For those of us who have lived in Dubai long enough, the launch of Dubai Community Theatre and Art Centre (DUCTACT) by Brian Wilkie around 2006 might be a distant memory drowning amongst Dubai’s other numerous mega launches and events.
However, this doesn't dismiss the fact that it has made a remarkable difference in the city's arts and culture scene.
Together with the more commercial venue of Madinat Theatre, those were the only drama producers in the Emirate.
In the meantime, the scene saw a growing need to cater to Arabic-speaking theatre-lovers while keeping the interest of the majority English-speaking ticket buyers.
Danú Dubai, a theatre group founded in 2013, offered the perfect solution: Middle Eastern adaptations of international drama performed in English.
“More and more, there was a deep yearning for Arab themed theatre,” founder Padraig Downey told StepFeed.
The group’s production A Doll's House (Middle East adaptation in English) was performed last May in Ductac.
Along with Downey as a director and Omar Hassan Khamis as assistant director, the play featured Emirati and Arab actors.
"I always felt that my students didn’t quite 'get' how revolutionary this play was. I therefore reinvented the play for a modern audience, updating and rewriting the original script to The Gulf in the 1990s," explained Downey.
Concepts and names of characters were converted into Arabic; which saw Helmer change to Talal and the events of Christmas change to fall on the Islamic Eid holidays instead.
“I strongly believe that there should be more Arabic themed drama in Dubai. The play was a sell out and resonated with all audiences. Interestingly, the audience was more Arab than western and we had a great number of Emiratis who came to see the play, rising to their feet after each performance,” Downey added.
In the view of Lebanese University performing arts graduate Michel Nassar, plays adapted to our Middle Eastern settings are also critical but for very different reasons than Downey's.
“Some of the international plays speak about general life situations that can be adapted easily to our society," Nassar told StepFeed, adding that famous plays are sometimes more appealing to the producers and the audience.
Having performed and taught drama in Lebanon and Dubai, he won an award in last year’s Dubai 48 Hour Theater Festival.
He also recently started his own drama club in the Emirate in which he will be teaching weekly workshops at The Junction.
Producing such plays is not easy.
For Downey, one of the biggest challenges at the beginning was finding Arab and local actors.
Now, however, he is receiving a bigger number of Emirati and Saudi actors for auditions. Even Emirati women started showing an interest recently.
The other challenge is covering the production expenses.
“Doing theatre in Dubai is incredibly expensive. It is very hard to get sponsorship. To be honest, I pay for everything out of my own pocket and must pay everything up front ... I am lucky to break even but am adamant that tickets should not be too expensive. I always have student tickets at 60 Dhs and adult tickets from 85 to 100 Dhs," Downey said.
As for Nassar, he believes that the biggest challenges would be keeping true to the script itself and “keeping the core of the play ... without having legal problems with the writers".
After the success of A Doll’s House, Downey hopes to work on a Syrian play in the next few months.
But for now, he and the rest of Danú Dubai are keeping busy with their next production.
Scheduled for early November at Ductac, they will be performing an Arab Hamlet set in the Middle East called The Al Hamlet Summit, written by the Kuwaiti Sulayman Al Bassam and featuring an Arab cast including two Emirati actresses.