The year will remain a turning point in the global history of theatre and performance. Where many differences had separated the various stages of the world, Covid-19 managed to unite them under the banner of danger. The danger of infection and of death dictated the rules to open or close cultural venues and to impose a partial or full lockdown.
The pandemic infiltrated every zone of physical communication, impacting all performance activities and restricting public gatherings. This will be remembered as the year when we discovered that to survive we must transform. Although a clear fact throughout human history, transformation became a new realisation, a new practise to be developed on a daily basis.
For theatre and dance artists around the world, it was necessary to convey the message that culture contributes to human immunity, that there must be innovative ways of holding onto it so as to maintain the essence of our humanness. The struggle to hold onto that humanness became a central point in many artistic expressions around the world.
On the Egyptian performance scene the debates around what theatre is, how to deal with online solutions as an alternative to physical attendance, and how to handle physical restrictions, were at the centre of public statements and discussions.
Like their counterparts in many countries around the world, Egypt’s state-owned theatre venues closed for a partial lockdown before re-opening with new rules of spectatorship: a minimum distance between spectators, universal face masks and disinfectants. The capacity of theatre venues shrank drastically, but artists were happy to resume their work.
In addition to those transformations in the rules of spectatorship within indoor performance venues, Minister of Culture Ines Abdel-Dayem paid special attention to outdoor performance spaces where natural and continuous ventilation afforded greater safety.
The outdoor performance space in front of Hanager Arts Centre became a vital spot. Cairo’s summery weather, which lasts into October, made it possible to hold a vibrant program there. The feeling of outdoor performances on the Cairo Opera premises brought back a nostalgic sensation of gatherings, along with the desire to celebrate, something that could seem quite contradictory with the pandemic’s mood of insecurity and fear of the others.
Yet we should not forget that downtown Cairo was always the heart of gatherings and celebrations, as it represented the Egyptian image of togetherness during the revolution of 25 January 2011. This image had remained rooted in the collective memory of gatherings and public expression.