Egyptian theatre director Nada Sabet (37) believes that art should offer entertainment and joy, as well as open the doors of dialogue, raise awareness, educate and play other enlightening roles. This conviction led her to co-found the performing arts company Noon Creative Enterprise in 2011.
Her passion for the theatre began when she joined the school drama club as a child. She went on to study theatre and psychology at the American University in Cairo, followed by a master’s degree in creative entrepreneurship in the United Kingdom.
She decided to found Noon Creative Enterprise while doing her master’s. “Part of the requirement of my certificate was to take all measures needed to establish a company, and I took the opportunity and established Noon Creative Enterprise.”
In the intervening eight years, the company has given hundreds of performances, workshops and conferences in Egypt and abroad, and developed partnerships with local and international governmental and non-governmental organizations.
The performances deal with diverse and often controversial topics such as circumcision, sexual harassment, street children, dreams, civic participation of youth, the environment, racism, migration and the portrayal of women in the media and law.
“One of the challenges I faced was doing performances in villages that were not equipped [to hold them]. However, with the help of local collaborators and donors, these obstacles were overcome,” said Sabet, who has taken her shows to several governorates and villages in Egypt except Sinai because of the security situation.
She also noted with pride that her company targets and involves different age groups and social strata, from puppet shows for children to performances relevant to young people and adults. Moreover, she has taken her shown to Arab countries such as Jordan, Bahrain, Morocco and Tunisia.
One of the company’s most important shows to date was 2017’s Ta Sakena, which was selected for several regional festivals such as the Bahrain International Festival. Based on the real-life stories of 12 mothers, the piece addresses the challenges of caring for children with mental and physical illnesses and disabilities.
Audience reactions to the performances have been mixed, especially those dealing with controversial issues such as divorce and female circumcision. Sabet does not believe that theatre has the power to stop a phenomenon like circumcision in one show, but rather that such shows can open the door for dialogue about and questioning of the practice. Through this dialogue, these shows can affect a change in consciousness and behaviours, something that does not happen overnight.
She is also adamant that her performances can be enjoyed even if the audience disagrees with the content because they are presented in an entertaining and appealing way. The subject of circumcision was particularly complicated, she said, because it is deeply rooted in Egyptian society. During one performance, a lady walked out in protest. However, she later returned to ask questions, which was good in itself and one step in the direction of enlightenment, Sabet said.
She recalled another instance when the show was performed at a youth centre in a village in Asyut Governorate. The centre’s director said afterwards that, although he was convinced of the need to circumcise girls, he liked the show and suggested hosting a second performance for another group of girls.
Local collaborators are essential for convincing the public to participate in the plays, Sabet said. In villages, everyone knows each other, so when one village member helps to organize a show, it becomes easier to convince other residents to get involved.
Sabet is proud of all her company’s plays, including Hara TV (‘Neighbourhood TV’), 45, Sama Huss (‘Listen Up Everyone’), Man Antum (‘Who Are You?’) and Rishat al-Asfur (‘Feather of Bird’). She treats them all as if they were her children, but she says her current show, The Adventures of Noussa, is her favourite. This is because she both wrote and directed the piece, in which a girl named Noussa and her dog embark on an adventure to find out what happened to their friend, with the help of the audience.
Sabet is planning to produce a series of similar interactive adventures to encourage children to use their imaginations and to teach them about the environment and history.
Ahmad Hilmi praised Noon Creative Enterprise and its work in his governorate, Asyut, saying that the company is dedicated to delivering a meaningful message through different types of theatre, away from the bright lights of fame, and recognized that the group has to travel and move from place to place every year with new thinking and new messages.
For her part, activist Radwa Mohamed said that the company’s interactive theatre is one of the most enjoyable and exciting because it encourages the audience to ask questions and initiate ideas. It also makes viewers feel that they are part of the show even if the content goes against their convictions. She added that she enjoys Noon Creative Enterprise’s performances because they deal with the challenges facing her and other Egyptian women.