At the turn of the twentieth century—during the “protectorate” period of British occupation in Egypt—theaters and other performance sites were vital for imagining, mirroring, debating, and shaping competing conceptions of modern Egyptian identity. A central figure in this diverse spectrum was the effendi, an emerging class of urban, male, anti-colonial professionals whose role would ultimately become dominant. Acting Egyptian argues that performance themes, spaces, actors, and audiences allowed pluralism to take center stage while simultaneously consolidating effendi voices.
From the world premiere of Verdi’s Aida at Cairo’s Khedivial Opera House in 1869 to the theatrical rhetoric surrounding the revolution of 1919, which gave women an opportunity to link their visibility to the well-being of the nation, Acting Egyptian examines the ways in which elites and effendis, men and women, used newly built performance spaces to debate morality, politics, and the implications of modernity. Through scripts, playbills, ads, and numerous other sources, the book brings to life provocative debates and dissent that fostered a new image of national culture and echoed urban life in the struggle for independence.
"This cleverly framed book uses theater and music performance as a lens for viewing the emergence and contestation of effendi nationalism in early twentieth-century Egypt. Gitre draws on little-known scripts, Egyptian and British archival sources, and articles in the vociferous Egyptian press. Her close readings and historical research show how jesters, comedians, and women both reinforced and challenged the efendiyya's antiroyalist and anticolonial moralizing discourse at every turn. This accessibly written book will interest students and scholars of Arabic theatre, the "Arab Renaissance," anticolonial nationalism, and vernacular theatre traditions."
Margaret Litvin, Boston University, author of Hamlet's Arab Journey: Shakespeare's Prince and Nasser's Ghost
"Acting Egyptian explores the world of theater during a formative period of Egyptian history. Gitre draws insights from architectural, social, labor, and women's history in order to examine Egyptian identity on and off the stage. In the process, she recounts for her readers vivid vignettes of the playwrights, actors, audiences, and performers of the era. This work will be of interest to Egyptian and Middle East historians as well as historians of the arts who wish to explore Arabic theater traditions."
Hoda Yousef, Denison University, author of Composing Egypt: Reading, Writing, and the Emergence of a Modern Nation, 1870-1930