Jeddah, Asharq Al-Awsat – Saudi Arabian writers and playwrights have ruled out the idea of carrying out a “theatre revolution” along the lines of the Arab revolutions that swept the region last year, in light of the lack of support being given to them from the Saudi Ministries of Culture and Information; and Education. Saudi playwrights, writers and artists discussed the role being played by the media in the arts, particularly the theatre, at a theatre festival held at the Jeddah Public Library theatre last week. They strongly called for greater support for the Saudi theatre, including activating this at school level, as well as increased media support.
Saudi playwrights also expressed their regret and sadness that the media fails to contribute to the development and revitalization of theatre. They questioned the roles being played by the Ministry of Culture and Information and the Ministry of Education in supporting the arts, particularly the theatre, and developing artistic talent.
As for the media, Saudi playwrights stressed that it is far too commercial and is failing to take notice of smaller or less well-known theatre productions, instead focusing on big names. They claimed that the Saudi media is ignoring the plays and artists that are in the most need of media coverage and public attention, arguing that this would contribute towards the creation of a brighter future for Saudi theatre and the arts.
For his part, Saudi writer Yahya Bajennit said that the responsibility for supporting artistic talent begins with the Ministry of Education. He said “the Ministry of Education is the correct place to begin developing and establishing new generations of artists for the Saudi theatre” adding that “it is the responsibility of the Ministry of Culture and Information to be the custodian and supporter of this talent.”
Meanwhile, Saudi artist Abdullah Al-Yami stressed that Saudi media outlets have become too commercial, failing to promote or support Saudi citizens in the arts. He said “we consider television to be the father of the media, and the press its mother, however we [artists] have no hope in either of these institutions because they have become too commercial…they fail to think about supporting the development of Saudi nationals in a manner that is worthy of Saudi Arabia.”
He added “the press today no longer rushes behind what is new, it no longer supports the youth or new emerging talent….rather it follows already established commercially viable celebrities.”
The playwright stressed that originality and creativity are the most important things, adding that suffering is the choice of the artist, particularly in the theatre. He confirmed that an artist’s commitment to his art is evidence of his self-belief, and that a true artist will find his way despite the lack of support from the relevant authorities.
For his part, Mohamed Osman, a member of the King Abdulaziz University theatre club, stressed that all those involved in the theatre must operate in a serious manner, rather than merely sit around discussing opening theatre groups or collaborations. He stressed “we have had enough of such talk…we must work until we convince the officials that the theatre is an important art-form and must be supported accordingly, particularly at a time like this!”
As for calls for a “theatre revolution” and a “theatre spring”, with increased focus upon new media as an alternative to television, Saudi writer Yahya Bajennit strongly ruled this out. He said “these media outlets may be a rival to television, but they are no substitute.”
He also stressed that playwrights are born, not made, and that they must possess very high levels of ambition to overcome all the difficulties they face, proving their expertise and skill despite the lack of support from the relevant authorities.