Sitara English Theatre & Art Workshops: Imaginative Edutainment Enterprise in Cairo
Inspired by her own children, British-born Emma Davies started out visiting local schools, offering classroom-based drama activities. Since being inspired to start up her own theatre in 2008, Emma has accomplished her dream of bringing English pantomime to the children of Egypt. Situated in the basement of a residential building in New Cairo, Sitara Theatre boasts a small stage and bench seating for around 100 children. Usually catering for schools and large groups, the productions are occasionally opened to the public, along with a variety of performing arts based educational workshops.
Acted out by a small cast of three talented actresses, classic fairytales are brought back to life on Sitara Theatre’s stage. Amongst numerous others, previous shows include childhood favourites such as The Little Mermaid, Snow White, Jack and the Beanstalk and Hansel and Gretel. Although all the shows are performed in English, the familiar stories, combined with show-stopping visuals, ensure that the plays can be enjoyed by all.
Changing the productions just twice a year, the coming show is a modern adaption of Beauty and the Beast. The lively acting, singing and dancing captures the audience and demands their attention. All the roles are played by women; the curator herself, Emma Davies, along with Wessam Hanafy and Weam Essam. Quick changes of elaborate costumes and accents are employed to disguise the small cast and keep the magic alive throughout. Several well-known songs serve as sing-a-longs during the play; from Bruno Mars’ ‘When I Was Your Man’ to Frankie Valli’s, classic ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’, which are humorously adapted to include a few beastly howls and the like.
In the popular Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, the patrons of the Beast’s castle are transformed into talking objects, whereas Sitara’s story imaginatively replaces the curse with a hairy alternative; all characters have incredibly bushy faces. The acting is both energetic and highly amusing for adults and children alike, whilst the costumes are vibrant to ensure that the characters are easily distinguishable.
To help act out this story, children are picked from the audience at regular intervals to play the part of Beauty, which is a unique and fun way of encouraging audience participation. Alongside this, by using multiple different backdrops, shadow puppets and recorded narratives, the production is particularly dynamic, with the aim of encapsulating the imaginations of every member of the audience. All of the impressive masks – complete with extra-hairy side burns – colourful scenery, larger-than-life props and beautiful, hand-drawn posters are lovingly designed by team member and artist, John Barber.
The villa next door is home to the Sitara workshops where smaller groups of children watch a short performance, join a group discussion and complete a performing arts workshop, before devising their own show; all in an hour and a half. Tailored to the school curriculum, and suitable for children between the ages of 3 and 15 years, previous workshops have focused on shadow puppets and science, creative writing styles present in Roald Dahl’s book The Twits and for older children, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The newest workshop will be based on the American children’s book The Great Kapok Tree and will focus on saving the environment and ‘going green’; an issue which is particularly relevant in Cairo, and around the world, today.
Both the Sitara Theatre group and Sitara Workshops provide truly unique, magical entertainment for children; spreading the gift of imagination like nothing we’ve seen before in Egypt.
For schools that attend the shows, the Sitara group provides teachers with a pack of classroom ideas to help create lessons relevant to the show, as well as a CD of photos taken throughout the experience. Public shows and workshops have previously been performed in Diwan branches, as well as in the North Coast recently. To stay up-to-date with public performance dates, people are invited to add themselves to Sitara’s mailing list by becoming ‘friends of Sitara’. Their enchanting production of Beauty and the Beast opens on the 28th of September. For more information on the Sitara group, click here.