Marwa Gabriel, is the founder of ‘Starz’, an acting workshop catering to professional and amateur actors in Egypt. With a degree in Broadcast Journalism and Theatre from the AUC she took off to California to pursue her Masters in screenwriting. Having done so she returned to her homeland with a new project that might develop the concept of acting in Egypt.
Her early beginnings were with Mohamed Hefzy, producer and founder of Film Clinic, until she began on her own. In December 2008 ‘Starz’ operated as a casting workshop before they ventured into coaching. “We coached Donia Samir Ghanem in ‘El Farah’ and the whole cast of ‘3ard Khas’ series by Hady El Bagoury”, Marwa tells us. “It is not essential to be a studied actor, but if they are not then they need to read, train and apply. It is important to insert what you learn into your system”, she adds.
At the beginning, Marwa faced many obstacles getting actors to realize that an acting coach is someone who should be available for every role the actor is offered, “Some actors today refuse to go to an acting workshop due to previous negative workshop experiences where they didn’t learn anything. Hollywood superstars like Al Pacino and Dustin Hoffman who are Oscar winners, have their own acting coach. When I first came from the US I couldn’t believe how people here never work with coaches. I met a famous Egyptian actor once and offered to coach him, he laughed cynically and said ‘coach? maybe because you lived abroad you don’t know me enough’. It’s really sad how people perceive coaching. It’s stupid. I’ve been fighting for four years to change the perception of coaching in Egypt and bit by bit I’m receiving positive results. In my own opinion, there are some actors, who will stick to their opinion and there are others who will give it a try.
When I first returned to Egypt four years ago, I approached an known actress and told her about my studies and experience abroad and asked her how about working together, she replied with ‘oh that’s nice’ and changed the subject. Today this very actress went to get coached abroad when she was selected by a foreign acting school amongst some actors and actresses in the Arab world. It’s something like our ‘foreigner complex’, if my name was Jane and I couldn’t speak Arabic people would approach me. That’s really how it works. I collaborate with Brad Pitt’s coach by the way, but because my name is Marwa and I know how to read and write in Arabic, it’s not good enough for them, I think they want a Joe!”, she laughs.
No matter how talented the actor is, he must be coached. “I think it’s a mixture of ego and ignorance together. If the actor is smart enough, he must know that each character he plays needs different coaching. We now go to the movies and are sure how the actor will perform as we’ve seen him giving the same performance and body language in each movie he has starred in. You may say I like the acting of actor X although ‘the acting’ must be different in each role he plays. If the American audience went to the movies and saw Brad Pitt in the same performance of another movie they’ll be totally disappointed. Khaled El Nabawy, for instance has been well trained in Russian for his role in “El Dealer” as well as Jack Nicholson in ‘Anger Management’ for his funny singing. That doesn’t mean that every actor must have great voice, it means ‘getting trained’; Meryl Streep was also trained for Mama-Mia the musical”.
So what’s coaching 101? “You don’t move the car unless you start the engine, and at the beginning of a workshop, you start the engine. There are many steps to a ladder and eventually the actor will reach his heights. There are people who come to the workshop and aren’t talented and there are others who have a certain charisma without professional acting techniques or talent but if they get trained properly the audience will feel their charismatic appearance. There are people who have looks that don’t appeal to the market at a certain time but could appeal to the audience after reaching middle age, for example. I like the person who just loves acting. These people are the ones who will work hard and give it a hundred percent of their effort. I want someone who would give all to acting, especially ‘the emotions’ which is the most important factor of all. If an actress says she will cry now, she must cry because of the reason the character in the script is crying for, but if she recalled a tragic incident in her real life and starts grieving over, this is very unprofessional. In the professional world of acting, if I cry over my lover who left me and recall the death of my aunt, the facial expressions won’t be any relevant. And the influences in your life are also responsible for your body language and emotions, starting from your childhood and how you were bred and grew up”, she explains.
As for character coaching, Marwa joins forces with the actors to get out the best of their performance, “If you’re playing a character who is a well known figure, you have to research their life, what are their characteristics; what have they been through to become them. Like a drug addict , you see different scenes from other addicts and the rest is from your imagination, but to do a public figure you have to copy his soul correctly, like Ahmed Zaky in El Sadat when Gihan El Sadat watched with tears in her eyes as if she saw the real Sadat”, Marwa adds.
For Marwa, coaching isn’t just on her wish list but also acting “I’m willing to act if I get a good role, a role that is really challenging for the actor. It’s much harder for me to select roles as I can’t keep on going over scripts here in the workshop or making auditions for ‘Starz’ that is known today in the field. I can’t approach today, people could approach me but I can’t”. Marwa is currently working with the coach of Brad Pitt, Charlize Thereon and Halle Berry.
Some people come to the workshop to be coached not just for cinematic dreams, but to benefit in real life. “There was this girl who worked in marketing, which requires presentation skills and she was very shy, so she wanted to learn acting to be able to stand in front of an audience to improve her presentation skills. The workshop makes you confident and you learn things about yourself to explore yourself, too. Another girl came to us before and she was so cold and when we asked her why she wanted to act she said that was because she wanted to be a TV presenter! That’s very weird and we don’t accept such applications”.