How Hisham Malaika went from being an avid theater fan to directing the first-ever Saudi version of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”—and astonished his audience (and himself) with the results.
What inspired you to put on a play?
This is the first time I’ve done anything like this. Being an architect in Saudi I’ve had few opportunities to do anything really creative, but I love theater and it’s a big part of who I am, so that was a huge catalyst.
Another was a cultural event I attended in Jeddah: I was absolutely amazed by how much talent there was in the city. I had no idea it was there bubbling under the surface and trying to find any available avenue for self-expression. So the idea was born to utilize some of the talent that was there.
For me the whole purpose of staging the play was to promote theater as an art form to our local community because it’s unknown here; live dramatic theater is very rare in the KSA and the only theater people get to see is Egyptian comedy on TV. I purposely kept the ticket price as low as I could to attract as many people as I could, especially youth.
Why “Cuckoo’s Nest”?
It’s a multi layered story that comments quite brilliantly on the relationship between an individual and an authority, on the balance between individual freedom and conformity, and on the system and how it can sometimes not be in the best interests of its beneficiaries.
And the result?
The audience’s reaction exceeded my every expectation. They were laughing at the jokes; in the really tragic moments you could hear a pin drop. Most amazing of all was when the play ended and everyone jumped to their feet clapping and cheering.
I’ve always loved theater but I don’t think I realized the impact it has on a community or society as much as I did that night, because it’s live and the impact is immediate. A group of actors sharing very deep, meaningful experiences with other human beings–I don’t think there’s any other art form that does that.