In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, 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. Central figures in this diverse spectrum were the effendis, an emerging class of urban, male, anticolonial 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 1871 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. Drawing on scripts, playbills, ads, and numerous other sources, the book brings to life provocative debates that fostered a new image of national culture and performances that echoed the events of urban life in the struggle for independence.
Carmen M. K. Gitre is an assistant professor of history at Virginia Tech University. She holds a PhD in history from Rutgers University and previously taught in the international studies and history departments at Seattle University.
Acting Egyptian offers a rigorously researched scholarly publication while avoiding the stuffiness of (some) academic writing…Theatre, history, and other humanities scholars interested in performance traditions and identity politics [in] the Middle East and North Africa will find Acting Egyptian especially worthwhile.
Gitre writes a rigorous and enjoyable book of social history that points to exciting new avenues for Arabic theatre research...The way that Gitre positions her subjects as both objects of elite imaginations of collective identity and as active agents who trouble these imaginaries owes much to her attention to the slippages and inconsistencies of her archive. This, along with a lively prose style and attentive historical framing, makes Acting Egyptian an easily recommended book of social history, one that anyone interested in global theatre and performance history can learn from.
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 historians of Egypt and the Middle East 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
This book is an important addition to a growing body of literature that seeks to elucidate the 'full range' of Egyptian voices, shining light on the cacophonous, bottom-up route by which national culture is contested and refashioned by those with less power...Gitre’s concise writing and the scope of her engagement with the extant historiography in framing her intriguing case studies makes Acting Egyptian an innovative introductory text to the formation of Egyptian national identity.
~American Historical Review
[An] excellent recent book...a lively study of the role of theater in staging cultural debates over what it meant to be Egyptian and modern, from 1869 (when both the Khedivial Opera House and the Suez Canal opened) until 1930...Acting Egyptian engages with the academic literature on Egypt and will appeal to historians and Arabic literature specialists.
~Middle East Journal
Note on Transliteration
Chapter 1. Aida in Egypt
Chapter 2. How to Be an Effendi
Chapter 3. The Story of Ahmad the Rat
Chapter 4. Cabarets and the Mothers of the Nation
Stay connected for our latest books and special offers.
We live in an information-rich world. As a publisher of international scope, the University of Texas Press serves the University of Texas at Austin community, the people of Texas, and knowledge seekers around the globe by identifying the most valuable and relevant information and publishing it in books, journals, and digital media that educate students; advance scholarship in the humanities and social sciences; and deepen humanity’s understanding of history, current events, contemporary culture, and the natural environment.