The recent announcement by the Saudi General Entertainment Authority that it was planning to invest $64 billion dollars in the entertainment sector was welcomed by thousands of people in Saudi Arabia who have been working for years in this industry, but without the full support they now have. It comes as the blockbuster movie “Black Panther” screened in Riyadh this week, marking the first time a movie theatre has been open in Saudi Arabia for over 30 years.
It’s not just the consumers who are people embracing this rapidly changing investment into entertainment, but comedian Khaled Omar of Jeddah. Five years ago, he and some of his friends opened, “Alcomedy Club,” the first such club in the Kingdom. Speaking to Arabia Now about the rapid expansion of the entertainment industry Khaled said, “We have an industry now. So the culture has changed, people are smarter now, people understand and demand quality. It’s very competitive now, which is very good for us because it will constantly push us to make better shows every time.”
That’s good news for people who have wanted to pursue a career as an actor, producer, writer, director, or musicians but have never had an official platform to do so. Expanding the entertainment field in the Kingdom is a key pillar of Saudi Vision 2030 and one which is already showing rapid signs of impact with shows such as Cirque du Soleil confirmed, Opera Houses, and an opera from Egypt due to be performed next week.
Up till now, comedians have been some of the biggest influencers on the youth in Saudi Arabia, and the demand for live entertainment has always been there. During his joke filled interview with Arabia, Khaled Omar said, “Alcomedy Club, has grown significantly over the past five years. We started with one show every two weeks in one city and now we have around twenty shows a month in two cities. We did a show in Kuwait last week, and we’re planning to do a regular show there too. We used to do only stand up, now we do standup, improv, sketches short plays and comedy musicals. Our new product is two short plays in one ninety-minute show, and it was a huge hit. People got out happy.”
It’s not just the audience that’s leaving happy, but it’s those in the entertainment industry too. Before Saudi Vision 2030 was announced and expanding the entertainment industry became a key pillar of it, trying to get the right permits to have live shows and public concerts was a challenge. As Khaled explained, “It was hard changing the culture of entertainment because people weren’t used to having events and shows going on weekly or even daily basis. However, we can finally say there is an industry for live entertainment, therefore, there are more clear regulations and there are audiences.”
That also means the expansion of a new economic growth in an area many in the Kingdom have pursued outside of Saudi Arabia. It’s something which General Entertainment Authority chief Ahmed Bin Aqeel al-Khatib has acknowledged too saying, “In the past, investors would go outside the Kingdom to produce their work, and then showcase it back in Saudi Arabia. Today, change will happen and everything related to entertainment will be done here. God willing, you will see a real change by 2020.”
Up to this point, comedians who have grown up in Saudi Arabia such has Khaled Omar have been inspired by famous names such as Robin Williams, Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock. But now with a $64 million investment in entertainment in Saudi Arabia, it wont be long before the Kingdom will be show casing their home grown talent around the world too.