In a theatre studio tucked away from the everyday goings on at Gems Wellington Academy, we find four young stars participating in some intense workshops to become cats. But this isn’t some strange sort of menagerie. It is, in fact, part of a brand-new and mightily exciting education programme organised by Dubai Opera to celebrate the arrival of the legendary musical Cats to its stage. And the school boasts a one-of-its-kind Performance Arts Academy, which is the perfect place for stars-in-the-making to be nurtured.
As Hamza Ayman has his stunning artistic stage make-up applied, turning him from a handsome little boy into conniving McCavity, the mystery cat, before our very eyes, he shares with us his dreams of becoming a famous movie star, just like his idol, George Clooney. “I have always loved watching plays and movies,” he confides in us. “Since I was five years old I have enjoyed performing in sing-along shows at school and my teachers told my parents that I was very talented.”
At just nine, Hamza is the youngest of our talented troop and a member of ‘Illuminate’, the theatre group at the Performing Arts Academy. As he stalks onto the stage to take up his place, we can practically hear him meow. And these are the kind of skills that the Performing Arts Academy are working on with the children.
Director Becky Lewis tells us: “These kids have something within which we can see, and we want to shine their stars. We take an inclusive whole academy approach here that allows all students to explore the specialisms of Music, Dance and Drama within the curriculum and through lunchtime clubs.”
So, as well as having fun, these children work hard and foster early on an inner determination that will be crucial for them to succeed in a highly competitive profession.
Take ten-year-old Mira Younis, for instance, who lights up the stage with her smile and confidence and nails every one of the emotions her teacher calls for her to showcase. “I just love doing facial expressions, together with body gestures. I can be happy or mad or shy,” she tells us. Mira has always wanted to act and used to be inspired by watching her older brother act in plays. Her parents are also extremely supportive, with her mum pitching in to help out on all of the Academy’s productions.
But the bright lights of the stage didn’t entice them all straight away. For Abi Loweridge it was more of a slow-burner. Having moved to Dubai from the UK two years ago, Abi had dreams of becoming a dog handler, or a soldier. A great all-rounder, she excels at sports and enjoys being part of the school netball team. She believes it’s her sarcasm and wit that put her on the course for the theatre, and now she’s found it, she can’t turn away. She too is looking forward to being a great movie star some day, and also attends Courtyard Theatre to further hone her skills.
Director Lewis says that having this Performing Arts Academy as part of their schooling is a real bonus for children with a passion for the arts. “Our aim is to be seen as a prestigious performing arts school so that our students can become affiliated with the bigger stage schools around the world,” she says. “This will in turn enable the students to access careers on the West End and so on.”
As Finlay Rowen swipes and claws his way about on stage, we are enchanted. We had watched him sit quietly, waiting his turn, but suddenly he transforms from patient boy to cheeky cat, with just a turn of his head and swish of his arm. Finlay tells us that it’s his dad who gives him the credence to be what he wants to be.
“Dad gives me sound advice,” he says. “He tells me to show my talent and to do it for myself.” With his cheeky face and humble charm, Finlay hopes to be a great comic in the future and we are left convinced he’ll be and really looking forward to the day he will tickle our funny bones once more.
As for what is it that you need in order to have to succeed in the stage and movie industry, all four children are unequivocal. It’s about passion, it’s about confidence, and it’s about still keeping it real. We can’t wait to see these young stars on our screens someday, and wonder if the Hollywood A-list might like to take particular note of the “keeping it real”...