Yemeni Theater: a wish that never came true [Archives:2005/845/Culture]

May 26 2005

By Amal Mohammed Al-Ariqi
Yemen Times Staff

Yemeni theater has passed through different phases. However, its flourishing era could be said to be during the 80s and until the beginning of the 90s. At that time there were at least 10 plays displayed in the northern governorates and about 12 plays in the southern. After the 94 crises, the theater has critically relapsed, affected by economic and political circumstances of Yemen at that time. Until now Yemeni drama, in general, and Yemeni theater in particular, are living through a state of depression.

Believing in the important role the theater plays in reflecting people's issues and sufferings, in sending messages to educate and brighten people's lives, Yemen Times tried to investigate what has become of the Yemeni theater today.

The reasons behind the fall

Dr. Omer Abdullah Salah, the general manger of public theater authority said that there are many reasons behind this inactivity, for example, there are not many good scenarios which convey people's daily problems and issues. There are some attempts for drama texts that target high intellectuals and educated people. He added that last year when Sana'a was known as “Arab Culture Capital” many texts were allowed to be performed in many cities during the theatrical activities program. Many of those plays had been presented for three days at maximum. This indicates another problem that the shows suffer from, where there is no particular stage dedicated for long term plays. The government, according to Dr. Omer, should decide on a budget to support and finance drama movement.

Khaled Al-Bheri , actor and playwright believes that the main obstacle that faces Yemeni theaters is the absences of a stage. “We have qualified Yemeni cadre, technicians and performers, who graduated from academic institutions abroad. We have more than 37 playwrights, and to accommodate all these talents we really need a fixed stage for theatrical performance . Continuity of plays reflects the success of the drama work o stage, means no continuity, means no success” He said.

Nabeel Hazam, actor and director, sees that the main problem lies in the fact that there is no awareness among governmental authorities regarding the role of art in general and theater in particular. When such awareness exists, it will create a will to support and produce works of art. Other issues such as lack of stages, texts tc can be solved if there is interest from high level authorities. He added that our performance is currently occasional. We perform on certain occasions like cultural festivals and national celebrations. There is no constant space dedicated for plays and theater entertainment.

Yahia Abrheem- actor, insisted on the need for a constant drama stage, especially after closure of the national theater in Aden, which was a hall at the Information Ministry premises then, used for rehearsals and shows. He added that the theaters at cultural centers are not good for drama or theater plays as there is a need for particular light settings and specific decorations among other issues. The theaters in culture centers acquire the troupes temporary and are not available for long-term performance.

Killing creation avoiding criticism

When Abdo Rabo Al-Hithmi, playwrighter, was asked about the lack of objective play texts to attracts audience, he answered that is not correct “Many texts were preformed abroad and received admiration and applause from the audience as well as critics these plays have not had their chance to be displayed in Yemen yet, I don't know why” he said.

He mentioned that many comedies that discuss social, economic and political problems in the society have not been performed because the government can't bear any kind of criticism. Although theater can discuss many issues like extremism, Al -Hothi's case and so on. Theater can be a tool for education.

Nabeel Hazam, emphasized on Al-Hithmi's view saying that he prepared a play called “Al-qashash”, which has been reformulated from a Turkish play called “Zoubak “, to suit Yemeni environment. However this work was attacked from some officials that felt the play was pointing fingers at them, while the drama was very simple and didn't mean to criticize any particular person. It meant to reveal some defects and flaws that can be found in any society.

Khaled Al-Behri believes that there is no censoring on dramatic texts. The proof of that a play like “Al-Qlast” for Abdull Krim Al-Razihi which displayed in many governorates and gained the admiration of the audience. Other plays, according to Al- Behri, are being displayed on many stages like the university stage, culture stage …etc which criticize many negative aspects in the society.

Abdull Al-Hakim Al-Haj, deputy general manger of the theater authority, said that any criticism must be constructive and aims to solve or reveal problems in society. However destructive criticism that attempts to present personal emotions of the writer toward someone is not acceptable.

The private sector

If there is no intention from the government to build a stage or supply a budget for the drama, why is there no financial support from the private sector?

According to Yahia Abrhim the private sectors are not going to invest its money in field that has been ignored by the government. In other words, business men can not take this risk without encouragement from the government.

Nabeel Hazam mentioned that unfortunately there is no awareness among businessmen “They feel that there is no investment in producing art work, whereas many countries such as Egypt, UAE, and US, receive funding and financial support from art manufacturers” He said.

Dr. Omer Salah said that turning to private sector is not the answer. The businessman invests his money in a show that attracts the audience, whatever the quality and the massage of the show is. They will become just entertaining plays. This is what happened in Egypt where there are commercial theaters which are not objective, have no 0messages, no national concerns or intellectual issues to discuss tc.

Initiatives essimism… optimism… sketches

In spite of the difficult situation that faces the drama movement in Yemen, Al-Haj is optimistic since many young actors keep on performing, using the available theater stages. He referred to the initiative of Khaled Al-Rowaishan, Minister of Culture, when he watched the performance of young troupe, in Al-Ahli club, and he ordered to prepare the culture stage for them.

Khaled al Behri, said that the young generation actors do not give up to the difficult circumstances that they live. They have to seize any chance to show their skills and creations. Therefore they travel around the country, receiving the love of the audience that are longing for the creative work that creates enjoyment and happiness, simultaneously reflecting their issues and sufferings. He remembered when he was in a troupe went to Torba – Taiz governorate, where there was an old damaged and closed stage however the citizens of that town cleaned and rebuild the stage.

Yahia Abraheem, believes in the power of the young actors saying that they keep on working and receiving invitations to act and perform in front of the audience, wherever there was a place. These performances cannot be classified as drama but are simple sketches.” We must work to earn our living and satisfy our audience” he said.

Nabeel Hazam disagreed with his colleagues saying that there is kind of humiliation for the actor to wait for occasions or festival in order to get the opportunity to work.” We accept to display any work whatever its quality to feed our children and family” he said.

Who is responsible?

The ignorance and neglect of the government, represented by the cultural ministry, towards theater can not be explained or excused. It's important to support theater and drama plays, because these express the level of civilization and democracy that Yemen has arrived at, showing the ability of discussing our problems and accepting other criticism.

The actors in drama sector should be blamed also for their failure in gathering and organizing themselves. There is no union, no association through which they can ask for their rights and demands. Many issues are discussed but individually and personally.

Theater inactivity is not just a problem. It becomes an issue that needs reconsideration from all the concerned sectors. Therefore it is important to gather all the interested authorities and individuals and begin with a discussion to rediscover the abilities and the means that enhance the Yemeni theater and make the wish for an elite Yemeni drama come true.