Feature: Egypt's iconic puppet theater takes kids on journey through Pharaonic times
by Mahmoud Fouly
CAIRO, June 11 (Xinhua) -- In a dark atmosphere backstage with dim bluish light in the background, shapes of the Sphinx and the three Great Pyramids of Egypt were put in place as the setting, while marionettists were preparing their colorful string puppets, including many in ancient Egyptian costumes.
The time was ticking at Cairo Puppet Theater, the curtain was about to be raised and everyone was in a hurry minutes before the show. But on the other side of the curtain, the audience, mostly children with their parents, were relaxing in their seats and waiting to embark on a "Journey Through Beautiful Time."
The opening marionette scene starts with the Sphinx speaking to two children, a brother and his sister, and offering them a very special gift, which is to take them on a journey through Pharaonic times to learn about the achievements of their ancestors.
"The show is my idea. I have always wanted to present a show on the Pharaonic civilization which is rare in puppetry, via a journey exploring the Pharaonic world where the audience learn about ancient agriculture, mummification, papyrus and many other things," said Mohamed Nour, general manager of Cairo Puppet Theater and director of the show.
Nour told Xinhua that Cairo Puppet Theater, which belongs to the Egyptian Ministry of Culture, was built in 1963. "It is also the birthplace of the marionette masterpiece El Leila El Kebira (The Big Night), an iconic puppet operetta in Egypt, the Arab world and the Middle East."
He noted that he used a new technique in "Journey Through Beautiful Time," in which the movement of marionettes is not limited to a 240-centimeter-wide booth but they move freely all around the 10-meter-wide stage.
The storytelling took the audience from a Pharaonic scene to another, with a setting consisting of three columns near a wall in each side of the stage as the background of ancient royal parades, each introducing an Egyptian king and his achievement.
From the smiles on the faces and sometimes the laughs, children and their parents seemed to have been enjoying the performance, although only 50 percent of the theater's 320 seats were occupied in accordance with the anti-COVID-19 precautionary measures.
"It is funny, interesting and informative. I liked the part when the Sphinx was speaking to the two kids," 11-year-old girl Mariam Ahmed said during the break.
Her father Ahmed Abdel-Fattah, an engineer, said that the moving puppets with their colors and accompanying songs and music attract the children and pass useful information to them in a funny and amusing way.
"This is not our first time to come here with the family. The Puppet Theater is really able to teach the children about the Egyptian civilization, heritage and history. It is really successful," the Egyptian man added.
As for marionettist Mohamed Shabrawy, 40, he said that he has been working for Cairo Puppet Theater for 15 years, noting that string puppets is the most difficult type of puppetry and that presenting a Pharaonic show makes it even harder.
"After the first minute of the show, children and even adults forget about the strings and live with the marionettes as if they were alive," the puppeteer told Xinhua.
Cairo Puppet Theater joined international festivals and presented performances in many parts of the world, including most Arab states, Romania, Canada, France, Germany, Austria, Vietnam, Pakistan, Mexico, the United States and China.
Located near Egypt's overcrowded Ataba marketplace in downtown Cairo, the theater has its own workshops for making puppets from A to Z.
In the carpentry section, puppet maker Khaled Eissa said that they don't use regular tools for puppet making, but they use special petite ones to form the little details of puppets accurately.
"This profession needs a great deal of art and patience and I consider this puppet theater as valuable as a museum," the 52-year-old puppet maker told Xinhua, noting that he made more than 40 puppets for the "Journey Through Beautiful Time" show. Enditem