Wednesday, November 25, 2009

PROMO for my short radio documentary "The History of the AUC Theatre"

Video Promo:

Description: Theatre happenings through out the years.
Song: An Angel Went Up in Flames

Audio Promo:

Producer & Narrator: Nermine Amer
SOT: Mahmoud El Lozy, AUC Theatre professor & Theatre Alumni, Class of '76
Music: Death is the Road to Awe, Clint Mansell

Have you ever wondered about the history of the AUC theater? Do you wanna know how the theatre world evolved? What inspired or moved generations of student actors across the years? Have you heard of the Howard Cafe? Wallace? Or the Maskers Club?

SOT: Mahmoud El Lozy

Visit my blog at to listen to the documentary on December 9.

Modern Dramatic Experimentalism (Part 3 of 3)

To read Part 1, follow this link:

To read Part 2, follow this link:

“Happy Days” on the other hand is exploring an experiment to find out on what basis human beings get confirmed on their senses and themselves. Beckett again presents a very complex yet important idea through a play that is strange and charming at the same time. The way it’s written is very creative; it absolutely puts you in the mood of the play right away. You are reminded of some truths that you might know but have managed to ignore. It’s a play that makes you agitated, frustrated and anxious. Its untraditional form makes you laugh at serious things (same thing in “The Skin of our Teeth”, you laugh at things like the ice age and Noah’s ark) and you cry at funny ones. This disorientation and anxiousness that the writer puts you in helps you reflect the truth of the human condition. That’s why I think Beckett wrote “Happy Days” in this experimental form.

"Wait for the happy day to come when flesh melts at so many degrees and the night of the moon has so many hundred hours.” Winnie said (Happy Days)

This quote shows how Winnie is a psychologically complex person, she contradicts herself. She’s showing her eagerness and impatience towards death but at the same time she desires a life that never ends. I think everyone is full of contradictions just like Winnie; the family in “Six Characters in Search of an Author” constantly contradict themselves too. Her wish to die reveals a truth that she hides from herself and the idea that life is nothing but empty hours is disturbing. She seems very optimistic about life most of the time and she thinks everyday no matter what happened is a happy day yet she hopes to end life. This shows that the inward truth (Winnie’s truth) is very different from the outward appearance.

“Something of this is being heard, I am not merely talking to myself, that is in the wilderness, a thing I could never bear to do – for any length of time. (Pause.) That is what enables me to go on, go on talking that is. (Pause.) Whereas if you were to die – (smile) – to speak in the old style – (smile off) – or go away and leave me, then what would I do, what could I do, all day long, I mean between the bell for waking and the bell for sleep? (Pause.) Simply gaze before me with compressed lips” (Winnie)

The physicality of the character shows how helpless she is (She’s buried to her waist in Act I and to her neck in Act II). If you look at the details of this play you won’t understand it because it is in fact meaningless but if you look at it as a whole you’ll get what it’s about.

The central character “Winnie” too breaks one of the conventions of theatre (the actors are suppose to pretend they can’t see through the “fourth wall”) where at some point in the play talks about the audience’s reaction to the play.
“What’s she doing? he says – What’s the idea? he says – stuck up to her diddies in the bleeding ground – coarse fellow -What’s it meant to mean? … And you, she says, what’s the idea of you, she says, what are you meant to mean?...Why doesn’t he dig her out? he says – referring to you, my dear – What good is she to him like that? – What good is he to her like that? – and so on – usual tosh –…”, Winnie said (Happy Days).

Beckett invites us to watch Winnie’s life day by day, see how boring and monotonous it is, how she deals with it all, how each day is a happy day to her. He wants us to examine our own lives and consider them as “happy days”; he wants us to look at happiness as a concept, look at our every-day behaviors and think about the end of our life.

From my point of view, modern dramatic experimentalism originates from the need to express new methods of responsiveness. All the themes in experimental plays are “presented” because almost all the characters in these plays give the illusion that they are part of it (an illusion of reality) when they are not and they break the fourth wall a lot. The playwriting technique of the plays is very different. They have shorter lines, unfinished phrases and a very domestic language to it. All of them have the idea of “A play within a play” or “A play about a play” which is very untraditional. The aim of plays is not to expand the public appeal anymore; it just needs a “gifted” audience according to Ortego y Gasset. 

“A man likes a play when he has become interested in the human destinies presented to him, when the love and hatred, the joys and sorrows of the personages so move his heart that he participates in it all as though it were happening in real life”.

What amazed me the most is that the authors of these plays managed to present the stories or situations they have in their plays in a very truthful way that engages the audience’s attention and interest yet you can’t call any of these plays realistic. The authors didn’t try to make the illusion that these imaginary characters are like living persons. You are always reminded that you are watching a play. Even though you know none of this is true, the play takes hold of you nonetheless, challenges your mind, broadens your imagination and thoughts, makes you examine your life…etc. It’s as if you are a character yourself and I think that’s the beauty of it.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Modern Dramatic Experimentalism (Part 2 of 3)

To read Part 1, follow the link:

In “Six Characters in Search of an Author”, Pirandello is writing about ‘a play within a play’, the idea itself is odd and is unconventional so that the oddness is not only in how it’s presented. The absence of the author throughout the whole play and not at all appearing at any point (unlike the characters) makes the audience wonder what the author’s aim is and what’s he intending. It forces the audience to think about the author to the extent that the author almost haunts the characters, the actors, stage manager and even the audience.

“Ridiculous? Ridiculous? Is it my fault if France won't send us any snore good comedies, and we are reduced to putting on Pirandello's works, where nobody understands anything, and where the author plays the fool with us all?”, The Stage Manager said (Six Characters in Search of an Author).

There’s also a very interesting part in the play where the Father ponders upon the act that defines him as a character (i.e. the reality of his character). 

“We have this illusion of being one person for all, of having a personality that is unique in all our acts. But it isn't true. We perceive this when, tragically perhaps, in something we do, we are as it were, suspended, caught up in the air on a kind of hook. We perceive that all of us was not in that act, and that it would be an atrocious injustice to judge us by that action alone, as if all our existence were summed up in that one deed”, the Father said (Six Characters in Search of an Author).

The idea of the play is so eccentric that one can’t think of any other way this idea could have been presented. The idea conveyed is mainly that the theatre (being a medium of story-telling that captures our imaginations) is at the end of the day limited and can’t tell you the whole truth; it also raises such important questions as how to define human existence. I suppose Pirandello decided to write in an experimental form and defied conventional logic because this way is the only creative and interesting way to provoke people to think about serious matters in life like reality and delusion and the nature of the theatrical world itself. Pirandello presents characters that aren’t fully developed; he intentionally does that to highlight certain characters so that the audience knows that the key roles are the Father and the Step daughter because these are the two who have different stories (i.e. we don’t know the truth). Just like Beckett, Pirandello too isn’t trusting “meaning”; he breaks down the possibility of meaning itself, he rather concentrates on the bigger picture (the enactment of it). The dysfunctional family we see in “Six Characters in Search of an Author” is rejecting any schemes as to how the play could move forward and yet they need some sort of closure to their story thus contradicting themselves.


Naguib Mahfouz's "The Thief & The Dogs" - Movie Summary

Although The Thief and the Dogs is a very famous movie written by Naguib Mahfouz, it was the first time for me to watch it. I really liked the story and how it represented a human’s experience living in Modern Egypt/the life in the late 19th century. The story has a very depressing, tragic and gloomy tone to it. It has a very strange style to it as it has a lot of flashback and forwards that shows the viewer the exact stream of consciousness and thought that the center character goes through, which was very interesting and intriguing. At the beginning, it shows how life in prison is difficult, depressing and filled with suffering that is completely torturing and disturbing to one’s mind and feelings. 

The story begins with Sa’eed Mahraan (the central character), who has just been released from prison where he stayed two years because he was caught stealing. He is filled with extreme hatred and insists on taking revenge on and confronting his ex-wife and her husband Ilaash (who was his former employee) who betrayed him and told the police to arrest him. They completely ruined his life; his hatred grew more and more each day especially when his daughter didn’t recognize him and was scared of him. When Sa’eed sees the success of one of his old partner and mentor, Raouf Ilwan (who as a journalist, uses Sa’eed’s crimes in writing successful stories to help the police investigators capture him), he can’t help but hating him too and avenge him. He is very driven by what is happening around him to the extent that he no longer thinks wisely. Even when later he is given the opportunities to change and live a happy settled life, he doesn’t take them and ignores them. He accuses everyone around him (society) and claims that they are guilty of leading him to who he is now and that he shouldn’t be blamed at all. This makes the likelihood of him changing almost impossible. 

Even though he resisted the authorities till the very end, he was killed by the police. Sa’eed is a very lost person, he only finds satisfaction when he gets what he desires and even then he never finds emotional peace. In this story, Naguib Mahfouz was trying to investigate the frustrations and discontents in the failure of that time’s revolution to bring real justice and change. He wrote a story with interesting characters in a way that makes anyone relate to their dilemmas, their obsessions and their aggravations. It’s a story of a man who has lived his life in pain and greatly bent on self destruction. I enjoyed the movie very much and I feel very eager to read the story and see Mahfouz’s written description of every little detail that adds so much meaning to the story.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Listening Journal #4: Long Form Documentary #2 - The Trouble with Hubble Bubble

Producer: Nicola Humphries

Series Producer: Perminder Khatkar

Narrator: Connie Hark

Title: The Trouble with Hubble Bubble

Length: 24 min. 17 sec.

Link to the documentary:

The documentary is about the harmful effects of shisha (hookah/water pipe) on one’s health and how a great amount of people is unaware of the fact that shisha is actually worse than cigarettes. Some of them are aware of the health risks but do not take it as seriously as they should.

What’s most interesting about the documentary is the use of background music that really fits the story. Shisha mainly comes from the Middle East/Asia and the use of Middle Eastern/Asian music really adds to the story. It was not distracting and made the documentary more interesting and unique. The choice of the songs was very good. How the music fades in and out is very well done. The documentary is also very informative and the great amount of research done to produce such a piece is very apparent. There was a good variety of different and diverse people interviewed, from health experts, shisha users, doctors…etc.

The quality of the narrator’s voice and the sound bites are very good. The background music does not overshadow the narration at all which was very well done.

I like how elaborate the documentary is and I believe the length of the documentary was fine. 

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Modern Dramatic Experimentalism (Part 1 of 3)

Plays like “The Skin of our Teeth”, “Six Characters in Search of an Author” and
“Happy Days” are plays that are very experimental and do not have the traditional form that the majority of people are accustomed to. The authors of these plays chose to write in this particular fashion for a reason. They broke the dominant conventions of form, structure and character development, yet these plays turned out to be very successful. “The Skin of our teeth” for example won a Pulitzer Prize.

I believe that the authors were trying a different approach, an approach that is more direct and more creative; they were looking for different means of expression. They shape the plays in a way that forces you to live the play with the characters and/or actors, to feel a certain way and to provoke the audience’s views to be driven to a particular direction.

Picture below is from: The Skin of Our Teeth

In the “Skin of our teeth”, characters tend to break the fourth wall over and over again and talk directly to the audience.

“I hate this play, and I don't understand a word of it” (Sabina).

Even though the play is not realistic at all (in terms of what exactly is happening), it has a very profound idealistic content.

"My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither but just enjoy your ice cream while it's on your plate--that's my philosophy" (Sabina).

The play has a certain complexity to it but Thornton Wilder made sure his themes and motives were very clear to the audience.

“Oh, I've never forgotten for long at a time that living is struggle. I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor edge of danger and must be fought for—whether it's a field, or a home, or a country"(Mr. Antrobus).

His ‘absurd’ style is unique because it was all in how he presented his themes; his themes were presented in a very interesting and funny way that creates an enjoyable performance. There was a part in the play were the audience are forced to help the actors “save the human race” by bringing chairs from the auditorium to burn in the fire place. This is a very creative way to force audience to participate and by this you are making them feel a certain way and by doing so, you are making them directly feel what’s happening, and even change their beliefs and views in regards to the issue you’re addressing in your play. Here is when the author achieves the aim of his experimental play.


An Overshadowed City

Converting extra rice straw into fertilizer, instead of simply burning it off could be the solution to a problem that has haunted and plagued the residents of Cairo for almost a decade now, the “black cloud” descends and covers the city during the otherwise nice months of October and November.

The Ministry of Environment said it has made progress in reducing the black cloud. Mohamed Abdel Razak, environmentalist and observer, says that the ministry is doing the best they can do to solve the problem.

ABDEL RAZAK: “They are doing a lot of effort to solve the problem as soon as possible. I think they have already made progress. The cloud appeared only 40 hours this year compared to 190 hours last year, which shows that they are active about this. Ending this completely will take some time.” (:19)

Hundreds of thousands of farmers burn the surplus of their rice stubble following harvest in preparation for a fresh farming season. The government claims that they’re making efforts - some say unsatisfactory efforts - to tackle the problem.

People in the streets have had enough of inhaling the fumes that the burning produces. Sara Atef, a 25-year-old pharmacist complains of having breathing problems and says there’s a lot of action yet to be taken for the problem to be solved.

ATEF: “Reducing rice-staw is not enough, the government should do more because it’s a combination of things that make this a bigger problem… like pollution for instance, air pollution, fumes from cars and buses on the streets, these things make it harder for people to breath and to go about their daily lives, so I think they should tackle the problems, all at once” (:33)

Even though the ministry of environment is saying that they are doing the best they can to reduce and eventually stop the black cloud, Cairo residents are asking for more effort to be done, some still believe it’s getting worse and worse each day.

Nermine Amer, AUC News.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's the Human in You

I believe in defending and fighting for the voice-less. Animals are part of Mother Nature and they deserve to be fought for. All over the world, there’s a lot of animal suffering that often goes unseen and unheard of. In Egypt, the number one cause of animal suffering is negligence. I believe negligence is a form of abuse. When I get really mad about people here not treating animals right or are not showing any sympathy towards them, people tell me it’s because they are just uneducated about the matter. I don’t understand this reason. It’s something you’re born with. It’s the human inside of you. A dog deserves a happy life in a warm place instead of wandering the cold streets; a cow deserves to be free in a land to walk through instead of stuck in a cage all day. What’s so hard to understand?

It breaks my heart walking in the streets everyday seeing how these cats and dogs are hopeless, alone with no sense of a home. Thinking about the fact that they will probably die soon if left in these conditions greatly saddens me. I walk down the streets of barking dogs, some furious, some look depressed and cats looking for anything to eat in trash bins, I know something is wrong. I make it a point to stop and feed some of those helpless cats and dogs and I’m angered by the way people look at me while I’m doing that. Some think I’m spoilt to have the time and money to feed cats and dogs in the streets, some just stand there laughing at me… I bet they’re calling me “the crazy cat lady”. It’s sad, and I don’t understand it. I don’t do it for fun, I feel I have an obligation to stop and feed these animals, take care of them, and do whatever I can to help because if I don’t, I know I won’t be able to sleep at night. Sometimes I feel I want to take them all home with me but I have four cats already, all rescued, all very territorial and I know I can’t afford taking care of more than four cats.

When I pass by a pet shop and see those helpless little animals in cages waiting for someone to take them, all I can think of is that for many, if not all of these animals, a cage that they can barely fit in with food and water is all they know. I believe no living thing deserves to be treated this way. I know I am not an animal fanatic; I’m a person who loves animals. Animals are such a crucial part of our natural environment. I strongly believe in helping animals and bettering their lives.

Epic Theatre Vs. Aristotelian/Dramatic Theatre

Epic Theatre is a theatre movement in mid-20th century that is greatly linked to German playwright Bertolt Brecht who called it his modern theatre; it’s also known as Brechtian acting.

The goals of Epic Theatre are what make it so different. The main purpose of the play is to only present ideas and not to imitate reality. It encourages the audience to think and then make judgments and act. It clearly shows the audience an argument with its different viewpoints. Due to the fact that the audience is only an observer, he remains at an emotional distance from the action thus always aware that it is watching a play. It’s an enacting of reality and not reality itself. It should be able to change the human being because if the audience can be critical about what’s happening, it’ll be able to know its causes and effects and will be able to change it in their own real lives. Brecht deliberately used unrealistic techniques in set design, light and visuals to always remind the audience that this is not even close to reality and that they are watching a play. Brecht wanted actors to make a balance between “being” their characters and showing the audience that the character is “being played”. The actor must always remember that he is an actor and that he is only portraying the feelings and emotions of his character. Epic actors are only narrators and tools of representation. They narrate the events and do its actions only to make the audience understand the situation. For example, in A Man’s a Man, widow Begbick breaks the fourth wall and comes out of character and talks to the audience about Brecht which is a great example for narration. The character represents one individual and this individual represents all human kind. Brecht wanted to create productions that are entertaining and that provokes people to think and learn. An epic play consists of scenes that exist by its own and doesn’t connect to the scene before or after it. In A Man’s a Man, scenes can exist by their own (like scene 9).

Dramatic (Aristotelian) Theatre on the other hand is not the opposite of epic theatre but has different goals and techniques. Dramatic theatre treats its audience as passive and can not be reached except through their emotions. The dramatic stage fully embodies the plot/event. It fully involves the audience by putting them into the action thus endangering emotion in him. For example in The Skin of our Teeth, the audience are asked to get chairs from the auditorium to ‘save the human race’ by burning them to keep themselves warm. It makes the audience very involved in the play and what’s happening to the extent that it doesn’t give them a chance to look at the play from a distance and reflect. Scenes are linked to each other; in The Skin of our Teeth, scenes lead to each other. It presents you with the world as it is so the audience leaves the theatre believing that life is unchangeable and inevitable. Dramatic theatre allows the audience to see a representation of reality encouraging us to accept it without thinking so that’s why it gives you a sense of inevitability and fate. The audience identifies with the characters through terror and pity. Dramatic theatre’s illusion of representing the present event doesn’t encourage the audience’s reflection on what’s happening and on the themes presented.
According to Aristotle, to achieve unity of action and maintain its illusion, the dramatic play must consist of scenes that are linked to each other and that lead to each other leading to a climax of catharsis (evocation of intense fear and pity).

Brecht believed that theatre should not play with the audience’s feelings but should appeal and influence his reason/mind. It should encourage the audience to have a more critical attitude to what’s happening on stage. He wanted to reach ultimate objectivity from the audience’s side instead of identifying with the characters. This way the audience will learn the real truth about their society and world.

Brecht refuses to assume that the audience could only be reached through their emotion but through their minds so he doesn’t want the audience to relate to the characters and become emotionally involved with them (breaking empathy for characters) at all but make them think about their own life and this is where change will come. He did present feelings but he did that from a standpoint critical to the feeling.

Feelings and identifying with the characters affect the audience’s objectivity and reasoning. Brecht believes that the Aristotelian thought on feelings (The audience feels exactly what the character on stage feels) wears out the audience. Feelings alone are not enough for transformation and change; thought and reason are the keys.