Saudi Arabia to inaugurate National Theater Initiative

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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity.(Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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The National Theater initiative is one of many projects from the Ministry of Culture which aims to advance Saudi cultural activity. (Sarah Al-Suhaimai/Arab News)
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Updated 29 January 2020

Saudi Arabia to inaugurate National Theater Initiative

  • The ceremony will see the opening performance of the play Daraish Al-Nour (Windows of Light)
  • The initiative is one of many projects from the Saudi Ministry of Culture

RIYADH: The curtain has risen on an ambitious new era for Saudi theater — and its future looks bright, if the launch of the National Theater Initiative at the King Fahd Cultural Center on Tuesday night is any indication. The evening’s entertainment began with a speech from Minister of Culture Prince Badr bin Abdullah bin Farhan, in which he offered his thanks for the “unprecedented” level of support for the theatrical arts the ministry has received, especially from King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. “The theater is the father of arts, and we have great expectations regarding the future of the art of theater in Saudi Arabia,” he said. “We want Saudi Arabia to be a leader in the field.”

 

Abdulaziz Ismail, president of the National Theater Initiative, highlighted the importance of theater in Saudi culture and said that the new scheme represents a great step forward for the art form. “Our culture will be reborn through this historic moment,” he said. “We are going to express our culture through our theater.” The event continued with the first staging of the musical play “Daraish Al-Nour” (Windows of Light). Written by poet Saleh Zamanan and directed by Fatees Baqna, it features a cast of local actors including Naif Khalaf, Khaled Saqr and Ibrahim Al-Hassawi. The play explores Saudi culture, past and present, and includes a number of pop-culture and historical references that older audiences in particular will appreciate. The music evokes feelings of nostalgia without seeming overly dated, and even the style of directing recalls and pays tribute to the glory days of Saudi theater. The cast perform their roles beautifully, and if the audience’s reaction on Tuesday night was anything to go by, they made a great impression. Applause, cheers and whistles rang out through the theater at the end of every act, whether the scene on stage was a cheerful, traditional Saudi dance, or a more intense, dramatic scene full of angst. Lovers of Arabic theater, and especially of old Saudi plays, will delight in this spectacular first offering from the theater initiative. The stage of the King Fahd Cultural Center is used to its absolute fullest potential, with light, sound, color and space all perfectly employed. The script balances humor and lightheartedness with bittersweet and even tragic moments. One scene features a wedding celebration that is interrupted by the once-terrifying religious police, who storm into the celebration and, in a shocking moment, destroy an oud. But even before they saw the play, many people were already moved by the promise of the evening and what it represents as another step in the resurgence of art and culture in the Kingdom, and the wider development of the country. Bader Al-Zahrani immediately volunteered to be an organizer for the initiative when he read about it on Twitter. “I think it’s a wonderful initiative from the Ministry of Culture,” he said. “Seeing the adverts on Twitter, I knew that this play was something I definitely wanted to see. I want to thank the ministry for this great initiative.” There is a second performance of “Daraish Al-Nour” at 8 p.m. tonight, and free tickets are available from www.moc.gov.sa. Theater is one of one of 16 areas in which the ministry is working to preserve and advance Saudi culture. The theater initiative aims to provide Saudi directors, playwrights and actors with a high-quality integrated system that will offer better opportunities and improve standards of quality.


Saudi T20 task force coordinators in action and thinking big

Updated 58 min 23 sec ago

Saudi T20 task force coordinators in action and thinking big

  • Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the G20 this year, and the group’s annual summit is due to be held in Riyadh in November
  • Think 20 (T20) is one of its independent engagement groups

RIYADH: This year, 11 workers at two Saudi research centers, backed by an army of researchers, took on the daunting challenge of delivering results that meet the high expectations for the G20’s “ideas bank” — and their work is almost done.

Saudi Arabia holds the presidency of the G20 this year, and the group’s annual summit is due to be held in Riyadh in November.

The Think 20 (T20) is one of its independent engagement groups, led by organizations from the host country, which focus on different sections and sectors of society. Considered the G20’s intellectual backbone, it connects and collaborates with think tanks from around the world to develop fact-based policy briefs that contain recommendations for ways to tackle a number of important global issues.

This year’s T20 is jointly led by the King Abdullah Petroleum Studies and Research Center (KAPSARC) and the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies (KFCRIS).

It has adopted some key policy recommendations developed last year, when Japan held the presidency, and developed new ones designed to address the latest global developments and issues.

The success of this year’s T20 can, to a large extent, be attributed to the months of dedication and hard work by 11 task force coordinators, and the army of colleagues who backed them up every step of the way.

PUBLICATIONS

The T20 published 146 policy recommendations this year, compared with 104 last year. All of them were produced by a team of researchers who worked for more than a year to develop concise and fact-based recommendations.

To achieve this, the T20 set up 11 task forces. Each of them was led by a researcher, affiliated with KAPSARC or KFCRIS, who coordinated the work of authors and co-authors and the lead co-chairs, among other tasks.

Many of the coordinators were handed responsibility for task forces covering issues that were initially unfamiliar to them, but showed great initiative and took control of the work flow in a highly professional manner. Adding to the challenge, many of the people they were working with were relatively young, with limited experience in their fields.

“It wasn’t easy for us, to have a team of juniors participate with us,” said Turki Al-Shuwaier, one of two T20 deputy sherpas. “But we believed in them. Our recruitment was very carefully done, based on character and attitude and the nature of their ambition, which helped a lot.”

Each member displayed the initiative that was needed to create change, he added, and worked very hard to achieve their goals, even when faced with initial problems due to lack of experience.

“Communication was done the right way and we were able to solve our problems quickly that way, building a strong link with them via continually updated tools, weekly communiques and so on,” said Al-Shuwaier.

“Maybe if we’d had a team of seniors we would not have had to put in so much effort, but it has been worth it because we loved to do it.”

SELECTION PROCESS

When speaking to the 11 task force coordinators about their work, it becomes clear that the emphasis placed on good communication was a key to the success of the endeavor. They worked across time zones to connect with hundreds of authors and co-authors of the proposed policy briefs, assembling a first-class team that not only investigated the issues, but provided cohesive, universal and adaptable recommendations.

The rigor and relevance of the research are important factors in the development of effective policy briefs, said the T20’s other deputy sherpa, Brian Efird. Coordinators, policy and research experts, action-team members and other participants from KAPSARC and KFCRIS collectively managed more than 700 researchers and more than 100 think tanks worldwide, he added.

The 11 coordinators have their own areas of specialist expertise, but the focus of the task force each was assigned to was unfamiliar to them. This did not hinder them, however. With the help of task force lead co-chairs, each coordinator rose to the occasion, overcoming communication problems, linguistic issues and other challenges along the way.

Emere Hatipoglu, a research fellow at KAPSARC and a member of the T20 action team, said that most of the hard work was done by the junior members. With help from the action team, he added, the coordinators reviewed many proposals to “up the quality of the peer reviews.”

COVID-19

When the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic in March, the T20 coordinators rose to the additional challenges this created by working with their authors to ensure the effects and implications of the pandemic were reflected in the proposed policy briefs, so that they would fully meet the expectations of the T20 secretariat.

The coordinators described the rapidly evolving situation they found themselves in as challenging, hectic, dire and, ultimately, fruitful. Ensuring that their work took into account the effects of the COVID-19 crisis proved to be an invigorating experience that encouraged them to push their own limits and learn new skills to meet the demands placed upon them.

The number of proposals they came up with grew along the way, and a series of online meetings were organized while many nations, including Saudi Arabia, were in lockdown.

As one coordinator said: “Give a researcher a task and you can be sure they’ll get the job done in the most efficient way.”

Still, the coordinators often found themselves faced with problems they could never have imagined before the pandemic. Simply getting in touch with their authors was suddenly a challenge, as some were infected by the virus and others found themselves stuck in COVID-19 hotspots in Europe.

The coordinators were obligated to be sensitive and help their team members in whatever ways they could, while also trying to ensure the work continued to push forward.

“Transitioning from physical events to virtual ones was a sign of maturity,” said Efird. “To manage this huge process by rewriting the plan in the middle of (the pandemic was) nice to see.”

DELIVERABLES

With the help of their policy and research teams, the coordinators were able to arrange discussions covering a wide range of topics, coach authors throughout the process and ensure that the proposed policy briefs delivered long and short-term solutions. Eventually each task force settled on a final list of recommendations, ahead of the T20 Summit on Oct. 31 and Nov 1.

Because the coordinators are also researchers, they had the general skills they needed to select speakers for webinars, choose abstracts and carry out the other tasks required of them. As one coordinator put it: “I spoke the same language as the authors of the policy briefs.”

Faris Al-Sulayman, a KFCRIS research fellow and member of the T20’s Policy and Research Committee said: “A set of criteria was established from the very beginning. Each topic was relevant to the task force themes and went through a rigorous process.

“The team effort made it easier and more concise. Even as we became used to working remotely, it served as beneficial to the process.”

The coordinators were able to systematically address all problems that arose, thanks to the expertise they had developed working at KAPSARC and KFCRIS, according Anvita Arora and Axel Pierru, who are also members of the Policy and Research Committee. The coordinators were able to get the best out of the authors by ensuring that the process was as enriching as possible for all the researchers, they added.

“Five to 10 years down the road, you’ll see that the Saudi T20 served as a critical juncture in how the T20 works,” Hatipoğlu said.