Set on a sidewalk café in Doha, the theatrical play "Karak" features ordinary citizens contemplating their issues without using modern means of communication. The play addresses the contemporary, tech savvy man using the language of the past.
The Doha Theatre Troupe staged "Karak" at the Qatar National Theatre as part of the opening ceremony of Doha's inaugural Festival for Professional Dramatists. The festival, which includes participation from Arab and Gulf theatre troupes, opened Tuesday evening and will continue through March 27th.
The festival's organising committee, made up of members from Qatar's Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage, will give ten awards this year, amounting to a total of 210,000 Qatari riyals ($57,000). The top award of 80,000 riyals ($22,000) goes to the play with the best integrated performance.
"Karak" is a different experience that falls within the framework of the approach the troupe is implementing to help revitalize the theatrical movement, said artist Ibrahim Mohammed, leader of the Doha Theatre Troupe.
"The troupe seeks through 'Karak' to support the initiative to organise an inaugural local festival for professional dramatists that will rank high among major theatre festivals that promote theatrical works," he said.
In the local Qatari dialect, "Karak" refers to tea mixed with milk, which is commonly served in all popular cafes and is the country's main drink.
Mohammed told Al-Shorfa he praised the festival hosted by Doha. The level of attendance at the festival's events so far has been "impressive and encouraging", he said.
"The Doha theatre festival will open up new prospects for theatrical work," media specialist Saeed Abdullah said at the opening ceremony. "Such festivals reinforce the current trend in Qatar of supporting culture and the arts."
Abdullah said most of the troupes participating in the festival have long histories of theatrical work and will surely present their best work, which will serve to create a unique cultural atmosphere.
"Doha's first theatre festival represents the continued fulfilment of the Culture Ministry's promise to make Doha a perpetual culture capital," said Dr. Hamad bin Abdulaziz al-Kuwari, Qatar's Minister of Culture, Arts and Heritage.
"The ministry has done its part, now it is up to the theatrical community to contribute to the 2016 Operation Plan by rehabilitating the theatre and working to draw audiences back to theatres," he added.
The minister said the infrastructure needed to enable troupes to stage works befitting Qatari theatre already exists. However, the ministry intends to increase the number of theatre troupes to four or five in the near future and provide them with appropriate support, he said.
The play that wins the best integrated performance award will represent Qatar in upcoming theatre events, including at the Bahrain Theatre Festival, al-Kuwari added.
The opening ceremony was attended by a large crowd that filled the hall of the National Theatre in Qatar's capital Doha.
"Doha has recaptured the lustre lost by other Arab culture capitals that have faded, and the greatest art form [theatre] is itself regaining its stature as winds of change of a different kind are blowing across the region," said theatre critic Hassan Hussein. These winds of change will "inevitably have an impact on Arab theatre in general," he added.
The high interest shown by the public, critics and the media in the festival's events is the result of successive cultural campaigns, said Egyptian theatre journalist Ghaleb al-Bahnasawi, especially after Doha hosted the events of the 2010 Arab Culture Capital.
"The activity has not stopped since the conclusion of the Doha, Arab Capital of Culture 2010 festival, and that is essential," he said. "This festival will be instrumental in showcasing young Arab talent in the areas of writing, directing and acting."
During the festival, those who win the best director and best theatrical script awards will receive 25,000 riyals ($6,800) each. The best female and male leads will be awarded 15,000 riyals ($4000) each, and the best supporting actress and actor, the best stage set and the performance with the best lighting will all be awarded 10,000 riyals ($2,700). Finally, 5,000 riyals ($1,300) go to both the most promising actor and actress.