Yesterday at the Doha Theater Festival, the final event, a seminar was held with the title Theater Festivals: Where To? The seminar participants included Dr. Marzouq Bashir and Dr. Ali Al-Anzi, who was visiting from Kuwait. The seminar, which was moderated by Salah Gharib, lasted an hour and a half, and it was held at Building 15 in Katara (The Cultural Village). The seminar generated active participation by the audience of theater enthusiasts about the crises of theater festivals and possible ways to maintain them.

The seminar started with Dr. Marzouq Bashir thanking the Ministry of Culture and His Excellency the Minister of Culture for making it possible to resume the Doha Theater Festival. He also expressed his pleasure to see such an enthusiastic gathering working together to bring the Qatari artistic movement back to life after a long hiatus. In his opening remarks, Dr. Bashir reviewed the historical development of theater and theater festivals. He explained that he would focus on Arab theater festivals that target the public rather than specialized theater festivals that target children, college students, and adolescents. As he noted, these types of festivals have their respective unique standards and styles.

Dr. Bashir talked about the evolution of Greek theater in the 5th century B.C., nothing that at that time, there was no distinction between playwriters and directors. There was one artist who wrote a play, directed it, and participated in the performance as well. He added that theater festivals are particularly important because they help discover new talents and help create an environment that is conducive to interaction among artists.

Dr. Bashir also mentioned some drawbacks of theater festivals. He commented that “some theater companies became exclusively focused on winning awards. There is also wasteful spending in terms of organization that usually comes at the expense of supporting the theater movement. Instead of excessive spending on organization, funding can be used to better support theater groups.”

Dr. Ali Al-Anzi started his comments by expressing his gratitude to the Ministry of Culture and the Theater Affairs Center for inviting him to the festival, which he described as the first of its kind in the Arab World. He extended his congratulations to theater enthusiasts in Qatar on the resumption of the festival. He commented that the seminar came at a critical time, as he saw a decline in the popularity of theater festivals with some notable exceptions, such as the International Festival of Carthage. He suggested an international multi-round format for theater festivals in Arab countries. He explained, “Participating performances in theater festivals have tended to be modest, below expectations, uncompetitive, or unable to add to the theater movement. This has been the case since the 90s with some notable exceptions, such as Tunisia and Morocco.”

Dr. Ali Al-Anzi concluded his remarks by saying, “I would like to see Arab theater festivals become more than gatherings of artists. I am also seeing that most successful performances tend to come from outside government organizations. This suggests that it is imperative for theater to attract a wider audience. Since festivals do not serve this purpose, we need to study the audience in order to identify news ways to reach new groups. The Theater Affairs Center is working on a digital theater archive. This is a laudable and highly valuable effort that will preserve the history of Qatari theater.”

Director Saad Bourashid commented that theater festivals are quite valuable and their continuation is necessary for the development of the artistic movement in any country. He added, “We are calling for the reestablishment of the permanent theater committee.” He raised the question of why theater performances disappear once the festival is over, and suggested the continuation of performances in other cities so that theater activities reach a wider audience.

Ali Hussein, an aspiring artist, raised a series of questions: “What is the state’s plan for the theater festival? What are the objectives of the festival? How can it attract a wider and more diverse audience? What does the community gain from having such festivals? What is the strategy to achieve the objectives of the festival?”

Artist Hanan Sadiq added that it is important to develop a strategy for the development of the local theater festival while planning a major international theater festival in Doha. She noted the issue of continuing performances after the festival in order to maintain the public’s interest.

Actor Ali Mirza Mahmoud commented, “We should thank God for the resumption of the theater festival and look for ways to keep it going. I believe that the next festival will be different in ways that will help ensure its continuity. However, it is imperative that the festival receives substantial media support. The Ministry of Culture can promote the festival on radio, TV, and newspapers so that more people would learn about it, and hopefully participate.”

In other news, Dana’s Love Story, a play written and directed by Hamad Al-Rumaihy, was a resounding success. The play, which starred Zainab Ali, Fatima Al-Shurouqi, Huda Al-Maliki, and Al-Anoud Al-Khouri, concluded the festival’s performances.