Egypt's aspiring actors tout talent online

Many of Egypt's wannabe stars are showcasing their work on social media, hoping to break into big-time show business.

al-monitor Comedian and social media activist Waleed Sadaka started the Facebook page Talents of Egypt. Posted March 26, 2018. Photo by Facebook/Waleed Sadaka.

Oct 2, 2018

CAIRO — Aspiring actors and other artists in Egypt have turned to social media seeking the attention of talent scouts, but the jury’s still out on whether this is an effective shortcut to being discovered.

A Facebook page called Talents of Egypt, created in 2017 by comedian and social media activist Waleed Sadaka, had just over 172,000 followers as of Oct. 2. Every day, dozens of aspiring artists post videos, audio recordings and photos to showcase their acting, singing and dancing skills, as well as impersonations or satire of famous figures, which get the highest click rates.

Sadaka told Al-Monitor he launched the page to give talented artists an opportunity to be discovered — an opportunity he never had. Early on, when the page had only 2,000 followers, he was nervous and wasn't sure where the effort would lead, but he gradually relaxed after the site attracted more than 100,000 people.

The Facebook page has seven moderators, but they don't judge or determine what's posted; any member of the group can post whatever they choose. There is no censorship on the remarks, either. Though most comments are encouraging, there is also criticism and concrete advice.

“Has the art scene become open to everyone thanks to social media? Social media has provided a wide space to express talent. Some artists emerged from these Facebook pages that showcase talent,” Sadaka said, citing as an example the case of Ahmed Amin, who became known through the videos he posted on Facebook. He then became a writer for the show "Plateau," then the series "Al-Wasiya" ("The Legacy").

“But many producers are still uninterested in social media as a platform to discover talents,” Sadaka said.

Followers of the page come from different walks of life and have different reasons for posting their work. Ahmed Ibrahim, host of the satirical show "Masr Di Tebaa Ummak" ("Egypt Remains Your Homeland") on YouTube and a loyal follower who regularly reposts them on the Facebook page, told Al-Monitor one of his friends suggested he try the page to gain more followers. He noted that the page played a vital role in introducing more people on social media to his show, which receives thousands of views on YouTube as well.

Ibrahim added that he hopes somebody will discover his talent and help him develop his show and his team. For the time being, he shoots his show in a small room in his own house, while a friend films him on a cellphone camera. Ibrahim said part of the reason he joined the page about a year ago was to get feedback on his work. “My performance was bad at first but I improved, as much with experience as with people’s tips,” he told Al-Monitor, expressing hope that he will attract the attention of someone in the industry who will help him develop professionally.

Khaled Gamal, a graduate of Cairo University’s commerce program, wanted to study arts — cinema or theater — but his family refused. Then he started writing funny songs, theater scripts and short film scenarios, which he currently displays on the Talents of Egypt page. Like Ibrahim, he told Al-Monitor he hopes a producer will spot him and help him with his career path. He said people’s positive comments after he posted four videos greatly encouraged him.

Nour Mohammad, a fine arts graduate of Cairo University, also explained that the page helped her develop her work. She told Al-Monitor, “At first, I would put up my drawings of well-known figures and invite visitors to comment on them. Later, I started working in graphics, which has become essential in cinematic production. I enrolled in training sessions and workshops in the field.”

May Mahmoud, another loyal user of the page and a student at Menoufia University studying trade, told Al-Monitor she is there to find a team. Her focus is dubbing films, an area that is unexplored in Egypt. She said she followed the page hoping to form a group to design animated series and films, provided that she does the sound performance.

Nader Adly, an art critic for several Egyptian newspapers, told Al-Monitor the social media experience has given rise to several talented artists in comedy and satire, but most producers still discover talent through traditional ways, such as auditions, word of mouth or face-to-face encounters.

"It's an open space for anyone who thinks they are talented," he said of social media. "Some are actually talented, while others are not. The talented should try to get to producers, composers and production companies and break free from fear that selection is based on favoritism and acquaintances, as is reported in artistic circles.”

Ahmad Kamal, a prominent Egyptian actor, told Al-Monitor that the number of Facebook clicks a site or person receives may also be misleading. The audience online is but a small portion of the audience needed for success, he said.

Kamal noted that each profession has its own channels through which amateurs and aspiring artists can reach professional producers and directors. These channels include centers that present training sessions and workshops such as Rafat Mahi Academy, the Actor Studio, Dahab Media Training & Arts Academy and Ali Badr Khan workshop, not to mention cinema and theatrical arts institutes. A diploma, he said, could lead to fame faster than an online presence.

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