Emergence of The Yemeni Theater [Archives:2001/27/Culture]

July 2 2001

Saleh Abdulbaki
Yemen Times
Anumber of literary studies indicate the possibility of the existence of a theater in old Yemen. Such studies were based on the ruins of a hall and a stage in Marib. However, there has been no confirmation of the fact that the stage was part of a theater except what Dr. Abdulaziz Al-Maqaleh mentions which is that rituals were preserved here in a dramatic mould. The politically and economically strong states that flourished in Yemen may suggest the possibility of the existence of at least a king’s theater. This possibility will remain a potentially rich field of study for researcher to provide more evidence and proofs.
As far as the modern drama is concerned, Saeed Awlaqi, A Yemeni researcher, says in “70 years of the Yemeni theater” that the first dramatic work in Yemen appeared in 1904 when an Indian theatre team, directed by Jumlat Shah, arrived in Aden. The team included actors, actresses, musicians and singers. In 1908 another Indian theatre team arrived in Aden. This time it was accompanied by more modern equipment.
According to the author, Yemen drama appeared only in the beginning of the 20th century. There were plays such as these written be Abdullah Omar Bamakhramah which is mentioned in the “Yemeni emigration in the 16th century” by the imminent Yemeni historian Mohammed Abdulqader Bamatraf.
The first Yemeni troupe was formed in 1910, says Awlaqi. Members were students of a government school in Aden. Its first performance was the rendering of an Arabic version of Julius Caesar. The troupe presented some of the Shakespearean works such as Romeo and Juliet in translation. In 1914 it presented ‘Victim of Love’ by Dr. Najeeb Haddad. Through 1926-1940 many amateur troupes were formed. The outputs of these teams were occasional not with more than two plays in a year.
This phase of the Yemeni theater continued until 1967 when the first professional troupe was formed in Aden. However, this did not enrich the Yemeni theater substantially, which continued to be opened occasionally. Even the recent admirable dramatic works which were presented in the First and Second Drama Festivals have not so much helped lay solid foundations for a Yemeni theater owing to lack of encouragement from the authorities concerned. Recommendations and experiences gleaned from them these festivals were not followed up. Lack of any specialized school to mold talented people for augmenting a powerful theater movement makes the situation so dismal.
To make the matter still worse lack of political and social instability and the prevalence of tribal warfare have been detrimental for the dramatic art to flourish. Moreover, absence of awareness about importance of including such program in school curricula and school activities are added to the volume of the problem.