Emad Ismail is a young, talented actor who began his career right after finishing law school in 1999. Since then, he has acted in television series, movies and numerous independent plays, some of which made quite a buzz in the local art scene. Al Dars (‘The Lesson,’ 2009), Al Aberoon (‘The Passengers,’ 2008), Enta dayes ala Albi (‘You’re Stepping on My Heart,’ 2008), Walad wa bent wa Hagat (‘A boy, A Girl and Stuff,’ 2007), Ana Delwaty Mayet (‘Now I’m Dead,’ 2004) all represented milestones in Ismail’s performing career.
In 2004, he won first prize for best actor for his performance in Brecht’s play The Exception and the Rule at the Second Young Creator’s Festival organized by the French Cultural Center in Cairo. Having attended a number of workshops–which began with one held by famous scriptwriter Lenin El-Ramli in 2000–and a five-year training course in Tunisia by renowned Tunisian director Ezzel Din Gannoun in 2005, Ismail acted in his first short feature film El-bab El-Mowareb (‘The Partially Open Door’) in 2010. The film was awarded best short feature film at this year’s Goethe and Sawi Culture Wheel independent film festivals. Now a member of El-Warsha independent theater troupe, Al-Masry Al-Youm spoke with Ismail about acting, independent theater and the challenges ahead.
Al-Masry: Al Bab el-Mowareb is a short feature film based on an idea, or mood, rather than events. Did this give you any room for improvisation?
Ismail: It’s based on a short story by renowned Egyptian novelist Yehia Haaqi, titled Sarek al Kuhl (‘He Who Steals Kuhl’), directed by Hisham Omara. Ibrahim and Gihad are two neighbors. I played the loner, which was a new type for me, for all reactions were reserved and internal. Throughout rehearsals, there was little room for improvisation except for minor changes in words that we are uncomfortable with. In general, Omara is a very flexible director who gives us the general idea and leaves the rest to us.
Al-Masry: From your experience, what are the common traits and differences between contemporary theater in Egypt and the Arab world?
Ismail: Theater workshops are very scarce in Egypt, unlike in the rest of the Arab world. Also, most workshops are conducted by non-Egyptians, unlike the case in Lebanon and Tunisia, for example. Besides, I think that trainers here in Egypt are a minority.
Al-Masry: An “independent,” a “play-actor”–what are the problems with such titles?
Ismail: One of the major obstacles for independent theater troupes in Egypt is the lack of space. Except for a few annual festivals, performing space is quite limited. As an independent actor, this is quite depressing. You work for three months to perform for one night, and then what? The passengers is one performance that I really appreciated. It was very well received at Egypt’s ninth Modern Dance Festival in 2008 and in Germany last year, yet it has only been performed seven times in five years.
Al-Masry: But isn’t this a global problem when it comes to independent theater?
Ismail: I agree that it’s not limited to Egypt, but it varies according to the capabilities of each country. However, in Egypt, there’s a big difference between independent, state and private theater. State theater has its own people while private theater has its own money. There’s no system.
Al-Masry: What have been your most recent performances?
Ismail: Currently, I’m part of El-Warsha theater troupe, directed by Hassan el-Geretly, and we’re working on storytelling. We depicted stories from a compilation of folk storytelling from Daqahlia that will run in May. We will also perform The lesson, which will show in the Czech Republic in July.