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Play explores the real lives of Saudi women

Dr. Maisah Sobaihi’s “Head Over Heels in Saudi Arabia” was a fun, light-hearted play through which she explores the lives of Saudi women and addressed many of the questions raised about the Kingdom to enable people to appreciate and value the contributions women make to its society and social development. The entertaining play was held at Effat University in Jeddah recently.
Sobaihi is an academic, writer, performer and director, who has received international acclaim for her theater work that tackles social and cultural issues.
Being the first Saudi woman to perform at the leading International Arts Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland in 2013, she was honored for her work in theater with an award for Excellence in Pioneering at the Global Thinkers Forum (GTF) in Athens.
In her solo play, she helped uncover a true image of Saudi women while harmonizing the sensitive issues and showing the common womanly bond intensifying past boundaries. During the show, she played two different characters of Saudi women and portrayed their consequences in married life, divorce situations and the ‘misyar’ marriages. With her skills and sense of parodying serious issues into lighter fun subjects, Sobaihi considers her play to be a balanced piece of art.
The idea to bring her thoughts in the form of a one-woman play was inspired by her own life journey and that of other Saudi women she met. “I believe Saudi women can be represented by a Saudi woman only and since I am one of them, I could to an extent portray the reality and the hidden issues in a more convincing and acceptable way. I feel it’s always more realistic when someone talks about what they know after being there and living there and that’s what the play is really about,” she said.
Her fictional comic characters are from different backgrounds — Maryam is from the upper class of society while Layla is Maryam’s husband’s second wife. The show depicts how Saudi women tackle different consequences and situations. Sobaihi said: “I didn’t want the show to be negative or to be about criticizing men or anybody at all. I wrote the script in a light way and made sure that the sentiments and emotions are not hurt during any of my performances.”
Talking about challenges, she said “I performed a couple of times in Jeddah in private gatherings and the reactions from Saudi men were positive, which encouraged me to take it to an international platform.”
Sobaihi added that the play purely depicts to the audience, both nationally and internationally, the pressures and challenges of being a modern and educated woman discussing love, marriage, and careers in a traditional male-controlled society, where gender segregation is the norm and women are forbidden to drive. Moreover, through her play, she revealed that women in Saudi Arabia have turned into an active and positive force in Saudi society. They are not what the international media shows them to be.”
At the Global Thinkers Forum, a non-profit initiative and a platform to create dialogue that aims to bring current and future leaders together to discuss governance, society, progress and the future, Sobaihi was honored alongside other international leaders, including David Frost (Excellence in Media), Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, High Representative for the UN Alliance of Civilizations (Excellence in Leadership), Shahira Amin (Excellence in Gender Equality), Tu Weiming (Excellence in Cultural Understanding) and Dirk Brosse and Ludwig Wicki (Excellence in Cultural Creativity).
“This award is a wonderful endorsement of the potential of performing arts, which I hope will bring about a very positive social change. Moreover, I hope more people attend and enjoy the show. The aim is mainly to introduce the culture of theater in Saudi Arabia and to have people enjoy it,” said Sobaihi on receiving the award.

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