Amateur dramatics in Dubai

Local theatre group Backstage is preparing a stream of shows

A performance of Strangers on a Train by Robert Allan Ackerman, April 2010.
A performance of Strangers on a Train by Robert Allan Ackerman, April 2010.
Area Guides
Area Guides
Wanda’s Visit by Christopher Durang, November 2010.
Wanda’s Visit by Christopher Durang, November 2010.
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After launching just 18 months ago, multicultural community group Backstage now boasts more than 400 members, who between them staged 12 shows last year. This year the group is showing no signs of slowing down, and is urging more amateur thespians to come forward to join its workshops and audition for new plays.

‘We don’t make any profit from our shows,’ says Gautam Goenka from the Backstage committee. ‘We just do it for the love of theatre. Everyone here has full-time jobs or is studying, though we have some professionals who give up their time to teach others.’

Backstage offers workshops to teach the basics of acting, including how to improvise, project your voice, learn lines and improve on current skills while building confidence. Many of its members then go on to perform in the regular productions, the latest of which is an evening of two short plays, The Courier and Beautiful American Soldier, taking place at The Shelter in Al Quoz this week.

Backstage is even open to helping budding writers break into directing. Dubai resident Philip Apaza, from the US, is a full-time student and was given the chance to direct his first play in Dubai. ‘I enjoy the presence of the stage and the hope of entertaining an audience,’ he says. Philip was lucky enough to have his first play snapped up by Backstage as a full-length production. ‘I wrote a play called Players & Pawns, a comedy-drama about the life of a compulsive liar who goes through an identity crisis as his lies start to collide. He also has to face his own issues from the past, though he’s not sure if they’re real or not.’

Though on a small scale, Backstage’s productions are making waves in the community. ‘A man approached me at the mall and said he recognised me from the play,’ says Philip. ‘He told me how much he loved it and that he would start attending more productions. It was touching.’

A night of theatre is one of the best ways to break the monotony of daily life, believes the performing arts group. ‘Theatre is a way to experience something new. The story draws you in and takes you to somewhere you haven’t been before,’ explains Philip. Yet amateur performers aren’t motivated about money or getting their big break. ‘Amateur theatre is all about passion and it can easily be seen on stage. We do it for the fun and thrill of the audience.’

One thing that sets this community group apart from other similar initiatives is its diversity. Backstage welcomes members from all parts of the globe to share their techniques and experiences, from Bollywood to western, opera to modern American theatre and beyond. While the majority of the plays are in English, this year the group will be performing plays in a variety of languages.

‘I’ve been involved in theatre for 20 years,’ says Dubai resident Salmin Sheriff, from India. ‘I got involved with Backstage after I watched some of the group’s plays, and was very impressed. They perform entertaining plays and are also not afraid to experiment.’ Every Backstage member has a different forte, explains Gautam. ‘We pool our information from everything from acting to set design and lighting, and we try and get sponsorship for productions to deal with the costs.’

Dubai housewife Stephanie Inglesfield, originally from France, caught the theatre bug a few years ago and auditioned for one of Backstage’s shows. She hasn’t looked back since, and will be starring as Mrs Rogers in the group’s new production of Agatha Christie play And Then There Were None, showing this May. ‘Theatre opens up your world,’ she says. ‘People who are involved with theatre have vivid imaginations, they are risk-takers and are willing to get on stage. Others may find them ridiculous, may laugh at them, or they may forget their lines, but that’s all part of the thrill. It will change your life.’

See The Courier and Beautiful American Soldier on February 24-26 at The Shelter, Al Quoz at 7.30pm; tickets are Dhs30. Acting workshops will be held on March 4, 5, 11 and 12 at 1.30pm, location TBC. For info, search for ‘Backstage Dubai’ on Facebook or call 050 452 4793.

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