Berber theatre comes in from the cold in Morocco

Berber theatre comes in from the cold in Morocco
Culture: Berber theatre, long overlooked and ignored by critics, is developing as a tradition in its own right within the wider context of Moroccan theatre.
3 min read
17 August, 2015
Berber theatre is finding its own way forward [Abdel Momen Mahhou]

A Spanish poet once said: "There isn't a paved road to walk on. We are the one who creates the path."

However, when Berber theatre attempted to find its way in the Moroccan cultural scene, it was attacked by many as being artistically weak; some even denied there was such a thing as Berber theatre.

Defenders of Berber theatre argue it predates other forms of Moroccan theatre by centuries, and boasts amid its ranks the likes of Terence, the ancient roman playwright of Berber descent who wrote six plays, and Apuleius, the Berber writer who lived under the Roman Empire and wrote The Golden Ass and a number of plays that were performed in Carthage.

Berber theatre is theatre with a cause.
-Fouad Azrawal

Asserting its existence and relevance

"Berber theatre has become a reality no one can deny or ignore, and in fact it has become an essential and active element in the revival of the theatrical movement in the country," Fouad Azrawal, a researcher at the Royal Institute for Amazigh Culture told al-Araby al-Jadeed.

Khalid Bouichou, the director of the Casablanca Festival for Professional Amazigh Theatre, said Berber plays faced challenges, as not enough people were aware of form.

"[It] lacks objective criticism to begin with, as most critics are not up to date with this theatre," he said.

He added that they had not paid enough attention to Moroccan theatre as a whole, in either Moroccan dialect or modern standard Arabic.

Azrawal said he believed Berber theatre was an art with a cause - as it carries the heavy burden of attempting to elevate Berber culture. It connects Moroccans with isolated and marginalised areas, and connects them to the heritage of a Berber oral tradition rich in expression, dance, song and literature.

Bouichou agreed, saying he believed that if Berber theatre was associated with a struggle, it has been able to overcome the obstacles over the past decade, and has been able to draw a clear and comprehensive artistic and technical course for itself.

Bouichou added that Berber theatre did not conform only to one theatrical school, with classical, experimental and other forms. There are also differences that manifest in the different Berber dialects and the cultural traditions and particularities thereby associated.

From amateurism to increasing professionalism

After moving from amateur productions to the professional stage, Berber theatre is still considered by many to be artistically weak. However, Azrawal explained that it is only natural for a nascent theatrical tradition not to be at full strength straight away, and a large part of its weakness is due to the general weakness of Moroccan theatre as a whole.

He added that Berber theatre has been able to put on a number of successful productions that have received a number of national awards.

Furthermore, theatre troops have formed with several practitioners specialising in various aspects of theatre production, which has raised the level of professionalism in Berber theatre.

Azrawal added that the support given by the ministry of culture for a number of Berber theatre groups is evidence of their professional level, despite their otherwise poor support.

"Berber theatrical projects have become more credible and better able to compete on the national level," said Azrawal.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.