By Aida Nasr
“This revolution is far from over.” That’s the dynamic message of “Lessons in Revolting,” a theater performance currently showing at the intimate setting of the Rawabet Space for Arts in Downtown Cairo.
Co-directors Laila Soliman from Egypt and Ruud Gielens of Belgium have created a challenging, thought provoking play that portrays the Jan. 25 Revolution and its aftermath from the perspective of those on the ground in Tahrir.
The actors are real-life activists, so the line between reality and performance dissolves as they speak and move against the simplest of sets. With its bare black interior, the Rawabat Theater is the perfect setting for this bold work of political art. The backdrop is composed of video footage from Tahrir projected on a large screen, taking us from Jan. 24 to the present.
The footage is raw and so are the activists’ movements in front of it. Karima Mansour’s choreography is powerful and imaginative, helping the actors convey the range of emotions felt in Tahrir.
We can sense their eagerness for change, anger, confusion, frustration, exhaustion, waiting for a resolution, brief euphoria on Feb. 11 and strong will to continue the fight afterwards.
The music, often plaintive notes of a single oud, is equally expressive. One of the most beautiful moments of the show is singer Maryam’s rendition of the song “Abd El Wadood,” by Ahmed Fouad Negm and El Sheikh Emam.
As the performance progresses, the activist/artists speak about their real-life experiences after the revolution. These monologues, written by the actors themselves, are genuine, honest and laced with angry humor. The activists aren’t afraid to show us their own doubts and fears. We’ve been brought into their personal world of protest, and it is often disturbing.
In powerful footage on screen, activist Aly Sobhy describes being arrested and put in military prison, while on stage he is mock-beaten by the other actors.
Aida El-Kashef describes the terrible fear and confusion of facing the army who have come to break-up a Tahrir sit-in. “Should we run, should we stay? Will it matter? What should we do?”
We are reminded that protesting is far from done, that activists have been imprisoned and killed since Feb. 11. And despite all this, they are determined to keep going. But there are no neat conclusions here. We feel a sense of uncertainty, that the way forward is unclear, that the activists are still learning their own lessons in revolting.
“Lessons in Revolting” was born from “a need to respond to media we don’t feel it represented the events of whatever happened after Feb. 11. Sometimes there are things that are not even mentioned,” says director Soliman. “And we are reinterpreting our own roles as artists in such times.”
In the final scene, with no video now, the activist/artists march and stomp in unison, powerful moves representing their defiance and determination. As they tire, individual members of the company leave the group to rest in the background and then join again. The message seems clear: we’ll keep going, even if we’re tired. This isn’t over yet.
After its run in Cairo, the performance travels to Zurich, Rotterdam, Dusseldorf and Amsterdam.
“Lessons in Revolting” concludes on Tuesday, August 23. Rawabat, 3 Hussain El Me’mar St., Downtown, Cairo. http://lessonsinrevolting.com