The second edition of the University Theater Festival (Our Youth on the Stage), organized by the Center for Theater Affairs of the Ministry of Culture and Sports and in which a number of university theater troupes will participate is to be launched next March in the North Atlantic College theater.
To further highlight this event from different perspectives in light of the ongoing controversy over the cancellation of the Youth Theater Festival, and the stance of some concerned with the theatre regarding the establishment of an alternative festival, (Al Sharq) attempted to gather on the dialogue table elements from both sides, i.e. from the University Theater Festival and elements of Non-university (public) theater. However, the first party answered the invitation represented in the administration supervising the university theater festival and the participating students, while those who were invited from the public theater apologized for not being able to accept our invitation due to their association with photographing Ramadan TV works, and other concerns….
Initially, artist Salah Al-Mulla, director of the Center for Theater Affairs said: The University Theater Festival is not limited to the youth category because there are those in the university who have passed the stage of university study. It is for that gave it that name. The idea is not new since the university theater have existed at the world level, and we mean theatrical works that are offered on campus. Most of the distinguished artists present in the field are graduates from the university, but their academic trends are different since for them acting, directing, and theater composition is a hobby.
He added: It is no secret that the future of nations depends upon this university student who will graduate and lead institutions. It is thus important for the student to graduate armed with many arts; theater is not limited to acting only, but there are other aspects too: literary, artistic, engineering, interior design, etc…..
He continued: In my opinion, the first experience was firm with strong foundations, and it was an unconventional start. To further develop the festival we held technical workshops in several aspects (writing, directing, and acting), and through follow-up and guidance we were able to obtain three distinct texts approved by the committee, and presented in The “Our Children on Stage” event.
Al-Mulla said: In the first edition of the University Theater Festival, we relied on some texts from outside the campus, but the directing was done by university students. This year, the decision was bold and might cause some problems, but we had to take it, which is that the writing of the texts should be done by university students, as well as directing, decoration and all elements of the theatrical performance, without of course dispensing with the texts of the professionals. There was in addition to that a follow-up from the Center for Theater Affairs through the technical workshop that we held on theatrical writing and that lasted for months. We got 6 texts written by university students, and this gives an impetus for young people to take responsibility after they have been given confidence. So far there are mentors who follow the work in terms of direction in order to avoid superficiality.
On whether the university theater is classified within the professional theater, Salah Al-Mulla said: We have not reached the professional stage because it is another different level that depends on the devotion of the creator in this field and his focus on theatrical work, but the university student who has talent in one of the elements of the theatrical show is studying a different specialization and theater is a side in which he develops his hobby and desire for this art. These university students practice theater as a hobby and out of love for theater. According to the Youth Theater Festival, all the young people who were presenting their work in the framework of this festival were meeting on this and other occasions, and they all belong to the existing theatrical troupes.
The important question that must be asked and answered by those who strongly criticize the efforts of the center: Who are the actors in the theatrical movement today? Are they not the youth, whether in the public troupes or in the private institutions?! The active actors in the Qatari theater today are young people, and all the work that has been presented on the Qatar National Theater in the past two seasons, 98% of its members are young people, and all those who won prizes this year except for two or three people are all young. So, the role of the youth is activated, but the university theater has its specificity, and I do not see any problems with young people who practice any activities related to the theater. Troupes exist, youth and cultural centers exist, and a young person can go to them and present ideas, and be a leader in these centers. He can start a theater troupe and every young man who finds it difficult to deal with his troupe must know that he has rights that he may demand from the board of directors, and can turn to the Theater Affairs Center and discuss these issues with us or the whole troupe may discuss them with us. In addition, we have recently finished preparing a law for the public theater troupes, and it has been presented to the theater troups, discussed with them, and approved through the boards of directors of these troupes, and the law will see the light during the coming period. This law will be accessible to all who belong to the theater troupes, and it is a law that defines rights and duties, and regulates the transitional process between the theater troupes, since there are chaos in what is practiced by some members and individuals against their troupes to which they belong.
For his part, young director Ibrahim Larry said: There is a difference between the public theater and the university theater. The University theater is limited to a group of students specializing in the field of theater or in other fields. We are a group of students of the Community College (Department of Performing Arts) we are considered specialized students, and there are students from some universities who are not specialized in the performing arts and have theater experiences but they are not as valuable as the experiences that we have undergone. The university theater creates a beautiful competition among a group of young people and this competition does not create hostilities, as once the festival ends, we remain friends.
Regarding whether he meant that there are enmities in the domestic theater, Ibrahim Larry said: I do not mean that, but the number of people that are active in the public theater is greater, and competition is more unlike the university theater that is limited to a small number of students, although the number is increasing in years Last. He further Added that: The University Theater Festival (our youth on the stage) has made for me a great addition since its first edition, and this is my point of view, because it allowed us to meet colleagues in different disciplines, but the love of theater unites us, and we have presented works in the youth forum and in the centers in the state. In addition to that I have gained more experience, and I became aware of what young people love and what alienates them, because when you are close to the university theater, you are more close to young people than dramatists who have a great experience in this field, because their taste differs from that of young people, and this helps us a lot so we know what young men like, and focus more on that.
In the same context, artist Salah Al-Mulla said: The aim of launching the University Theater Festival was to activate the theatrical movement in the university environment, and to be a building block for cohesion with society. At the theater, the artist strives and perseveres to confront the audience, and his concern is not limited to his university environment only, but rather focuses on society and this is the basis of the theatrical act.
During the past two years, there were young people coming out who may not be visible to the public, but with the days they will arrive. There are a lot of young people who started from the university theater and participated in presenting some theatrical works in some occasions and events that were held in the state, at the invitation of several institutions, which are, although they are simple works, but have immediate and future dimensions. We are happy that such young energies have exited to the society, and I am very optimistic about them, They would be the first source of support to the public troupes and even private institutions, and they may form a private institution to bring their business into the mind and conscience of the community after they gain experience.
As for actress Zainab Al-Ali, she said: Since we started practicing art, we knew that there was a children’s theater, a youth theater, and a professional theater. I agree with Mr. Salah Al Mulla that the establishment of a theatrical act stems from the university, but in terms of competition I do not think that the university theater can compete with the youth theater or the stage of professionals except after years of work, experience and training. She added: there may be real competition.
Salah al-Mulla added: I want to correct a mistake, which is that the university theater was not created in order to compete with the youth theater or the professional one.” But the dramatists who see this have to challenge themselves. University theater started two years ago, and those who criticize this form of theater are the ones who look at the private sector. The university environment is scientific and the talents within it have their own aspirations and goals, and I do not think that they are looking to compete with the private theater. We look forward to a theater that reaches people’s hearts.
Al-Mulla pointed out that creating a star at the theater is a very difficult process because theater arts depend in a fundamental aspect of it on talent without which it cannot influence the recipient or deliver the message, but talent alone is also not sufficient in the absence of awareness, knowledge and culture because these elements are that allows the actor to be keen on every word and every move he presents on stage.
In that regard, Dr. Hassan Rashid asked the Director of the Center for Theater Affairs, saying: “Through following what is happening inside theater groups, is there a new generation in the Qatar Theater Company as well as the Doha Theater Company, with due respect to all groups?
To this Mr. Al-Mulla replied, saying: “There is definitely a new generation, and at the Center for Theater affairs, we make it our mission to activate the theater movement, whether through school, university or different theatrical activities. There is a number of young talents inside the two groups you are asking about, however, we do not want theater artists to be divided into youth groups and adult groups. So, I think that soon we will witness university young people, who are the product of the University Theater Festival, as they are joining these groups and, in doing so, activating the theater movement.
Dr. Rashid interrupted, with regard to the same point, saying “when I wrote an article about the theatrical work “the Tree Barber”, directed by Ibrahim Larri, I received criticism on why I am writing about this show; I simply answered: “I saw the show and liked it. Whoever disagrees with me should go and write an article criticizing this type of theater shows. But I will not stop writing because it is my role and it is my duty to play this role. I watch shows and write about them. Now, I am asking about young people, where are they inside the two groups I mentioned earlier.
He added that one day, Hassan Hussein Al-Jaber established a center that produced a number of talented young people, such as Fahad Al-Baker, Ahmed Al-Moftah, Faisal Rashid and others. However, as this group had dispersed and university theater had declined, the youth element became absent in some theater groups.
On his part, Mr. Al-Mulla added that all youth centers in Al-khor, Al-Wakrah, Doha, and Umm Salal must include young people in all events organized inside the State, especially theater events, and perhaps lack or non-activation of a mechanism inside these centers that would play such part has a negative impact. However, we, at the Center for theater Affairs, are engaged in a dialogue with the Youth affairs Department at the Ministry of Culture and Sports for the purpose of establishing a theater movement in these centers. Any young person can join these centers, form a group and present their ideas, and we are ready to organize this process and provide support to anyone who desires to practice a theater activity inside these centers. Today, we have the theater season, school theater and university theater; and I feel optimistic about university theater, which I think will be a significant support to Qatari theater.
He continued that all participants in recent theatrical performances were young people. Qatar Theater Company presented one show off season where artists from different generations participated and there was strong presence from young artists. The same happened with Doha Theater company, Al Watan theater Group and private theater companies. These young artists move from community theater performances to private theater performances. It seems that the problem is not the existence of young people in this or that group, rather, it is the lack of desire to perform or existence of certain circumstances that keep young people from joining these groups and participating in theater activities. There are many young talents. However, many of them are more interested in art and music, etc., while theater is less attractive to them. We have not been able to reach people’s conscience and make them appreciate theater as a form of art worth practicing. This is a fact, however, let’s try together to change this fact. We will do this together, representing State institutions, community groups and artists in general who do not belong to any organization.
He continued saying that six plays are participating in the University Theater Festival this year, including three plays produced by Qatari youth and the other three are produced in collaboration with Qatari and non-Qatari artists, as Qatar is an incubator for students from all over the world.
In a question about criticisms that were addressed to the first edition of the festival because of lack of attendance, Mr. Al-Mulla said that the first University theater Festival was organized at the College of the North Atlantic, i.e. inside the campus. the audience of the performances were university students. He explained that this year the quality and strength of the productions will be the attracting factor for the audience.
He added that we were against working only for the festival, meaning that theatrical performances would not be limited to a period not exceeding ten days, which was a reason for absence of audience. This time we are determined not to repeat this mistake again. But we must train and develop these university artists for only two years, then theater shows must continue for all year long, even if it was limited to two or three theater works. I hope, after they are more sophisticated and satisfying, university works that are produced by young artists will be performed in the new theater season at the stage of Qatar National Theater
For her part, young writer Maryam Al-Maliki said: “I thank the management of the Center for Theater Affairs for giving us the opportunity as young talents to refine our talents, whether in theater writing, acting or directing, I personally was able to develop myself and became familiar with writing tools. Thank Allah, I participated in the school theater with a play, and currently I am participating in the University Theater Festival with another play that I wish will be liked by the audience.” Ms. Al-Maliki added that she is very interested in developing herself in writing for the theater by participating in theater workshops as well as reading a lot.