“It is our mission, us playwrights, the bearers of the torch of enlightenment, since the first appearance of the first actor on the first stage, to be at the forefront of confronting everything that is ugly, bloody, and inhuman. We confront it with everything that is beautiful, pure, and human.”
This was the rallying point from the World Theater Day message written by Egyptian actress Samiha Ayoub, translated into English by Hessa Alfalasi of the United Arab Emirates-Fujairah Centre of International Theatre Institute (ITI).
The ITI, described the world’s largest organization for the performing arts, has been celebrating World Theater Day on March 27 annually since 1962. Historically, it fell on the opening of the 1962 "Theatre of Nations" season in Paris and the tradition has been kept ever since.
One of the most important highlights of the worldwide celebration is the circulation of the World Theatre Day Message. Every year, “a figure of world stature shares his or her reflections on the theme of Theater and a Culture of Peace.”
The first World Theater Day Message was written by French poet Jean Cocteau in 1962 and followed by legendary playwright Arthur Miller in 1963. In the following decades, among the prominent names on the list of World Theater Day Message writers were poet Pablo Neruda in 1971, La MaMa Experimental Theater founder Ellen Stewart in 1975, playwright Eugene Ionesco in 1976, Nobel Laureate playwright-novelist Wole Soyinka in 1986, playwright Edward Albee in 1993, Vaclav Havel in 1994, Judi Dench in 2010, John Malkovich in 2012 and Isabelle Hupert in 2017.
In the most recent years, those asked to write it were stage-film-TV actress Helen Mirren in 2021 and American theater director Peter Sellars in 2022.
Ayoub has been chosen for 2023 to write the message. Born at the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo, Ayoub graduated from the Higher Institute of Dramatic Arts in 1953, where she was taught by the playwright, Zaki Tulaimat.
Based on her biography, she has been credited in writing about 170 plays, a combination of original works, translations and adaptations. Among these are “Raba’a Al-Adawiya,” “Sekkat Al-Salamah,” “Blood on the Curtains of the Kaaba,” “Agha Memnon” and “The Caucasian Chalk Circle”.
In her message, Ayoub tackles the effect of conflicts among nations that result to war and natural disasters “that have had devastating effects not only on our material world, but also on our spiritual world and our psychological peace.”
She reflected on how the world has become like “isolated islands, or like ships fleeing in a fog-filled horizon, each of them spreading its sails and sailing without guidance, not seeing anything on the horizon that guides it, and despite that, it continues to sail, hoping to reach a safe harbor.”
Amid the divisiveness despite technological advances that are supposed to help all citizens of the world to become closer and united, Ayoub pointed out the power of theater.
“‘Theater in its original essence is a purely human act based on the true essence of humanity, which is life. In the words of the great pioneer Konstantin Stanislavsky, ‘Never come into the theatre with mud on your feet. Leave your dust and dirt outside. Check your little worries, squabbles, petty difficulties with your outside clothing – all the things that ruin your life and draw your attention away from your art – at the door.’
“When we ascend the stage, we ascend it with only one life within us for one human being, but this life has a great ability to divide and reproduce to turn into many lives that we broadcast in this world so that it comes to life, flourishes and spreads its fragrance to others,” she added.
“I am not exaggerating when I say that what we do on stage is the act of life itself and generating it from nothingness, like a burning ember that sparkles in the darkness, lighting the darkness of the night and warming its coldness.”
She called theater as “father of all arts” and encouraged every theater person to search in oneself the “lost essence of man. The free, tolerant, loving, sympathetic, gentle and accepting man.”
She summoned everyone to reject “this vile image of brutality, racism, bloody conflicts, unilateral thinking, and extremism.”
A full copy of the message can be found here.
Since ITI was founded in 1942 in Paris by theater practitioners and the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the organization has grown into 90 ITI Centers around the globe that have been celebrating World Theater Day with various programs and ceremonies.
As culminating activity for World Theater Week that began on March 21, an inter-agency celebration of World Theater Day was held at the National Library under the patronage of the UNESCO.
Coincidentally, March 21 was also World Poetry Day and so the Monday event had additional poetry readings as post-celebration besides theatrical performances. Hosted by the National Library through its director Cesar Gilbert Adriano, it was organized by the Philippine Center of the ITI led by its president Joey Lina Jr., Earthsavers Movement president Estonia Consul General Fernando Peña and National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) executive director Oscar Casaysay.
The concept and supervision were handled by Cecile Guidote-Alvarez, president of ITI Social Change Network and director of Earthsavers Dreams Ensemble-UNESCO Artists for Peace.
The celebration was held at the Exhibition Hall on the second floor of the National Library, where the ongoing Sustainable Development Goals Resilient Art Exhibit is on display.
The exhibit is open to the public until April 4.