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Egyptian theatre, ancient history and endless creativity


"Theatre is a mirror, a sharp reflection of society. "The greatest playwrights are moralists" and " In the theatre, the actor is given immediate feedback" that is how famous playwrights described theatre art.




Theatre generally is known by its special nature that purely depends on the actors' creativity, wit, concentration and spontaneity all together. If the actor missed one of these skills, the whole work could fail. The theatrical work also needs a strong script, creative director, inspiring decoration, and suitable lightening to highlight the actors' performance and costumes.


12 Pharaonic plays marks the Egyptian Theatre

As for the beginnings of theatre art, it is said that theatre art emerged in Ancient Greece. However, recent studies revealed that Ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to ever perform shows publicly according to the discovered documents. The documents were 12 scripted plays dating from middle ages until the Persian era in Egypt. The scripts were mostly inspired by the Pharaonic Mythology. Moreover, they were characterized by its diversity in texts, as they dealt with story-telling dramatic performances in addition to religious rituals ceremonies and moral lessons.




Some performances were on the streets. Meanwhile, religious plays were often performed in temples. Most of these plays were in prose, but only three of them were in verse. Some examples of theses scripts are "Isis and the seven scorpions" and " the triumph of Horus". All the texts included instructions for the actors and actresses on how to act on the stage. 

Egypt's palaces, home to Ancient Greek theatre performances
Ancient Greek theatre emerged in Egypt, particularly in Alexandria during the Greco-Roman period in Egypt. The plays were usually performed at Ptolemaic princes' palaces until Roman-style theatres started to be built in Egypt like the Roman Theatre. The Roman Theatre was discovered in 1964 in Alexandria city, and it is considered one of the most famous monuments in Egypt. At that time, theatres were usually the venue for art and musical performances.

Mamluk Egypt and shadow play art

It is widely known that Egypt has encountered many civilizations influenced and enriched its culture.  One of which is the art of shadow play that became popular in Egypt during the Mamluk era. Shadow play art appeared in the Caucasus countries, and it is a unique type of theatrical entertainment performed with puppets. Shadow plays' performances generally introduce short stories that include music and verses of poetry.
Street performances throughout Cairo
During the French Campaign in Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte established a theatre for entertaining his soldiers, and it mostly introduced comedian plays in French. Then after the French campaign left Egypt, the theatre activities stopped. Then in 1869, Khedive Ismail built khedivial Opera House in Attaba Square.  On the inauguration day, the Opera House presented the Famous "Rigoletto Opera" performance on the occasion of Suez Canal inauguration. A few years later, the Egyptian opera "Aida" performance was presented to the audience who didn't accept this new kind of art. In the late 19th century, theatre art started to be popular among Egyptians. As Egyptians became familiar with theatre art, another form of storytelling performances called public theatre started to spread throughout Cairo's streets. This kind of art involved a group of performers, who wandered the streets aiming at amusing the public.
Opera Art and George Abyad masterpieces

In the earliest of the 20th century, famous Lebanese artist George Abyad took responsibility to establish Drama theatre, but he ended up with musical theatre.  Moreover, many famous singers and artists took part in his plays, such as Salma Higazy and Sayed Darwish. Another prominent artist who also joined theatre was Youssef Wahbi, and he had a great role in dramatic theatre through his successful works.  On the other hand, Egyptian actors like Nagib El-Rihany and Ali El-Kassar introduced Egyptian comedian shows that encouraged Egyptians to call for an Egyptian national theatre.      


The National Theatre… a new spirit in theatre

In 1928, the famous writer Tawfiq El-Hakim and poet Ahmed Shawqi contributed to the theatre's evolution in Egypt through their creative works.  But for a while, most of the Egyptian theatre pioneers showed more interest in the movie business. However, theatre art has proven its popularity through its special element involving the direct interaction between the actors and audience, especially after establishing the Higher Institute of theatre art in 1944. It helped to produce a new generation of theatre's students who took responsibility to change the society's perspective of theatre. Finally, in 1952 the State started to pay attention to the theatre by establishing the first Egyptian National Theatre leading to a major development in theatre and all its elements.  In the nineties, Egypt witnessed a rise in comedy theatre producing many plays engraved on Egyptians' memory like "Sayedati Al Gamela" and " sok Ala Banatk" by Fouad el-Mohandes, " Al Motzawgon "  by Mohamed Sobhi and many others.