Yemeni Theaters Send SOS [Archives:2001/16/Culture]

April 16 2001

Farouk Al-Kamali
Yemen Times
On 27 March of every year, International Theater Day is celebrated. In Yemen, however, there are no such celebrations, simply because there is no theater. Our Ministry of Culture has engaged itself in other issues such as opening tourist restaurants and hotels. There are many Yemeni actors and producers. But they are languishing due to the lack of concern and attention paid to the promotion of the theater.
History of Theater in Yemen:
Many regard the year 1847 as the birth of the theater in the Arab homeland. Maroon al-Nakash’s play “The Miser” is considered to be the first Arab play to be performed. Other pioneer playwrights were Ahmad abo Khaleel al-Kabani and Ya’akoob Sanoo.
In Yemen, theater was related to festive occasions, especially the holy festivals. Mr. Ahmad Jubarah, producer, who lectured in al-Saeed Foundation in Taiz last week and said “The first time Yemen came to know about the theater was in 1910 in the then southern part of the country during the British colonization”. Prior to that there had been some artistic troupes coming to Yemen. They used to present some artistic shows for the British soldiers who were stationed in Aden.
The first theatrical show was Julius Caesar by Shakespeare. It was acted by an acting troupe from schools. In 1933, al-Islah Club in Tuwahi acted the play “The Leader Infatuated with the Cave’s Girl”. In 1937, the escorts troupe introduced the “Hatem al-Taee” play in Sheikh Othman.
In 1940 the Students’ Theater in Ghail Ba Wazeer in Hadramout presented the plays “Granada Downfall” and “The Injured” inspired by the Algeria revolution in 1957.


In Taiz some shows were presented in the al-Huriah school in al-Aaboos. Another troupe consisting of some factory workers in Sana’a presented some works reflecting their worries and concerns.
The Orphanage students have also presented some scenes pertaining to their sufferings. Of the distinguished theatrical troupes before the 26 September and 14 October revolutions were the Massafi troupe in Aden in the 1950s which continued to stage plays for a short period after the declaring of unity in 1990.
After unity there have been many theatrical troupes in Sana’a, Aden, Taiz, Hodeidah, and Ibb. Despite their great number they could do nothing for the theater due to weak, fragile support and encouragement by the institutions concerned or by the society as a whole.
Absence of the Yemeni Theater, Reasons:
In this age of ever-increasing TV channels, Yemeni viewers and cinema-goers have decreased dramatically. Another reason is the conventions including Qat sessions, which sometimes last from two in the afternoon to eight in the evening. Above all, it is the lack of concern and attention by the Cultural Ministry to this issue.
Fekri Kasem al-Muhaya, journalist & actor, talked about reasons behind the weak visibility of theater in Yemen and said “A critic says that due to the absence of democracy theater is the most ignored means of expression. Ironically, there was a vibrant theatrical activity during the autocratic regimes. Unfortunately after the unity, this activity has waned remarkably.
Personally speaking, I think this deterioration is ascribable to many reasons, including the war of 1994. After the war there has been a remarkable waning in the cultural movement in general and in the theater in particular. Other reasons are attributed to the lack of qualified officials, non-existence of halls, lack of patronization given to actors and producers, and the apathy of the Cultural Ministry in this regard. The Ministry has to reconsider this otherwise our democracy will be a mockery and a cosmetic luxury to impress others, nothing more, nothing less.”
Mr. Adam Saif, who has become famous after presenting some comic plays, said “The theatrical movement in Yemen suffers from many draw-backs, including lack of talented and qualified officials. The present group of officials are not aware of the importance of theater. They are only motivated by personal gains.
Though Mr. Abdulmalek Mansoor, Cultural Minister is providing a good support and encouragement to revive the theatrical movement, there are dishonest persons in some cultural offices misappropriating these amounts allocated for theater development. Actors and producers have become frustrated as a result. Cultural office managers in governorates are the very ones behind the deterioration of the theater. The Cultural Ministry has to choose qualified managers suitable for these places and thereby support the improvement and development of the theater. Another reason is the absence of the Yemeni scripts and actresses. Moreover, the cultural offices have been rigid and inflexible and don’t allow national troupes to present their plays in the poorly furnished halls.”

Development of Theater in Yemen:
Mr. Ahmad Jubarah emphasized that there are some conditions to be fulfilled to revive the theatrical movement in the country. They are as follows:
1) Encouragement of women participation in the theater.
2) Setting up theaters, and encouragement to national troupes for participating in the local, regional and foreign festivals.
3) Legislation to encourage and protect actors and producers.
4) Encouraging schools, clubs and universities to participate in theatrical performances.
5) Re-opening the Aesthetic arts Institute in Aden which was closed after the war of 1994.
6) Defining the art cadre and improving their living conditions. Activating the artistic teams affiliated to the Ministry and its offices in governorates.
7) Encouraging creative actors and producers while presenting their works on TVs and radio series.”
To conclude we can say that we can not have a real theater unless we move from the theatrical occasions to establish theaters in all the governorates and start producing permanent and regular plays. Support and encouragement from the authorities concerned is also of vital importance. If these are not achieved a dark and dim future for the theater is ahead.