Curtain rises on new era for young Saudi performers

Curtain rises on new era for young Saudi performers
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CEO of the Performing Arts Commission, Sultan Al-Bazei, said culture and art are very important part of the quality of life. (Supplied)
Curtain rises on new era for young Saudi performers
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Ministries of Culture and Education have joined forces to announce the details and progress on their latest collaboration: the “School theater” initiative. (Supplied)
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Updated 14 January 2023

Curtain rises on new era for young Saudi performers

Curtain rises on new era for young Saudi performers
  • ‘School Theater’ initiative paves the way for students in the performing arts

RIYADH: The theater and performing arts today are being integrated into the very fabric of the Kingdom’s education system — the hope and dream of every Saudi actor who has struggled in the past, as in the case of Abdulaziz Al-Mubaddel.

Al-Mubaddel, who recently shone on cinema screens in the commercial comedy film “Sattar,” had his humble beginnings 50 years ago in local theater, collecting pieces of cloth along with his peers to construct a makeshift platform on which to perform.

During a theatrical melodrama performance a few years later, he was attacked on stage, and pelted with rocks and cigarette butts by disapproving public and conservative entities.

However, the future for hopeful young actors looks very different now.

The theatrical crafts are continuing to flourish in the Kingdom through the Theater and Performing Arts Commission, which has brought international productions to Saudi stages, and launched initiatives such as Theatrical Composition Competition to develop all aspects of Saudi culture.

On Wednesday, the culture and education ministries joined forces to detail the progress on their latest collaboration, the “School Theater” initiative.

The partnership, in cooperation with Monash University in Australia, seeks to build on the country’s heritage and elevate the acting scene.

CEO of the Performing Arts Commission, Sultan Al-Bazei, told Arab News: “It was clear that culture and art are a very important part of the quality of life. You can see that in the Vision 2030. I believe that (bringing theater) to public education and public schools is a very important and fundamental step to have the interest in a culture raised among students from a young age.”

In a press conference, Al-Bazei joined the Deputy Minister for National Partnerships and Development, Noha Qattan, and the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Education for Educational Programs, Mohammed Al-Muqbel, to explain the initiative’s progress.

The program will target 19,647 public schools across the Kingdom and provide intensive training for 25,540 participants, both male and female. From October 2022, a five-stage plan was initiated to achieve a number of outputs, with the program due to be completed in December 2024.

The acting-based program will focus not only on performance, but also all the elements that bring a play to life, such as scriptwriting and development, lighting techniques, costume design, hair and makeup, audience engagement, vocal lessons and sound design.

The “School Theater” initiative seeks to achieve several outputs during various stages. The first stage involved exploratory visits by the training team to several government schools for boys and girls in Riyadh, with interviews and meetings bringing together the concerned parties.

The second phase aims to train 60 male and female trainees, with 120 trainees in the third, 3,200 in the fourth, and 22,160 male and female trainees in the fifth phase. The goal is to initiate a competition in which 1,000 of the best theatrical plays put on by school students will be selected and awarded.

Al-Muqbel said: “Today, the idea is not to end this journey in two years. How will we return and plant the seeds of this performance culture to be exercised and sustained within a school? How can schoolwork be a culturally enriching experience for students?

“Theater can support our academic curriculums, as well as build the Saudi character of individuals who will lead the future of this country.”

The initiative aims to develop and empower students through a supportive ecosystem for national talents in the hopes of contributing to the creation of inspiring theatrical content.

The long-term effects will also create new job opportunities in the theater and performing arts sector by activating the culture of theater, enhancing its role in the development of emerging generations, and developing students’ abilities by providing them with specialized skills in the theater field.

“Today is a cultural celebration. We’re starting to achieve the goals that we only dreamed of. We really struggled with theater (back then),” Al-Mubaddel said during the conference.

This initiative comes under the umbrella of the strategy for developing cultural capabilities across the country, launched by the ministries of culture and education.

The array of programs, including nine initiatives that aim to develop and enhance the theater sector, work to link education outputs to the needs of the cultural market and achieve its goals in the theater sector through its strategy to develop talents.

A three-month training program in Jeddah, led by Lebanese actress and director Nidal Al-Ashqar alongside an academic team, was completed last November. The project focused on enhancing motor, vocal and performance skills, equipping 126 trainees with the expertise and professional development needed to work in a creative field.

“This initiative does not claim innovation. The beginning of Saudi theater historically was through school theaters. I personally believe that school theaters have contributed to creating the very thing I stand on today. But the difference now is that the efforts have combined to achieve a more inclusive result and attract global talents to develop our own experience within the school theater industry,” Al-Bazei said.