The Al Rashid Revival: Volunteers Come Together to Re-Open Historic Baghdad Theatre
Rows of empty seats coated in dust are the first thing one sees upon entering Baghdad’s Al Rashid theatre – it is a relic that has survived in a country whose cultural heritage has been eroded by consecutive wars. For over a decade, the theatre has been shuttered, after falling victim to coalition airstrikes in 2003.
But it has not crumbled away. Today the theatre, situated in central Baghdad, is no longer vacant. A band of local volunteers – film enthusiasts and artists – have embarked upon a renovation project to revive the ghost theatre. Project director, Ahmad Mousa, told NIQASH that the campaign had attracted volunteers “from a diversity of cultural and artistic backgrounds, who heard about the restoration effort on social media, or through their universities”.
As Iraqi artist Qassem al-Mallak complained to Al Baghdadiya TV recently, Baghdad has already lost two of the city’s most important theatres – the Al Mansour and the Al Ihtifalat – as they are located within the Green Zone, a fortified area that houses politicians, security advisors and embassies. Only by obtaining special permission can ordinary civilians enter.
The core team for the Al Rashid renovation was enlisted through Iraq’s Ministry of Youth and Sports but as news of the campaign spread, other locals have also joined in. Those involved are united in their common aim to see the Al Rashid restored to its former glory and to nourish a past Iraqis reverently discuss but which not all have experienced.
In fact, the restoration plan is not a recent initiative. As Mousa explains, it had been placed on hold for over a decade without the necessary funds from the state to activate it.