The theater is a stressful place during rehearsals, and stress levels increase as opening night draws near. Everyone runs around testing all kinds of equipment, figuring out the quickest methods to change sets and what cues to give each other for light, sound and performance.
But this tense flurry of activity is an unavoidable part of the magic of live performance. As spectators, we’re often unaware of how much attention to tiny detail is put in by the cast and crew to produce an absorbing, memorable experience. And that’s exactly what around 30 crew members and 15 artists are working to create for the sixth edition of the 2B Continued Festival and Lab, which shows three back-to-back performances with very different and impressive sets for three consecutive nights starting Thursday.
One play and two contemporary dance performances have been developed by practitioners under 35 with the mentorship of more established ones, many of who work on the festival year after year. This year it’s Studio Emad Eddin head Ahmed El Attar, French choreographer and dancer Laurence Rondoni, Scottish stage and production manager Alan Wright, Lebanese scenographer Hussein Baydoun and Cairo lighting manager Saber al-Sayed.
Founded and run by Studio Emad Eddin’s workshops and residency director Nevine Ibiary, herself a theater director and a graduate of the American University in Cairo’s theater program, 2B Continued offers the space and budget for artists to develop and show work and for stage managers, light designers, scenographers and costume designers to gain invaluable work experience.
“The festival is a continuation of what we do at Studio Emad Eddin,” Ibiary says. “We offer practical workshops according to the needs of the performance arts scene and the festival serves as an opportunity for the participants to build on their training by working on professionally developed performances.”
Ibiary thinks a vicious cycle in the independent theater scene means that many staged performances are not well developed in terms of writing or storytelling and many clearly lack good teamwork, a very important element in theater.
She staged the festival’s first edition in 2008 to challenge this cycle by giving the directors very specific criteria to work with, including a limited performance time, a limited number of performers, a specific budget and the stipulation to work with existing texts to focus solely on directing. She insists on production teamwork and encourages both artists and technicians to take on specialized tasks to gain experience and open up performing arts networks to new talent.
“The festival produces all four performances and all participants get a nominal fee for their work,” Ibiary says.
An important, often overlooked element of the festival is that Ibiary also involves the audience, who vote for their favorite performance and the elements they liked in each one (light, sound, costume, scenography, and so on). This is a way to raise the audience’s awareness about the constituent elements of performing arts. The results are announced on the third night.
On each night, the audience watches all three performances, and the crew only have a few minutes to re-arrange the set design for the each one.
Each evening begins with dance performance Shadow of a Fish, choreographed by Hend El-Balouty, a graduate of the Cairo Contemporary Dance Center. The piece is performed by Noura Seif, Samar Ezzat, Amany Atef and Nermine Habib, with music by Abdallah Miniawy. “Apology and thanks for all the fish,” reads the intriguing blurb about the work. “The joy of silence, routine and irony.”
The second show is this year’s only theater play: The Newcomer, directed by Hani Sami, who holds a bachelor degree in theater and a masters in film. This is the third play he is involved in that’s written by late Egyptian playwright Michael Romani, who wrote rebellious and revolutionary works in the 1960s. The Newcomer is set in a hotel and its main character (Ahmed Ashrafi) has absurd conversations with staff and various long lost friends who also seem to work there (Omar Madkour, Joseph Gamil, Aly Kassem and Arsany Meshreky). Discovering the rigid rules of the place opens up questions about society, individualism and control. Look out for the sound design by Adham Zeidan, which plays a significant role in creating a claustrophobic feeling on stage.
A dance performance titled Ya Sem by Sherine Hegazy, a graduate of the contemporary dance program at Studio Emad Eddin and one of Cairo’s very active young dancers and choreographers, closes the night. Ya Sem is performed by Hegazy, Amany Atef and Nagham Saleh, with live percussion from Sabrine al-Hossamy. In a goddess-like ritual set against a backdrop of sexual harassment on Cairo’s streets, the three dancers display the power dynamics of women reacting to the space they live in, often employing bellydance movements. It’s engaging and thoughtful, and the scenography, designed by Nada Mounir, is particularly notable, not only for its aesthetics but also for how it creates a new layer of meaning in the piece.
A dance performance called Mayohkomsh, choreographed by Shaimaa Shoukry and performed by Nagham Saleh, will be presented on the fringes of the festival, on December 21 and 22. This work debuted at this year’s Downtown Contemporary Dance Festival, also headed by El Attar. It shows in 2B Continued because Shoukry was a participant in a previous 2B Continued edition.
“It’s called 2B Continued because it is based on continuation, follow up and supporting the existing scene with more opportunities to show and develop their work,” Ibiary explains. “We don’t promote the idea of art for art’s sake. We want people who work in the arts to make a living out of it.”
Tickets, LE20, available at Falaki Theater, 24 Falaki Street, downtown Cairo, from 5 pm. Lobby opens at 7 pm and show starts at 8 pm — arrive early to be sure of a seat. No entrance after 8 pm and no children under seven.