Comic art, performance to reshape entertainment scene in Saudi Arabia

Saudi girls pose for a group picture as one stands behind a frame depicting King Kong

With the establish­ment of a House of Comedy in Dam­mam shortly after the first of Comic Con Arabia, Saudi Arabia appears to be promoting comic art and performance as it reshapes the cultural and entertainment scene in the conservative kingdom.
The Dammam Society of Arts and Culture, supported by the private sector, embarked on a project in cooperation with Black­light Art to raise appreciation for art and entertainment through an array of performing arts.
“The aim is to promote Saudi cultural identity through the varied and meaningful com­edy arts and seize this chance to present the young talents and develop creative abili­ties,” said a news release put out by the Dammam Society of Arts and Culture.
“The society seeks to make the local cultural and social life a source of inspiration and to keep the comedy and entertainment activity in the Eastern Province on a roll through a collaboration of efforts that seek a brighter and better future,” it added.
The House of Comedy, estab­lished under a memorandum of cooperation with Blacklight Art, will offer comedy shows, includ­ing plays, stand-up, specialised training workshops, plays for children and plays performed by women for women.
“This cooperation is meant to offer meaningful comedy shows and train nascent talents in the creative field. The House of Comedy will have year-round programmes that include work­shops, plays and comedy shows presented as edutainment offer­ings catering to all segments of the society,” said House of Com­edy President Talal al-Anzi.
In another show of support for entertainment, the Saudi General Entertainment Authority organ­ised a multi-genre pop-culture convention, Comic Con Arabia, for the first time in Riyadh as part of the oil-rich kingdom’s winter entertainment agenda.
The late-November event at Ri­yadh International Convention and Exhibition Centre attracted more than 10,000 visitors of all ages who experienced an exhilarating world of anime, manga, graphic novels, video games, toys, TV shows and films.
It brought together creators, experts, artists and celebrities, including “Game of Thrones” and “Justice League” star Jason Momoa, “Game of Thrones” star Pilou Asbaek, “Big Bang Theory” star Kevin Sussman, “Underworld: Awakenings,” “The Tudors” and “Lost Girl” star Kristen Holden- Ried, “Mother!” star and voiceover actress for “Legend of Zelda” Patri­cia Summersett and many more, said a news release from the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Informa­tion’s Centre for International Communication.
The large number of Saudi fans and comic enthusiasts — both men and women — had opportunities to interact with their favourite su­perheroes and take pictures with them donning superhero-themed costumes.
The event included two cosplay competitions, discussion panels with international cosplayers and voiceover actors, workshops and e-sport tournaments, in addition to exclusive collectables inspired by anime, manga, graphic novels and video games.
Live performances on the agen­da included stand-up comedy by Kuwaiti comedians Sultan al-Faraj and Mubarak al-Manea and a mu­sical performance by regional rap singer Qusai.
The region’s best cosplayers competed in an exclusive male and female cosplay competition, for a cash prize of nearly $2,000 each. The competitions were judged by international cosplayers Carlos Blanchard, Riki LeCotey and Mi­chael Wilson.
A workshop was also held with expert costume creator Christopher Donio, who works with the special­ty costuming department on film and television projects, including “Captain America: Civil War,” “Spi­der-Man: Homecoming,” “Guardi­ans of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” “Ant-Man” and “X-Men: First Class.”
Comic Con made its Saudi debut in February in Jeddah, drawing ap­proximately 30,000 visitors and more than 200 participants in cos­play competitions.
“Entertainment has reached very high levels in Saudi Arabia. Previously, no such public enter­tainment events were available for families, no gender mixing and no amusement or shows that would last for several days… It is really amazing,” Mowadda Bakhit, a resi­dent of Jeddah, said in comments made to Al Arab.
The list of international artists performing in the kingdom has been growing, including with US country singer Toby Keith, who performed at a men-only concert in Riyadh in May and American rapper Nelly, who is scheduled for another men-only show alongside Arabic pop-star Cheb Khaled from Algeria, December 14 in Jeddah.
Apparently, Saudi Arabia, long dreaded for its lack of entertain­ment options, is becoming a fun place as reform sweeps through its socio-cultural sectors.
The events are organised by the General Entertainment Authority, which was set up last year to pro­vide more entertainment options in Saudi Arabia.
Samar Kadi
is the Arab Weekly society and travel section editor.
This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.