We stopped at a traffic light waiting for a new start

My first reaction was to accept that we are dealing with a pandemic and stick to health instructions. But when the situation got worse, I began to feel a sense of fear.

As a human being, I could not understand the sudden change in our lives. We are used to freedom, availability of options to go out, meet friends and travel. We were now in a state of complete closure, but as an artist, this is a different story!

We were witnessing a significant thrive in the art and culture industry. The General Entertainment Authority (GEA) was doing extraordinary work. Personally, I delivered eight shows, including three “color runs” and four individual stand-up shows. I worked on many activities for the Riyadh season as well.

Also, the Ministry of Culture was brilliant with its activities. As a son of theater, I was thrilled at the opening of the Saudi National Theater. This was a great step, as was the ministry's announcement of the launch of bodies for music, performing arts and other creative disciplines. These steps were amazing, and the wheel was moving at a fast pace and these efforts brought joy to every artist.

Then came the pandemic – and everything changed. Initially, I thought it was a matter of a week or two and then there will be a cure. Then it took a month, then two months. And now no one knows what will happen.

And here I am in Abu Dhabi, where I was filming a series before the pandemic, and we had to stop.

In “Comedy House,” we were about to start our third season, presenting a group of stand-up comedy shows, plays, and bringing comedy stars from abroad. All plans stopped.

Perhaps what bothered me most was my distance from the people. Audience interaction while on stage provides us with energy, just like fuel for the car.

For now, we are trying to retrieve our memories from those experiences through what we call “Trigger Memory.” We try to recall situations that led us to tension, for example, in order to actually live the moment and perform accordingly.

Despite all the circumstances, I am optimistic, and I see that we have stopped at a traffic light waiting for a new start.

We are adapting to the current situation, and with my partner at Comedy House, Talal Al-Anazi, we are publishing old and new content online on our social media platforms including Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, on a weekly basis. We include in them the hashtag and the message “Stay at home” and “We are all responsible,” in keeping with the government directives.

I cannot deny that the pandemic has positive aspects. It was a slap in the face. A slap that brought everyone back to real life. And we learned to appreciate the little things we used to complain about. Those who had grown-up in art, now learnt humility. Corona brought them back to real life.

I took advantage of this period to follow what is happening on a global scale. I follow the series “Barry” written, produced, and directed by an American artist named Bill Hader. A great series for two seasons, which tells the story of a hired killer who has become an actor by chance. It teaches us how acting turns someone into a better person, and how it polishes some of the bad habits. I think that the theater refines the artist, and the person in general.

As for the future, there is no doubt that maintaining content production under the circumstances is a challenge, but I am confident that the General Entertainment Authority and the Ministry of Culture and other entities in the art and culture industry, such as the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture (Ithra) will do their utmost to support innovators.

As artists we must think about alternative solutions. An artist cannot stop practicing art, and there are successful experiences using social media. There has been a revolution in Saudi YouTube programs since 2010, which has allowed Saudi creators to achieve regional and even international viewing success. Twitter was also used by Saudi influencers, and they had a strong presence on that platform. There is an account I follow daily for its cultural, philosophical, and social content, called “Ma’ana” (with us).

There are also several other methods discussed by artists, including live performances using online platforms. It is important to focus on upgrading the content and making good use of the platform.

As for our success as innovators, and regardless of the default platform there are basic requirements. I recall what the American actor, Kevin Spacey, said during a workshop in which I participated back in 2015, when he told us: “If the talented person wants to achieve success, he must have four conditions, and they are in order of priority: enjoying good connections, luck, to be hardworking and have talent.”

Written by:

Ibrahim Al Hajjaj

This interview between Ithra and the interviewee is part of a series of discussions on the impact of Covid-19 and the future of the creative industry.