Kuwaiti playwright sees Gulf theatre needing greater freedom
CAIRO - Abdullah al-Aber is a theatre and television director, actor, playwright, teacher and critic. He heads the Directing and Acting Department at the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in Kuwait and has an active and distinguished presence in many local, Gulf and international theatre festivals.
Aber said we live in a globalised world that has produced an intertwined reality full of political inventions and artificial religious differences. Considering the rapid technological development and the expansion and widening influence of social media, it is difficult to analyse reality and foresee future trends, he said.
There is also the desire of some Arab authorities to keep theatre away from the public as part of efforts to restrict freedom of opinion through laws that limit theatre work in their countries, he said.
Aber pointed out that, since its inception, Kuwaiti theatre has been present at Arab and Gulf cultural events and this has led to its development and prosperity.
This is reflected locally as officials in charge of theatre in Kuwait created an atmosphere of competition and search for quality in theatrical works by instituting tough criteria for the selection of those to represent Kuwait in international theatre events.
Many theatrical troupes seek quality in their work despite limited resources so they can earn the attention of specialised juries that select the winning plays or shows, which reflects a desire to preserve the theatre industry in Kuwait.
Aber said the most prominent features of the Kuwaiti theatre are strong actors and directors, good scriptwriters and playwrights and the existence of many professionals in management and production.
He stressed the importance of the theatre festivals in the Gulf and Arab countries.
“I think that it is very important to have these festivals, whether at the local level or at the level of the Gulf and Arab countries combined,” he said. “The Gulf festivals have created their own features and specificities that are reflected in most of the plays performed.
“Every Gulf festival brings great local performances that are distinguished either by the dialect used or the heritage shown or by addressing social and political conditions that are common to all the participating countries.”
“Most of the time, when the state stops supporting the theatre financially, the sector suffers greatly and that contributes to undermining its freedoms and its work and despite the attention given by some rulers and officials interested in theatre, there are still many governments fighting theatre through their institutions, either as the result of ignorance or the result of fearing the enlightening power of theatre,” he said.
“We need more freedom in our Gulf theatres and to let self-censorship take up more space,” he said. “This does not mean leaving things completely unchecked but what is needed is more flexibility in laws and more theatres.
“Most of the existing theatres in the Gulf countries do not meet the needs of theatre professionals in terms of their number or equipment. There is a need for more theatres built according to specifications and conditions to suit the theatrical presentations, ideas and vision put forward by show makers.
“There exists already an excellent human potential but the theatre technologies and their use are still not available to many. Even if some states have built several top-quality theatres, these spaces remain unavailable except for specific occasions or events.”
Aber insisted that theatre in Gulf and Arab countries is in excellent condition and continues to progress and improve because of the opportunities for sharing experiences.
Audiences have not abandoned the theatre but have increased attendance and interaction. The best proof of that would be the number and diversity of the performances given, plus the many theatre festivals and workshops each year.
The main role in the sector, however, belongs to the theatre professionals. They are the ones who must decide on who the audience is and on how and when to interact with those in attendance. Then they must develop and renew their ideas and visions.
Neither wars nor terrorism nor conflicts have stopped the theatre. On the contrary, they have motivated it to expand and given it more issues to address and engage in a dialogue with society on them, while creating an aesthetic and artistic awareness and taste. The theatre provides audiences with opportunities to refine their tastes, become educated and take a breather from the pressure of wars and conflicts.