Massar Egbari was rocking the alley, and in the patio and stairway around them, fans were swaying, clapping and singing along. A seemingly unlikely place for a concert, but the popular Alexandrian band was there for a sneak peek at Teatro Alex, a new cultural café and performance space in the city by the sea. Officially opening on June 15, Teatro Alex promises a host of activities ranging from art exhibitions to children’s programs to civic debates.
Set back in an alley off Fouad Street, Teatro Alex is a cozy, comfortable venue, with the café done up in warm, rich colors and textures, deep brown wood trim and mashrabeya, and pale tiled floors that look like they belong in an ancient Roman villa. That last is somewhat appropriate given that Kom El-Dikka, the ruins of the Roman amphitheater, lie just across the street behind Teatro Alex.
The building is a little like a maze, with side rooms, one staircase leading up to a two-room shop for books and crafts and another dead-ending at a short hallway-turned-art gallery. Original art from the exhibition du jour is also displayed throughout Teatro. The café is just as much a performance space as a social meeting place, and May’s launch party included traditional Arabic storytelling performed by the Alternative Theater Group.
The building started life in 1928 as a restaurant in Alexandria’s Italian neighborhood, hence the name Teatro Alex. Neglected after the 1952 Revolution, the space was rescued by Dr. Mahmoud Aboudoma, writer, theater director and founder of the International Association for Creation and Training (I-act), a non-profit organization that advocates the performing arts as a tool for social development.
The cultural activities are organized by I-act, and in the short term, Teatro Alex is offering indoor performances twice a week and an outdoor performance once a month. The café is part of a small complex, with space available to host children’s art programs; artistic workshops in film, design, theater, etc; and moderated roundtables and other activities to promote debate and dialogue.
While there are several cultural institutions in Alexandria that offer arts training, Aboudoma says Teatro is unique in that it offer all types of workshops in one place and serves as a social outlet. The Teatro complex even has fully equipped studio to make up for Alexandria’s shortage of rehearsal space.
Another difference is Teatro’s target audience: middle class citizens, a group Aboudoma notes comprise a large part of society. “If Teatro Eskendria optimizes on the potential of middle-class people,” he says, “giving them the skills, tools and space to contribute to the better future of Egypt, social change will hopefully be achieved.”
Word has spread fast among Alexandria’s arts community, and Teatro’s opening night clearly drew a crowd of compatriots. Massar Egbari’s lead singer Hany El Dekkak kept calling up other Alexandrian musicians from the audience to share the mic or show their moves — much to the delight of the audience. Teatro Alex has the air of a private party, but everyone is invited. et
Teatro Alex, 25 Fouad Street, Downtown Alexandria, Tel: +2 (03) 390-1339, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org, www.teatroalex.org, Twitter @teatroeskandria, Facebook: Teatro Eskandria.