Wednesday, December 9, 2009

The "History of the AUC Theatre" Radio Documentary

History of the AUC Theatre


9 Dec. 2009

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The American University in Cairo’s Theatre Department has been up and running for more than 20 years creating magic on stage and producing generations after generations of talented actors, directors, designers and producers. The theatre has carved its place in the Egyptian theater arena capturing the hearts and minds of audiences from different ages and backgrounds with plays that may remain etched in their memories for years after. Our reporter Nermine Amer talks to theatre graduates and professors about what made this art establishment what it is now.

(fade in music)

(nat. sound of footsteps on stage followed by “Are you watching closely?” (:8))

(music fades down)

(documentary music fades in)

Do you want to know how one of the most prestigious theatres in town has evolved over the years? It all began when C. Worth Howard, head of the English department in the 1920s strived to emphasize the importance of drama in the study and understanding of the English language and as a creative tool for self-expression. Leila Saad, who was studying English & Comparative literature at AUC in the 40s and is a current Theatre professor at AUC talks about the art before the theatre department was established.

SAAD: “we were constantly putting on productions… major productions… it was under the English department, yeah” (:5)

The first play was performed by young men, students of AUC, in the dorms in 1926. At the time many students had joined the endeavor presenting performances, while the boys played female roles when necessary. The world of the theatre gradually expanded, plays were often presented in assemblies, ceremonies and for the public. Students managed all that had to do with the productions, from constructing scenery to costumes to ushering and selling tickets. Howard, the English language department head that encouraged this, became very popular among students and an AUC theatre house, Howard Café, was named after him. And the success of his endeavor led to the founding of the College Players student club, which was later named “The Masker’s Club”. Mahmoud El Lozy, theatre professor and AUC graduate, class of 1976 remembers how it all started.

LOZY: “The earliest thing that I know of, in the 60s, there was a club, it was a student’s club, called The Masker’s Club…and uh…it was a faculty member in the 60s and it went on until the late 80s until they created the department, what they had was, it was a faculty member from English department, was the director of the theatre, having some administrate position and he would direct one play per semester and teach a course per semester either of drama.. dramatic literature, Shakespeare, or acting.” (:36)

The Masker’s Club was active until the late 1980s when the theatre department was finally established. The first stage to hold AUC’s major annual productions was the Wallace Theatre. Wallace held productions for more than 20 years until the theatre was moved to the New Falaki building in 2001. Sherif Nakhla, theatre graduate, class of 2003, who was a student around the last 3 years of the Wallace before they shut it down talks about what made Wallace so special at the time.

NAKHLA: “The Wallace had seen so much theatre and so much drama and so many, so many people must’ve gone on so many personal journeys in that place so it has a very kind of spiritual tone to it and the… people that taught us used to act there and everything” (:15)

The Wallace theatre moved to the New Falaki building and was renamed “The AUC Falaki Mainstage”. Even though the New Falaki theatre offered better technical facilities and could hold more seats for its audience, students who got attached to performing in the space and the atmosphere of the Wallace had initially found it hard to cope with the move. Nakhla shared with us his own memories of the move.

NAKHLA: “ So when they closed it down, it was with “Grease”, I remember, and, and I was in that play, we were striking the last set and it was something that was kind of emotional for everybody, and, and when we went to the new Falaki and even though it was crisp and clean and efficient and it was hard to get used to, and I was actually in that play, too, the opening play, I think it was “Comedy of Errors” and it was a better place to learn technical theatre but the Wallace was an intimate space and you just kind of feel it when you go in there” (:33)

The activities of the “Howard café” were also very popular among students and theatre lovers. Theatre students and people interested in showcasing their talents would meet there and perform sketches and short plays every week. The faculty was very supportive of the idea and encouraged students to pursue it.

LOZY: “it was basically a group of students who were doing sketches, and short plays and things they’ve written and also music, musical performances, I mean any kind of performance oriented events and we decided that ok we’ll let them have it, they wanted to be, at first, a club that meant to be under the supervision of the Office of Student Affairs and Student Union and they would censor them and they would perform I think every other Tuesday and it was called Howard café because they served coffee and brownies and little biscuits and stuff like that” (:31)

How the theatre students were perceived by the people around them did not really change through out the years, they are still seen as the crazy, eccentric and weird group. Saad talks about how they were seen in the 40s.

SAAD: “Perceived as strange and different because it’s not for everybody but that doesn’t stop people from pursuing their dreams” (:10)

Lozy talks about how theatre people during the 70s and 80s were looked upon:

LOZY: “I mean in the 70s, it was just like you know we were sort of weirdoes, we were sort of like eccentric, we were not really serious but since it was an extra curricular activity, it was ok because it was no major, I think later on in the 80s, then it became more of a sort of ‘these are the sinful people’” (:18)

Even Dalia Kholeif, who’s a young theatre graduate, class of 2005, shared similar sentiments. In a few words she described how her group thought they were seen by others at her time.

KHOLEIF: “We were always seen as the weird, crazy people” (:8)

Even though the Theatre community was seen as a closed one and was perceived by some as eccentric and strange, it did not stop people from other majors from participating in its productions and activities. Kholeif says that the theatre brought together people from different backgrounds.

KHOLEIF: “I remember during my time, I had a lot of friends who were acting in plays and they weren’t theatre majors or minors, they were for instance mechanical engineering majors, psychology, mass comm.” (:14)

Political and social issues in Egypt have had an effect on student actors and directors throughout the years. It was sometimes an inspiration to many and theatre became in a way a medium in which they communicate their feelings, fears, likes, dislikes and concerns about what’s happening around them. Nakhla talks about how their surroundings affected him and his theatre group.

NAKHLA: “ Our theatre group were very active around 2001, and that was the time when a lot of protests had started to begun and basically there was an obvious public awareness all around the world and I happened to be studying theatre and journalism and the time so maybe I was thinking about it in kind of working around these themes more than theatre students but I think there was a general kind of inspiration and influence from what was going on at the time” (:33)

AUC has moved in 2008 to Kattameya outside Cairo, which created controversy on how this could affect the productions’ viewership. Some believe that the plays will cease to attract large audience simply because it is so far from the center of the city as meanwhile other old-hands like Saad think it won’t really make a huge difference because true theatre lovers would follow the theatre wherever it goes.

SAAD: “I don’t think it affected, I think people who really want to see the theatre, come to the theatre and if it’s good theatre, they’ll come to it, and we’re making things much easier by having tickets available at the downtown bookstore and bus services from Tahrir and back for all performances” (:20)

The Theatre department continues to produce a season of plays, sponsors student directed plays and hosts visiting productions in its three theatres, The Malak Gabr Theatre, Gerhart Theatre and Howard Theatre.

Nermine Amer, A-U-C News.

(Music fades out)


Mahmoud El Lozy

Leila Saad

Sherif Nakhla

Dalia Kholeif


Soundtrack from the movie “The Prestige”

& “Death is the road to awe” by Clint Mansell.

To download an mp3 version of the audio documentary click on the title of this post OR follow this link:

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License.

Medea: A Perfect Tragedy (Part 2 of 2)

“… [A]nd that action complex in which the change of fortune involves a recognition or a reversal or both” (Poetics).

Aristotle believes that the plot of a tragedy must involve recognition (Anagnorisis) which is a shift from ignorance to knowledge which leads to friendship/ close blood ties or hostility of happy or unhappy people. It also must involve a reversal (Peripety) which is a change from a state to its exact opposite without conflicting with Aristotle’s law of necessity and probability (i.e. logically, this action had to happen or is likely to happen) (Poetics). In Medea, a perfect example of a peripety is evident. As Jason is about to get the refined upper class life he had wished for with his new bride Glauce, with the hope of living happily ever after, suddenly all is taken away from him through the interference of one vengeful and bitter Medea, who had planned to kill the beautiful Glauce and her father. There is another reversal when Medea is about to slaughter her children; Medea was first extremely happy and accomplished for successfully poisoning Glauce and her father King Creon but her mood/tone is suddenly and completely tarnished by a sad and gloomy air when she remembers that it’s time to kill her own children. Recognition in Medea seems unclear but Medea’s minute of uncertainty (of whether to kill her children or not) can be considered a sort of recognition. At this point she grows weak and is completely ignorant/unaware of what she is saying or what to do but just the thought of leaving her enemies unhurt and people laughing at her for it (her reputation) makes her shift to knowledge, with insisting determination to continue her plan and slaughter her children with her own hands.

“I cannot bear to do it. I renounce my plans. I had before. I’ll take my children away from this land. Why should I hurt their father with the pain they feel, and suffer twice as much of pain myself? No, no, I will not do it. I renounce my plans. Ah what is wrong with me? Do I want to let go my enemies unhurt and be laughed at for it? I must face this thing. Oh, but what a weak woman even to admit to my mind these soft arguments.” (Medea 1018-1026)

One can also look at this scene in a different –even paradoxical view- to what is formerly suggested, because again the elements of tragedy are subtly featured in this play and are open to interpretation. As recognition can be seen when Medea is completely unaware/ignorant of what she is planning for (killing her children), her uncertainty whether to kill them or not is a result of knowledge and a sudden realization. In a moment of sanity, Medea seems to realize the magnitude of what she is about to do, and of the possible life-changing consequences of her actions. This shift to knowledge makes her weak and in a way brings her back to ignorance but this time her ignorance, in the sense of overlooking/ignoring the present knowledge, is voluntary. In other words, after moving from ignorance to knowledge, Medea makes a conscious decision to ignore the facts and instead act on her plan despite of all the possible misery.

Aristotle also believes that a scene of suffering is one of the elements that the tragedy’s plot must have. A scene of suffering exists in Medea when Jason sees the blood of his children appearing from under the doors of the room where Medea slaughtered them. In this scene, Jason is engulfed by a piercing agony and a feeling of great misery. This scene near the exodos has a very important role in arousing pity and fear through a brief display of the conclusion of Medea’s plan.

Mimesis (to imitate an action) with accordance to the law of probability and necessity is seen in the play Medea, when the central character seeks revenge and wants to destroy Jason. She instantly makes a plan to achieve this, in a way compelling Jason to draw out similar feelings of agony and hurt (Medea was hurt when Jason betrayed her by taking a new bride). Aristotle believes that one of the formal elements of tragedy is dialogue (actors speaking in verse), dialogue too is used in Medea when for an example Medea asks Augeus, king of Athens to promise to protect her in Athens in return for a cure to his sterility.

“Swear by the plain of Earth, and Helios, father of my father and name together all the gods…that you yourself will never cast me from your land, nor, if any of my enemies should demand me, will you, in your life willingly hand me over.” (Medea 730-735); it is a dialogue and it does have a poetic feel to it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Medea: A Perfect Tragedy (Part 1 of 2)

Zeus in Olympus is the overseer of many doings. Many things the gods achieve beyond our judgment. What we though is not confirmed and what we thought not god contrives and so it happens in this story.” (Medea 1390-1394)

If one judges by Aristotle’s theory of tragedy, then Euripides’ Medea is a perfect tragedy and Medea’s character fits perfectly with the characteristics of a tragic hero. Although Aristotle did highlight elements of weakness in Medea, criticizing certain plot aspects, it is still arguable that Medea conforms to his definition of a “perfect tragedy,” in so many ways. However, interpretation is a key in approaching such a text, where the features covering the requirements of Aristotle’s tragedy are rather subtle and are subject to argument.

Aristotle believes that a tragic hero is either an aristocrat or someone of elevated social class like royalty; the hero’s personality has a flaw that negatively affects their judgment resulting in their tragic fall (Hamartia). For the story to be realistic the hero isn’t morally too good or too bad, the tragic hero accomplishes to excite the feelings of pity and fear in the audience (Catharsis). Medea does match all these characteristics for she is princess of Colchis and a sorcerer. Medea’s flaw is her being extremely passionate. Her passion greatly empowers her; her love for Jason, her jealousy towards his new bride Glauce (the daughter of Creon king of Corinth) and her rage at his betrayal are the basic elements that drove her to her doom. Medea possesses heroic qualities like her willingness to do anything for the sake of Jason, and like later when she confronted him and sought revenge in the name of justice. But these qualities still do not make her too virtuous because Medea’s intelligence, courage and pride are essentially manifested in cruel actions; violent, murderous and tricky. The play’s tragic end successfully elicits pity and fear (Catharsis). Fear is spurred through the idea of a mother killing her own flesh and blood, Medea murders her children in order to destroy Jason and break his heart, in the end leaving him with nothing to value. Pity is elicited for how Medea paves the way to her own misery; by destroying everyone that is dear to her including her own children, pity for how her fury has led her to madness.

Medea fully conforms to Aristotle’s tragic structure in another sense. The Prologue, for instance, (followed by Parados which is the entrance of the chorus) is presented in the play’s opening by the nurse who summarizes with grief the past events that led to Medea’s current – and rather piteous- state. Then, the Episodes/Dramatic Scenes that show the whole development of the story’s plot and central character. In between episodes, there is a choral ode/song by the Chorus who in the play represent the women of Corinth. The chorus is like commentators to what is happening, it sometimes talks directly to Medea through dialogue either sympathizing with her or trying to advise her not to slaughter her children. The Exodos, the last scene after the last choral ode, is Medea’s glorious exit. She departs in a large chariot pulled by dragons, a queen in her own right, leaving behind a miserable Jason drowning in his own loss.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

PROMO for my short radio documentary "The History of the AUC Theatre"

Video Promo:

Description: Theatre happenings through out the years.
Song: An Angel Went Up in Flames

Audio Promo:

Producer & Narrator: Nermine Amer
SOT: Mahmoud El Lozy, AUC Theatre professor & Theatre Alumni, Class of '76
Music: Death is the Road to Awe, Clint Mansell

Have you ever wondered about the history of the AUC theater? Do you wanna know how the theatre world evolved? What inspired or moved generations of student actors across the years? Have you heard of the Howard Cafe? Wallace? Or the Maskers Club?

SOT: Mahmoud El Lozy

Visit my blog at to listen to the documentary on December 9.

Modern Dramatic Experimentalism (Part 3 of 3)

To read Part 1, follow this link:

To read Part 2, follow this link:

“Happy Days” on the other hand is exploring an experiment to find out on what basis human beings get confirmed on their senses and themselves. Beckett again presents a very complex yet important idea through a play that is strange and charming at the same time. The way it’s written is very creative; it absolutely puts you in the mood of the play right away. You are reminded of some truths that you might know but have managed to ignore. It’s a play that makes you agitated, frustrated and anxious. Its untraditional form makes you laugh at serious things (same thing in “The Skin of our Teeth”, you laugh at things like the ice age and Noah’s ark) and you cry at funny ones. This disorientation and anxiousness that the writer puts you in helps you reflect the truth of the human condition. That’s why I think Beckett wrote “Happy Days” in this experimental form.

"Wait for the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours.” Winnie said (Happy Days)

This quote shows how Winnie is a psychologically complex person, she contradicts herself. She’s showing her eagerness and impatience towards death but at the same time she desires a life that never ends. I think everyone is full of contradictions just like Winnie; the family in “Six Characters in Search of an Author” constantly contradict themselves too. Her wish to die reveals a truth that she hides from herself and the idea that life is nothing but empty hours is disturbing. She seems very optimistic about life most of the time and she thinks everyday no matter what happened is a happy day yet she hopes to end life. This shows that the inward truth (Winnie’s truth) is very different from the outward appearance.

“Something of this is being heard, I am not merely talking to myself, that is in the wilderness, a thing I could never bear to do – for any length of time. (Pause.) That is what enables me to go on, go on talking that is. (Pause.) Whereas if you were to die – (smile) – to speak in the old style – (smile off) – or go away and leave me, then what would I do, what could I do, all day long, I mean between the bell for waking and the bell for sleep? (Pause.) Simply gaze before me with compressed lips” (Winnie)

The physicality of the character shows how helpless she is (She’s buried to her waist in Act I and to her neck in Act II). If you look at the details of this play you won’t understand it because it is in fact meaningless but if you look at it as a whole you’ll get what it’s about.

The central character “Winnie” too breaks one of the conventions of theatre (the actors are suppose to pretend they can’t see through the “fourth wall”) where at some point in the play talks about the audience’s reaction to the play.
“What’s she doing? he says – What’s the idea? he says – stuck up to her diddies in the bleeding ground – coarse fellow -What’s it meant to mean? … And you, she says, what’s the idea of you, she says, what are you meant to mean?...Why doesn’t he dig her out? he says – referring to you, my dear – What good is she to him like that? – What good is he to her like that? – and so on – usual tosh –…”, Winnie said (Happy Days).

Beckett invites us to watch Winnie’s life day by day, see how boring and monotonous it is, how she deals with it all, how each day is a happy day to her. He wants us to examine our own lives and consider them as “happy days”; he wants us to look at happiness as a concept, look at our every-day behaviors and think about the end of our life.

From my point of view, modern dramatic experimentalism originates from the need to express new methods of responsiveness. All the themes in experimental plays are “presented” because almost all the characters in these plays give the illusion that they are part of it (an illusion of reality) when they are not and they break the fourth wall a lot. The playwriting technique of the plays is very different. They have shorter lines, unfinished phrases and a very domestic language to it. All of them have the idea of “A play within a play” or “A play about a play” which is very untraditional. The aim of plays is not to expand the public appeal anymore; it just needs a “gifted” audience according to Ortego y Gasset. 

“A man likes a play when he has become interested in the human destinies presented to him, when the love and hatred, the joys and sorrows of the personages so move his heart that he participates in it all as though it were happening in real life”.

What amazed me the most is that the authors of these plays managed to present the stories or situations they have in their plays in a very truthful way that engages the audience’s attention and interest yet you can’t call any of these plays realistic. The authors didn’t try to make the illusion that these imaginary characters are like living persons. You are always reminded that you are watching a play. Even though you know none of this is true, the play takes hold of you nonetheless, challenges your mind, broadens your imagination and thoughts, makes you examine your life…etc. It’s as if you are a character yourself and I think that’s the beauty of it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Modern Dramatic Experimentalism (Part 2 of 3)

To read Part 1, follow the link:

In “Six Characters in Search of an Author”, Pirandello is writing about ‘a play within a play’, the idea itself is odd and is unconventional so that the oddness is not only in how it’s presented. The absence of the author throughout the whole play and not at all appearing at any point (unlike the characters) makes the audience wonder what the author’s aim is and what’s he intending. It forces the audience to think about the author to the extent that the author almost haunts the characters, the actors, stage manager and even the audience.

“Ridiculous? Ridiculous? Is it my fault if France won't send us any snore good comedies, and we are reduced to putting on Pirandello's works, where nobody understands anything, and where the author plays the fool with us all?”, The Stage Manager said (Six Characters in Search of an Author).

There’s also a very interesting part in the play where the Father ponders upon the act that defines him as a character (i.e. the reality of his character). 

“We have this illusion of being one person for all, of having a personality that is unique in all our acts. But it isn't true. We perceive this when, tragically perhaps, in something we do, we are as it were, suspended, caught up in the air on a kind of hook. We perceive that all of us was not in that act, and that it would be an atrocious injustice to judge us by that action alone, as if all our existence were summed up in that one deed”, the Father said (Six Characters in Search of an Author).

The idea of the play is so eccentric that one can’t think of any other way this idea could have been presented. The idea conveyed is mainly that the theatre (being a medium of story-telling that captures our imaginations) is at the end of the day limited and can’t tell you the whole truth; it also raises such important questions as how to define human existence. I suppose Pirandello decided to write in an experimental form and defied conventional logic because this way is the only creative and interesting way to provoke people to think about serious matters in life like reality and delusion and the nature of the theatrical world itself. Pirandello presents characters that aren’t fully developed; he intentionally does that to highlight certain characters so that the audience knows that the key roles are the Father and the Step daughter because these are the two who have different stories (i.e. we don’t know the truth). Just like Beckett, Pirandello too isn’t trusting “meaning”; he breaks down the possibility of meaning itself, he rather concentrates on the bigger picture (the enactment of it). The dysfunctional family we see in “Six Characters in Search of an Author” is rejecting any schemes as to how the play could move forward and yet they need some sort of closure to their story thus contradicting themselves.


Naguib Mahfouz's "The Thief & The Dogs" - Movie Summary

Although The Thief and the Dogs is a very famous movie written by Naguib Mahfouz, it was the first time for me to watch it. I really liked the story and how it represented a human’s experience living in Modern Egypt/the life in the late 19th century. The story has a very depressing, tragic and gloomy tone to it. It has a very strange style to it as it has a lot of flashback and forwards that shows the viewer the exact stream of consciousness and thought that the center character goes through, which was very interesting and intriguing. At the beginning, it shows how life in prison is difficult, depressing and filled with suffering that is completely torturing and disturbing to one’s mind and feelings. 

The story begins with Sa’eed Mahraan (the central character), who has just been released from prison where he stayed two years because he was caught stealing. He is filled with extreme hatred and insists on taking revenge on and confronting his ex-wife and her husband Ilaash (who was his former employee) who betrayed him and told the police to arrest him. They completely ruined his life; his hatred grew more and more each day especially when his daughter didn’t recognize him and was scared of him. When Sa’eed sees the success of one of his old partner and mentor, Raouf Ilwan (who as a journalist, uses Sa’eed’s crimes in writing successful stories to help the police investigators capture him), he can’t help but hating him too and avenge him. He is very driven by what is happening around him to the extent that he no longer thinks wisely. Even when later he is given the opportunities to change and live a happy settled life, he doesn’t take them and ignores them. He accuses everyone around him (society) and claims that they are guilty of leading him to who he is now and that he shouldn’t be blamed at all. This makes the likelihood of him changing almost impossible. 

Even though he resisted the authorities till the very end, he was killed by the police. Sa’eed is a very lost person, he only finds satisfaction when he gets what he desires and even then he never finds emotional peace. In this story, Naguib Mahfouz was trying to investigate the frustrations and discontents in the failure of that time’s revolution to bring real justice and change. He wrote a story with interesting characters in a way that makes anyone relate to their dilemmas, their obsessions and their aggravations. It’s a story of a man who has lived his life in pain and greatly bent on self destruction. I enjoyed the movie very much and I feel very eager to read the story and see Mahfouz’s written description of every little detail that adds so much meaning to the story.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Listening Journal #4: Long Form Documentary #2 - The Trouble with Hubble Bubble

Producer: Nicola Humphries

Series Producer: Perminder Khatkar

Narrator: Connie Hark

Title: The Trouble with Hubble Bubble

Length: 24 min. 17 sec.

Link to the documentary:

The documentary is about the harmful effects of shisha (hookah/water pipe) on one’s health and how a great amount of people is unaware of the fact that shisha is actually worse than cigarettes. Some of them are aware of the health risks but do not take it as seriously as they should.

What’s most interesting about the documentary is the use of background music that really fits the story. Shisha mainly comes from the Middle East/Asia and the use of Middle Eastern/Asian music really adds to the story. It was not distracting and made the documentary more interesting and unique. The choice of the songs was very good. How the music fades in and out is very well done. The documentary is also very informative and the great amount of research done to produce such a piece is very apparent. There was a good variety of different and diverse people interviewed, from health experts, shisha users, doctors…etc.

The quality of the narrator’s voice and the sound bites are very good. The background music does not overshadow the narration at all which was very well done.

I like how elaborate the documentary is and I believe the length of the documentary was fine. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Modern Dramatic Experimentalism (Part 1 of 3)

Plays like “The Skin of our Teeth”, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” and
“Happy Days” are plays that are very experimental and do not have the traditional form that the majority of people are accustomed to. The authors of these plays chose to write in this particular fashion for a reason. They broke the dominant conventions of form, structure and character development, yet these plays turned out to be very successful. “The Skin of our teeth” for example won a Pulitzer Prize.

I believe that the authors were trying a different approach, an approach that is more direct and more creative; they were looking for different means of expression. They shape the plays in a way that forces you to live the play with the characters and/or actors, to feel a certain way and to provoke the audience’s views to be driven to a particular direction.

Picture below is from: The Skin of Our Teeth

In the “Skin of our teeth”, characters tend to break the fourth wall over and over again and talk directly to the audience.

“I hate this play, and I don't understand a word of it” (Sabina).

Even though the play is not realistic at all (in terms of what exactly is happening), it has a very profound idealistic content.

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate--that's my philosophy" (Sabina).

The play has a certain complexity to it but Thornton Wilder made sure his themes and motives were very clear to the audience.

“Oh, I've never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor edge of danger and must be fought for—whether it's a field, or a home, or a country"(Mr. Antrobus).

His ‘absurd’ style is unique because it was all in how he presented his themes; his themes were presented in a very interesting and funny way that creates an enjoyable performance. There was a part in the play were the audience are forced to help the actors “save the human race” by bringing chairs from the auditorium to burn in the fire place. This is a very creative way to force audience to participate and by this you are making them feel a certain way and by doing so, you are making them directly feel what’s happening, and even change their beliefs and views in regards to the issue you’re addressing in your play. Here is when the author achieves the aim of his experimental play.


An Overshadowed City

Converting extra rice straw into fertilizer, instead of simply burning it off could be the solution to a problem that has haunted and plagued the residents of Cairo for almost a decade now, the “black cloud” descends and covers the city during the otherwise nice months of October and November.

The Ministry of Environment said it has made progress in reducing the black cloud. Mohamed Abdel Razak, environmentalist and observer, says that the ministry is doing the best they can do to solve the problem.

ABDEL RAZAK: “They are doing a lot of effort to solve the problem as soon as possible. I think they have already made progress. The cloud appeared only 40 hours this year compared to 190 hours last year, which shows that they are active about this. Ending this completely will take some time.” (:19)

Hundreds of thousands of farmers burn the surplus of their rice stubble following harvest in preparation for a fresh farming season. The government claims that they’re making efforts - some say unsatisfactory efforts - to tackle the problem.

People in the streets have had enough of inhaling the fumes that the burning produces. Sara Atef, a 25-year-old pharmacist complains of having breathing problems and says there’s a lot of action yet to be taken for the problem to be solved.

ATEF: “Reducing rice-staw is not enough, the government should do more because it’s a combination of things that make this a bigger problem… like pollution for instance, air pollution, fumes from cars and buses on the streets, these things make it harder for people to breath and to go about their daily lives, so I think they should tackle the problems, all at once” (:33)

Even though the ministry of environment is saying that they are doing the best they can to reduce and eventually stop the black cloud, Cairo residents are asking for more effort to be done, some still believe it’s getting worse and worse each day.

Nermine Amer, AUC News.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's the Human in You

I believe in defending and fighting for the voice-less. Animals are part of Mother Nature and they deserve to be fought for. All over the world, there’s a lot of animal suffering that often goes unseen and unheard of. In Egypt, the number one cause of animal suffering is negligence. I believe negligence is a form of abuse. When I get really mad about people here not treating animals right or are not showing any sympathy towards them, people tell me it’s because they are just uneducated about the matter. I don’t understand this reason. It’s something you’re born with. It’s the human inside of you. A dog deserves a happy life in a warm place instead of wandering the cold streets; a cow deserves to be free in a land to walk through instead of stuck in a cage all day. What’s so hard to understand?

It breaks my heart walking in the streets everyday seeing how these cats and dogs are hopeless, alone with no sense of a home. Thinking about the fact that they will probably die soon if left in these conditions greatly saddens me. I walk down the streets of barking dogs, some furious, some look depressed and cats looking for anything to eat in trash bins, I know something is wrong. I make it a point to stop and feed some of those helpless cats and dogs and I’m angered by the way people look at me while I’m doing that. Some think I’m spoilt to have the time and money to feed cats and dogs in the streets, some just stand there laughing at me… I bet they’re calling me “the crazy cat lady”. It’s sad, and I don’t understand it. I don’t do it for fun, I feel I have an obligation to stop and feed these animals, take care of them, and do whatever I can to help because if I don’t, I know I won’t be able to sleep at night. Sometimes I feel I want to take them all home with me but I have four cats already, all rescued, all very territorial and I know I can’t afford taking care of more than four cats.

When I pass by a pet shop and see those helpless little animals in cages waiting for someone to take them, all I can think of is that for many, if not all of these animals, a cage that they can barely fit in with food and water is all they know. I believe no living thing deserves to be treated this way. I know I am not an animal fanatic; I’m a person who loves animals. Animals are such a crucial part of our natural environment. I strongly believe in helping animals and bettering their lives.

Epic Theatre Vs. Aristotelian/Dramatic Theatre

Epic Theatre is a theatre movement in mid-20th century that is greatly linked to German playwright Bertolt Brecht who called it his modern theatre; it’s also known as Brechtian acting.

The goals of Epic Theatre are what make it so different. The main purpose of the play is to only present ideas and not to imitate reality. It encourages the audience to think and then make judgments and act. It clearly shows the audience an argument with its different viewpoints. Due to the fact that the audience is only an observer, he remains at an emotional distance from the action thus always aware that it is watching a play. It’s an enacting of reality and not reality itself. It should be able to change the human being because if the audience can be critical about what’s happening, it’ll be able to know its causes and effects and will be able to change it in their own real lives. Brecht deliberately used unrealistic techniques in set design, light and visuals to always remind the audience that this is not even close to reality and that they are watching a play. Brecht wanted actors to make a balance between “being” their characters and showing the audience that the character is “being played”. The actor must always remember that he is an actor and that he is only portraying the feelings and emotions of his character. Epic actors are only narrators and tools of representation. They narrate the events and do its actions only to make the audience understand the situation. For example, in A Man’s a Man, widow Begbick breaks the fourth wall and comes out of character and talks to the audience about Brecht which is a great example for narration. The character represents one individual and this individual represents all human kind. Brecht wanted to create productions that are entertaining and that provokes people to think and learn. An epic play consists of scenes that exist by its own and doesn’t connect to the scene before or after it. In A Man’s a Man, scenes can exist by their own (like scene 9).

Dramatic (Aristotelian) Theatre on the other hand is not the opposite of epic theatre but has different goals and techniques. Dramatic theatre treats its audience as passive and can not be reached except through their emotions. The dramatic stage fully embodies the plot/event. It fully involves the audience by putting them into the action thus endangering emotion in him. For example in The Skin of our Teeth, the audience are asked to get chairs from the auditorium to ‘save the human race’ by burning them to keep themselves warm. It makes the audience very involved in the play and what’s happening to the extent that it doesn’t give them a chance to look at the play from a distance and reflect. Scenes are linked to each other; in The Skin of our Teeth, scenes lead to each other. It presents you with the world as it is so the audience leaves the theatre believing that life is unchangeable and inevitable. Dramatic theatre allows the audience to see a representation of reality encouraging us to accept it without thinking so that’s why it gives you a sense of inevitability and fate. The audience identifies with the characters through terror and pity. Dramatic theatre’s illusion of representing the present event doesn’t encourage the audience’s reflection on what’s happening and on the themes presented.
According to Aristotle, to achieve unity of action and maintain its illusion, the dramatic play must consist of scenes that are linked to each other and that lead to each other leading to a climax of catharsis (evocation of intense fear and pity).

Brecht believed that theatre should not play with the audience’s feelings but should appeal and influence his reason/mind. It should encourage the audience to have a more critical attitude to what’s happening on stage. He wanted to reach ultimate objectivity from the audience’s side instead of identifying with the characters. This way the audience will learn the real truth about their society and world.

Brecht refuses to assume that the audience could only be reached through their emotion but through their minds so he doesn’t want the audience to relate to the characters and become emotionally involved with them (breaking empathy for characters) at all but make them think about their own life and this is where change will come. He did present feelings but he did that from a standpoint critical to the feeling.

Feelings and identifying with the characters affect the audience’s objectivity and reasoning. Brecht believes that the Aristotelian thought on feelings (The audience feels exactly what the character on stage feels) wears out the audience. Feelings alone are not enough for transformation and change; thought and reason are the keys.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Interview with Egyptian journalist Pakinam Amer

Intro/lead: It’s in storytelling, verbal and visual, that Pakinam has found what she calls “personal legend,” a phrase first coined by author Paulo Coelho and describes a person’s proper path in life. It’s a path that, she says, has opened her eyes to both beautiful and unpleasant realities that this region is enduring. Nevertheless, the changing tides in the Middle East and the shifting political and social landscape, and the discovery of “new” freedoms in Egypt have continued to fuel her passion albeit the presence of challenges and difficulties born with the social and political experiment that people in Egypt are now undertaking.

Q: Pakinam, what kept you moving forward? Why didn’t you give up?

Well, I could have been driven off my path. But I have been lucky enough through journalism, blogging, and photography, to come in contact with incidents that gave me courage. Also, the people that I’ve met have made a huge difference. They made me witness a sort of … a modern-day miracle, you know, how the will of a few people, a few visionaries –,you know, human beings like you and me with ideas- can change the world.

Q: You’ve recently embarked upon a journey to the United Kingdom where you lived there for more than a year to do your masters in Investigative Journalism. As I understand it, it was a UK-based course that focused on UK law and politics and was meant to help you work in England. Why did you decide to come back?

Because no matter how much I spend there, I know I’ll be more of an expert on my country than anywhere else. I speak the language, well, it’s my mother tongue and I’ve already worked here for more than three years. And Egypt is rich with stories. It’s rife with political, social and faith-related stories, so is our region, the Middle East. It’s a reporter’s heaven.

Q: You’ve been taking some interest in filmmaking recently, am I right?

Yes, that’s correct. Well, I have started scratching the surface of filmmaking and shooting for television first during my post-graduate studies in the American University in Cairo (AUC). However, in London, where I was based until a month ago, I delved a little deeper. The close encounter with the world of TV and film, you know, working behind the camera and video editing was enough to make me yearn for more. I really felt that I had tapped into this fresh talent inside of me. I felt it was always there but it was hidden.

Q: Do you plan to work on it?

I already started to – slowly but surely. When I was in London, I didn’t waste much time. I started buying movies like crazy. My wallet and bank account suffered a lot because of this. I started watching many of the classics and international movies from France, Germany … Sweden, Russia. It’s a whole new world really. I’ve also taken two intensive workshops in filmmaking and directing at the London Film School, in addition to taking part in script clubs and Q&A sessions where everything, you know, from production, editing to lighting and sound or what have you, was discussed.

Q: So are you gonna start making your own movies now?

Well, not right away. I have a rather primitive video camera. But I plan to experiment with that first. I’m hoping that taking loads of short courses and workshops will prepare me for a full-blown study of filmmaking; perhaps back in the UK or even the US. I don’t want this to be a hobby that I do on the side. I plan to turn it into a career … and I don’t care how much time this will take. I know that most people don’t like starting from scratch. But I think it would be an interesting challenge.

Q: So do we understand that one day you plan to leave the journalism world and plunge into that of cinema?

Well, I’ll never stop becoming a journalist. As a journalist, I have naturally always been a storyteller. So no, I don’t see it that way. Plunging into the world of filmmaking is not a change of careers; I simply see it as an extension of my work as a journalist, perhaps an evolution, you know, a natural evolution into … using the full extent of my senses and talents to communicate, you know, my ideas to the masses … and … to help the masses communicate, you know, their dreams and fears to the world.

Pakinam has been an inpsiration to family and friends.

Q: What do you think of Pakinam?

As a mother, i can't be more proud of my daughter. I respect people who follow their dreams with a passion and that's what she's doing.


Running time: 4 min. 50 sec.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Love, Death, and Travel Through Imagination (Part 2 of 2)

Click on the link to read Part 1: 


The theme of voyage/travel is also present in A Simple Heart, because Felicite’s only way to escape boredom and the fact that she is being trapped in her inside world was by traveling with her imagination. Felicite too escapes her ‘inside’ world (her reality) by living and imagining the outside world. Imagination is the only way the outside world is entering her life. Flaubert was a master of rational and realistic details; he has provided many particulars to express and communicate the idea of how boring Felicite’s life is, and in turn transformer her into flesh and blood for the readers and made her tragedy almost touchable. Flaubert considered the visualization of scenes to be the most important so as the readers could identify with Felicite’s environment. The accumulation of details (like a lot of people dying around her, the cards, the clock, the rain) from the moment she was born until her death serves as physical representations of Ennui and Routine. From my point of view in Baudelaire‘s poems, travel with imagination to an “ideal” unrealistic world is a tragic flaw because it is what leads one again to a depressing “spleen”. While with Felicity, imagination is not her tragic flaw (in fact she doesn’t have a tragic flaw), her main (and arguably only) flaw might be her innocence. Her innocence, even if it leads her astray or more likely misleads her into escapism, is then again the origin of her simple heart and mind and her goodness.

Baudelaire uses the theme of love to make the comparison between the ideal and the spleen more noticeable. He is comparing good (beauty) with evil (sin) and shows how love for beauty tempts one to make sins and gradually makes one fall towards Satan. Women have a big role in Baudelaire’s love poems because they show how Baudelaire’s feelings towards them are quite contradictory. Baudelaire’s “love” is sexually explicit and romantic which is clear in his erotic imagery. Moreover, love reminds him of mortality as the poet remembers that love is impossible because of the cruel reality.

In A Simple Heart, the theme of love is used in an entirely different way. Felicite’s endless search for love despite all her losses leads to something more beautiful and more important than love itself. Felicite’s need for someone to give her great passion in return made her relate to a parrot, above all. Her parrot Loulou which entered her life was the only one who provided that to her to the extent that Felicite’s love for Loulou has gradually turned into an obsession and adoration.

Death is another theme present in both works. In Baudelaire poems, death is a theme that apparently he likes to use repeatedly. Baudelaire was fascinated with this theme and was dedicated to creating very shocking bizarre images of death. Although he talks about escaping death (spleen) by travel and imagination (ideal, by images of luxury and comfort), he also mentions dreadful images (agonized demons and phantoms) that makes the likelihood of fatality more pressing (and depressing) to the reader. It also shows –in a direct blatant manner- the fearful image of death and the loneliness and seclusion death could bring. To Baudelaire, the real journey of death is the complete opposite of the imagined journey to the “ideal” he talked about. On one hand, it’s a journey toward something that is completely unknown (presumably a horrifying destiny according to Baudelaire) and it being unknown is fear itself. On the other hand, “The voyage” explains the voyage of death, where he describes what is unknown ahead of us as neither good nor evil but simply different and new (a new experience). Baudelaire doesn’t believe in eternity, so death is the only truth one knows and there is no real way to escape it.

The theme of death in A Simple Heart is not very differently represented. Flaubert has a very realistic representation of death. Throughout the story, Flaubert constantly repeats the idea that death is in ones everyday life, and that innocence, purity and virtue (of Felicite) is frequently tied very tightly with dishonesty and selfishness (of the outside world and of people around Felicity). The theme of immortality lies subtly in this story, showed when Felicite’s beloved Loulou dies and she turns him into a stuffed animal and puts him in a high place in her room so that his image will be lying there forever and it also evokes the idea that she’ll always look up to him and remember him (could be related to looking up to heaven where our loved ones are believed to lie eternal in endless bliss, or where god himself and his close ones lie). It could be considered a far-fetched interpretation that Felicite really considers her parrot to be god at all, or heavenly-related but due to her limited comprehension of faith and religion, she only misinterpreted and misplaced Loulou with the incarnation of the Holy Ghost coming down from heaven.


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Long Form Documentary: Leila’s story (Listening journal- Entry #3)

Producer: Julian Ruck

Narrator: Siobhann Tighe

Title: Assignment – Leila’s story 6 Dec 2007

Length: 24 minutes.

Link to BBC documentaries:

Link to podcast:

The documentary tells the story of an Iranian girl who was forced into prostitution and sold for sex by her parents at the age of 9 and was later sentenced to death at 18. It sheds light on Modern Iran, the legal system there, the legal concept of child abuse and how the Iranian laws remain confused and inequitable to women and girls.

It started off by sound bites from the end of the documentary, which I thought was an excellent way to keep the listener’s attention through out the whole documentary, and these sound bites were very well chosen, because they were very intriguing. One was of Leila saying “it's fun. Don't you think it's cool?” when told that hurting herself and cutting her arm is not the answer.

The documentary was very interesting because it talked about the legal system in Iran, which is an important part of the story and at the same time the psychological state of this girl after all what she has been through.  Leila was raped by her brothers, sold for sex, used for years by the man of her town. I liked how personal they make the documentary, how they described Leila to the listener through people’s impression of her “dressed in black, large eyes, warm face, innocent and trusting”.

There were sound bites from Leila’s lawyer and from the founder of the day center that Leila is currently staying at. Sound bites from Leila’s lawyer were very helpful. We get to know the opinion of the person who saved Leila from her death sentence about the matter and why she appealed her sentence. She explained that to a poor family who suffers from drug addiction, their daughter is a property and can be sold. We then have a sound bite from Leila confirming that. She said that her whole family was suffering from an opium addiction, and through her prostitution’s money they paid for the drugs. Leila was sold to an Afghani man and she was his “temporary wife” for almost a year, when one day the police arrested everyone in the house, the temporary husband was jailed for 5 years and Leila was told that she was sentenced to 5 months in prison but she later knew she was going to be hanged. Lawyers believed that she wanted to be sold and that it was her choice and they blamed her for not leaving the house and informing the police.

The lawyer accused the judges of ignorance about what sexual charges are all about and for believing that the woman is always guilty and a woman’s testimony in court carries less weight than a man’s.  I believe a documentary like this can open people’s eyes on things that happen in Iran that often go unheard of. It was good to know how Leila is living her life now, things are better for her but we know that it will never be the way it should’ve been if she wasn’t been subject to all that she has been through. The girl is still learning the basics of life, how to express herself and how to overcome some behavioral problems.

The quality of the narration was very good and clear. The sound bites were placed very nicely in the documentary and helped it flow well. I like how personal they make the issue by bringing Leila and her case closer to you through her opening up and speaking about her story herself. They included little details that made the piece more emotional and created sympathy towards Leila, like how she had imaginary toys growing up and how naïve she sounds. The length of the piece was perfect; it had my attention through out because of how interesting and shocking the issue is so you naturally want to hear more about it and more about the girl (the victim).

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Why not?

I’ve always been fascinated with the supernatural, the things that I don’t quite understand.

I believe in magic, lucky charms, I wear a few amulets, I’m fascinated by Greek mythology, I’m partial to superstitions and I am aware of the fact that none of this might be true. But for some reason I want to believe in them. I like to believe in them.

We call all that “myths”, “illusions” and “superstitions.”
But because something sounds unfamiliar or illogical does not automatically mean it is fiction. I still remember X-Files’ Dana Scully’s famous quote: “Nothing happens in contradiction to nature, it happens in contradiction to what we know of it.”

Don’t get me wrong! I’m not asking people to have blind faith. Indeed, and as the saying goes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. I’m only suggesting that we keep an open mind – or at least be a little bit more tolerant of personal quirks, like my affinity for everything fantastic.

For example, mirrors send my mind reeling with stories. In ancient times, mirrors were thought to be gateways to other worlds and realities, some believed they protected us from evil, told us the future, or revealed the truth. I am one of those who like to believe that they reflect back a glimpse of the human soul. The same applies to reflective objects, paintings and photographs. There’s more to a portrait painting than just color and form.

A mirror sure tells you something about yourself and it takes a lot out of you to give you back that simple reflection. It has been thought that a mirror, like a picture, keeps part of your soul. That’s why, sometimes, you can’t stop looking – you can’t get yourself to part with your twin, the one that seems to be trapped behind the shiny glass surface.

I personally have a love-hate relationship with mirrors. I am an actor, and when I was younger, performing and role-playing in front of a mirror was my life. From imitating people to making faces to reading the news to playing doctor to giving Oscar speeches and dressing up … it all happened in front of a mirror. Even so, I’m well aware of the power of reflections, the very thing that enthralled Narcissus and led him to pine away.

Let me tell you of a story that simply creeps the hell out of me. The story goes that there were days when the world of men and the world of mirrors were not as they are today. Once upon a time, the people behind the mirror invaded this world and after many battles, the world of men prevailed and stripped the creatures of the mirror from their own shape and reduced them to mere reflections. It is believed that one day they will throw off the spell and awaken once again. It says, “The first to awaken shall be the Fish. In the depths of the mirror, we shall perceive a faint, faint line, and the color of that line will not resemble any other. Then, other forms will begin to awaken. Gradually, they will become different from us; gradually they will no longer imitate us; they will break through the barriers of glass or metal, and this time they will not be conquered … some believed that before the their invasion, we will hear, from the depths of the mirrors, the sound of arms”.

In light of all the strangeness of our world, can’t there be a teeny tiny possibility of this actually being true? Why not? Hold that thought.

Love, Death, and Travel Through Imagination (Part 1 of 2)

“A Simple Heart”, a short story written by French poet Gustave Flaubert, is considered one of the best stories he had written; it was given excellent reviews and was admirably received. What is intriguing about it though is the fact that the approach to this tragic tale is rather new and is different; you see the story through the eyes of a woman who would not attract you if you passed her on the street, whose life story is not striking or is a subject of controversy. The protagonist, the center of both the story and the events and who readers are invited to see the world from her perspective and through her eyes, is a poor illiterate and humble woman. Her world is simply all about routine and her life is filled with the most boring details. Like the title suggests, the tale is as “simple” as the woman that Falubert describes and chooses to tell the readers about. In all her simplicity, Felicite has a power that most men –and many women- might not have: the ability to love –receiving and giving love- no matter what life brings. Although Felicite suffers the loss of her loved ones throughout the play, she never stops loving. Her love even becomes centered on a parrot, her Loulou, to the extent that she adores him like a god and is extremely devoted to him. Flaubert writing a simple story about love and goodness is something unusual, because it’s not usually one of his themes. In this story many themes are presented, like the theme of death for instance (how the death of Loulou affects Felicite), love and the idea of travel through imagination as a way of escaping reality. These are themes that were used by many poets too; one of these poets is French poet Charles Baudelaire who is called “Father of Modern Criticism”. In my opinion, Baudelaire is one of the most gifted of the French poets. He wrote The Flowers of Evil, a piece which had a lot of Flaubert themes. But despite the fact that these themes were presented differently, they had common thoughts or a common subtle “tone” nonetheless. One of the most interesting commonalities in themes to me was the idea of travel/voyage through imagination to escape the world we live in (a.k.a. Reality).

The theme of Travel/Voyage in Baudelaire’s poems especially “Spleen and the Ideal” is an escape of a world full of pessimistic themes of eviction, perish, decay, sin, pretense and deception that is controlled by the Devil. Baudelaire says that humans either use fantasy and imagination as an escape from all this or are always trapped in the boredom of Modernity/Modern life. According to Baudelaire, Perfection is only present in erotic love, voyages (imagined) and beauty (that is often extracted/ created from evil or the ugly reality). Traveling with your imagination to a mythical world or an ideal universe of one’s own creation will make one reach ultimate happiness, comfort and total perfection which is the poet’s dream (in other words Eden, which means “an ideal harmony of being”). While the latter option seems to be a good one, it’s not real and it’s not even close to reality. “Spleen” symbolizes everything that one doesn’t like in this world like death, loneliness, despair, pain, crime, and physical or psychological illness. It also symbolizes Modernity (the city) invading nature and infecting it with routine and boredom (Ennui).

Baudelaire provides excellent images to accomplish his aim of creating an ideal world to the reader.

“And of an infinite pervasiveness.
Like myrrh, or musk, or amber, that excite
The ecstasies of sense, the soul’s delight” (Correspondences 12-13)

He creates an image that successfully stimulates and arouses the reader’s senses as well as images of lavishness, bliss, comfort and warmth that serves well the description of the “ideal”. The “ideal” is like an escape from the “spleen” and the boredom of cruel reality. It’s an escape from this reality through travel for an example. Travel through imagination is nothing but a fantasy, at the end it is an imagined state of living in an ideal world full of delight and bliss where loss, death and mortality do not exist. Creating a fantasy by imagination and living it urges one to lose the sense of mortality - which is arguably a very illogical escape (or temporary escape) from the fear of death (Spleen) that fills a lot of people. It is a virtual escape from the inevitable, one can say, and a pretence that life’s tragedies do not exist (like putting your head in the sand plus dreaming and fantasizing about what life should or could be as opposed to what it really is). Consequently, Travel shapes the plot in a way that unavoidably leads to a disappointing and sad spleen.