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Sitara: Pulling up the Curtain on the World of Children’s Theatre

January 23, 2020
Emma Davies dressed as one of her characters for a Sitara show. Image courtesy of Emma Davies.

Puppets, masks, and a whole lot of theatre magic – Sitara is an English Theatre and Entertainment venue nestled in the heart of New Cairo, run by an all-female team.

Founded in 2008 by Emma Davies, Sitara has been offering wonderfully constructed children’s performances based on beloved fairytales and children’s stories such as The Frog Prince and The Gruffalo – in addition to original shows tailored to specific seasons such as Christmas and Ramadan. 

“When I was working as a teacher, I noticed that there wasn’t much theatre for children,” says Davies when asked about what inspired her to open Sitara, “and one day I went to Fagnoon and I just loved the place, and I remember thinking, wouldn’t it be amazing if there was some place like this but for performing arts as opposed to visual arts.” 

A British native, Davies studied theatre and obtained her MA in Theatre Studies in the UK before moving to Egypt. After graduating, she continued to work as an actress, whilst mainly specializing in theatre that was for both children and adults, as well as some theatre for special needs.

After having moved to Egypt and settling down in her current hometown, Davies started working as a teacher. Following her trip to Fagnoon, an arts and crafts center located in El Maryoutia, she started playing with the idea of providing children’s theatre for schools by going around schools herself, with her own props and costumes, and mesmerizing school children with her interactive storytelling. The realization that this idea had not been executed in the country caused this seed of an idea to grow and bloom into what it is now, with responses from schools beyond successful. 

A full house at one of Sitara’s original shows that was open to families. Image courtesy of Emma Davies.

“I decided that instead of interactive storytelling, I would do theatre,” commented Davies on Sitara’s early days. Having initially had no connection to local actors, Davies said, “the first show was me acting all the parts, and I had contacted my good friend John Barber in the UK who makes puppets and masks and I commissioned him to make me some – and he’s still working with us to this day – and the first time we did a show, people were just amazed.”

With a lack of proper weight given towards performing arts in Egypt – especially targeted towards children – Sitara has been a refreshing reminder for the importance of the arts, and the use of one’s imagination and creativity. Following Sitara’s initial success, Davies branched the business out to include two different experiences: the original Sitara Theatre and the newer Sitara Workshop. 

With Sitara Workshop, Davies offers schools a celebration of children’s literature through short performances based on classic children’s books (such as Roald Dahl’s The Twits and Julia Donaldson’s Room on the Broom) followed by a tailored arts and drama workshop for the children.

These workshops usually consist of creative ways in which the children can reflect on what they just watched through a series of arts, crafts and drama exercises. Sitara Theatre on the other hand, consists of a longer interactive performance that is usually based on classic fairytales such as The Little Mermaid and Rapunzel. 

Summer Galal, one of Sitara’s resident actors, in character for a show. Image courtesy of Emma Davies.

As the team expanded over the years, Sitara’s shows were becoming more complex and the magic of theatre would leave a lasting affect on both the audience and Sitara’s original team working at the venue to this day.

After having started Sitara as a one woman show, Davies explains how recruiting actors to join the team has had a great affect on the business. “Really that’s what helped Sitara grow, was once actors started coming to me,” says Davies, “and I’m really inspired by the women I work with.”

Following the growth of her team, Davies started focusing on writing original content specifically tailored for her actors playing on their various strengths. “It’s now my favorite thing to do,” says Davies on writing her own shows, which usually happens when corporate venues ask for holiday themed family performances. 

Still from Sitara’s recent original show, ‘Help! It’s Halloween’. Image courtesy of Emma Davies.

Perhaps what is especially noteworthy is the way in which Sitara has adapted to its Egyptian audience.

Although one of Sitara’s unique points is the fact that they specialize in English children’s theatre, the slight use of Arabic has been integrated in various shows throughout the years – adding a layer of familiarity and relatability that children, as well as the general audience, always respond well to.

One of the most successful examples of this is the recurring character of the bawab, Osman the Saeedi, (Upper Egyptian doorman). Osman, played by Wessam Hanafy, is a beloved Arabic speaking character who appears in all of Sitara Theatre’s shows, as well as Sitara’s original holiday-themed shows. He has gained a fan-base, perhaps in large part due to his added element of humor as well as his presence acting as a translator to what’s happening in the show. 

Sitara’s poster for their show The Frog Prince, featuring Osman the Bawab (played by Wessam Hanafy). Image courtesy of Emma Davies.

When asked about what lies ahead for Sitara’s future, Davies replied, “I’d like to do more shows for family audiences as most of our current work is for the school market – and also Sitara Arabic would be an exciting project.”

The artistic project is also currently collaborating with Bel Group, the multinational FMCG Corporation behind dairy brands such as Kiri and Babybel, in conjunction with the United Nations, the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, and Ministry of Agriculture to create a children’s show that promotes healthy nutrition.

Ultimately, the passion Davies and her team possess to promote creativity is the essence of Sitara. “The only way forward is through creativity,” comments Davies, “and I really hope Sitara has added a small amount of creativity to future generations.”

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