Their dreams, their fears and their expectations
Tahrir Monologues is an authentic account of personal tales of the revolution. Although we are monologue virgins in Egypt, Tahrir Monologues rocked the stages by narrating the 18 days of mixed emotions, optimism and everlasting triumph in a theatrical performance in which real people tell their real stories that took place amid the revolution.
From rehearsing in a school’s playground to meeting up around the clock with coffee and Ginseng pills to help them stay energized, the team behind TM tries constantly to come up with ideas for each monologue. Sondos Shabayek (Founder/Director), Mariam El Queissny (Set Designer), Ahmed Selim (Executive Producer), Karim Ebeida (Assistant Director), Manal El Shazly (Project Co-ordinator) and Riham El Tahawy (Member of Directing Team) met with us in a semi-furnished apartment in Mohandessin, where one of the team used to live and they explained to us their situation of hunting for a location every time their brainwaves get cooked.
This must sound like a police investigation, but could you tell us where were you on the 25th of January?
Manal: I pretended to go and buy something from the supermarket and as I reached El Galaa Square, I heard voices coming from Tahrir so I returned home, wrote a Facebook status that said that I’m hearing a revolution from where I stand, then I got some bad comments regarding what I said. Of course no one believed the real picture until we all saw it.
Sondos: I went to Tahrir. I was very excited the situation had a great effect on me.
Karim: Before the revolution, I used to watch a lot of political events without anything huge ever taking place. Khaled Said’s issue and related political situations in Egypt were happening but nothing as serious as a revolution took place before, so I started to watch closely bit by bit but I didn’t go to Tahrir on the first day.
Selim: I was in my studio watching a movie and I was following up the events via phone. On the 26th I found out that it’s getting serious, on the 27th it was really serious, and on the 28th it was seriously a revolution (laughs).
Riham: I woke up to find my friends telling me that there are 50,000 people in Tahrir. Of course this is not a number that would start up a revolution, but I went there and met with people who then became members of TM.
Before the revolution, every one of us wanted to revolt against something in their personal lives so what did you guys want to revolt against?
Manal: I used to hide under covers whenever I had a problem. I ignored my problems; let’s say I was a fragile creature before the revolution.
Sondos: The concept of having a respectable job and worrying about the future created a huge obstacle for me as I couldn’t do what I liked. Yes I worked in a reputable place and I liked it a lot but I wanted to quit my full time job and work as a freelancer doing other things I liked but it was too risky. I spent two years working at the office and thinking of quitting every day although I liked the place so much. What stopped me was the fact that the society around us doesn’t get the whole “freelance” thing. A couple of weeks ago, I went to the embassy to get a visa and when I told the official that I work as a freelancer she erupted into laughs! A freelancer isn’t considered a job here, but a job at an office with a good pay is.
Karim: The revolution proved that anyone who wanted to go for anything in their lives can simply go for it. As a filmmaker in the making, I needed people to believe in what I do just to provide me with the motive to continue.
Selim: Before the revolution, I was looking for a life changing experience. Every day was similar to the following day so I quit my job and I decided to see what life has to offer, and then I found out that it’s not offering anything new.
TM proved to be a great success as the performance is always fully booked; do you think we are starting to attain the monologue culture?
Sondos: I don’t think so. 200 out of 80 million attended TM. The same audience who goes to Sawy Cultural Wheel and Rawabet Theatre are the ones who attended. When we went to perform in Menya, families with their kids came to watch and some people were mocking us and that wasn’t a surprise. I think the perfect scenario is we should always have something that speaks the language of the people to have more people watching.
Selim: I think that the whole art scene in Egypt consists of just a few thousands. When you go to TM, you’ll see familiar faces, it’s always the same community. We should be moving much more as a team and the audience should be moving as well and not just the governmental cultural institutions. We already had a few performances in famous bookstores and venues so that we could reach out to a varied audience.
Manal: The good news is that we are having a performance in El Zabaleen district and by that we will be stretching out to a different audience.
Are you facing any obstacles regarding censorship?
Sondos: I want to point out first that after the revolution very few performances go under censorship. I’m not talking about governmental censorship; I’m talking about the censorship practice by venues. In theatre, they’re not taking censorship very much into consideration but there were some venues who asked us for the script to give us the permission to perform. We don’t have to give anyone the script and as for the Cultural Wheel, we didn’t ask them because we already know from a past experience with them that they censor the script so we decided to stick with certain venues.
Manal: The stories of the people have some phrases in which they swear, for example, some people said that they were detained by a police officer who kept on swearing at them, so bad language, swears and insults happen to be in the script but we want it there to prove that we aren’t making all this up and the stories are 100% credible.
A lot of films, books and other projects came to light after the revolution. On the other hand, there were lots of them that showed how much the makers are jumping on the bandwagon, why do you think your project isn’t one of them?
Selim: The only proof that we aren’t jumping on the bandwagon is that we have been working on this project for 8 months without getting any profit out of it. I think that by next year you’ll be able to know who was jumping on the bandwagon and who’s not. Everyone came out together but who will complete the path are the people with a much longer breath.
Manal: We didn’t write our own script, the whole project is based on the real stories by real Egyptians and that’s enough proof that we’re not jumping on the bandwagon.
How do you give an artistic side to the monologues?
Selim: Mainly the music, painted signs and the story telling technique creates the artistic side of the performances. The music is played live in parallel to the performance so it gives a certain feel according to the improvisation of the performer. The lighting also adds a special effect to the performance. The audience relates to the stories told as they recall their situation in the 18 days of Tahrir be it at home watching from the couch or in the Square witnessing ‘The Battle of the Camels’.
Manal: People go for a ride through the 18 days of the revolution and they are always eager to watch what will happen in the next performance and the one following it, this blended eagerness to create an artistic side to the performance.
*We want to thank TM team for their deep honesty and courage. If you want to be part of TM performances, send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org and they will call you back to manage the details.