutaz Bellah to get him in the mood. At this point, I felt how much he sincerely worked on this play, Ali reflects.