Rashmi Kotriwala, co-founder of The Junction Image Credit: Supplied

As Dubai develops into a thriving cultural centre, The Junction is fulfilling a much-felt need for an affordable and supportive venue where the local performing arts community can showcase its talent and experiment with new ideas. The independently owned black box style theatre, which opened in 2015 in Alserkal Avenue, has contributed to the local cultural scene by hosting a variety of events featuring homegrown performers.

Rashmi Kotriwala, co-founder of The Junction speaks about the vision behind this endeavour. Excerpts:

What was your motivation to build this theatre in Dubai?

I have been involved with theatre since childhood. After I moved from Kolkata to Dubai in 2005 I began working behind the scenes with the not-for profit theatre group Backstage founded by Gautam Goenka and Arjun Burman. After directing some successful plays, including the winner in the first Short & Sweet Theatre Festival in Dubai in 2013, I wanted to turn my passion into something more by opening a small performing arts venue. My friend Akansha Goenka, also from Backstage had the same ambition, so we pooled our resources along with other investors to open The Junction. We had no experience of running such a venue but we took the plunge because we are passionate about theatre and we know that this is a need of the arts community. Alserkal Avenue welcomed our concept and has supported us wholeheartedly. Backstage is now our resident theatre group and has been renamed H72 Productions after our warehouse number.

What is your vision for The Junction?

We called it The Junction because our vision is to be a meeting place for creative minds from all genres of the performing arts. We want to provide a space where local and regional performers can express themselves, hone their talents and be part of the thriving arts and culture scene. A black box theatre is meant to be an experimental space and we want this to be a home for the creative community where performers can take risks with original ideas, where collaboration and mutual development can occur and where appreciation for the arts can be cultivated into bigger audiences. The theatre has been carefully designed with state-of-the-art technical equipment, a spacious ground level stage of 12.7m by 7.8m and two side stage rooms, and we have ensured that all 159 seats have a good line of sight.

How are you different from other venues in Dubai?

Unlike other venues who only rent out the space, this is a performing arts space made by performers for performers so we understand their needs and concerns and are there to celebrate, support and cater to them. We are more affordable and we also provide our clients time for set-up and technical rehearsals at the venue. Clients always deal directly with one of the founders, and we make sure that we understand their specific requirements. If needed, we offer advice regarding costs and logistics. We also offer partial or full partnership models with H72 Productions to help emerging creatives realise their ideas. We recognise and motivate local performers by organising a grand annual awards night with a panel of experts and the audiences voting for the best performances of the year in various categories.

What kind of performances do you want to present?

We are open to everything the community offers and the local audience wants to see. We have presented international productions, popular classics from Shakespeare to Neil Simon, original homegrown productions set in Dubai such as Howzat and Just Like That and personal stories of Dubai residents such as the Urdu play Mian Biwi Aur Wagah, which went on to be staged successfully in Delhi and Karachi too. We have had shows for children, and in various languages including Italian and Russian.

We hold the rights to the UAE’s largest theatre festival called Short+Sweet Theatre Festival, which runs in 15 cities across the globe. This has become a great platform for talented homegrown actors, directors, playwrights, poets, musicians, dancers and comedians. We have experimented with genres such as magic shows and stand-up comedy acts discovering many homegrown talents in the process. We were among the first to host celebrity Indian stand-up comedians and the first to host stand-up comedy acts in Tamil and Gujarati.

We also organised Queens of Drama, where women were invited to write and direct plays on issues related to women. We also host acting and scriptwriting workshops for all ages and the space is available for corporate and private events too.

How is the response from the community?

The response has been great. Most theatre groups in Dubai consider The Junction their home now and we have presented many homegrown talents ranging from kathak dancers and children’s choirs to magicians and hypnotherapists. Our audience is multicultural and appreciative. Over 25,000 people have visited the theatre and we have hosted over 100 shows, many of which were sold out. We hope to broaden the audience by presenting a larger variety of shows. We are also trying to change the weekend culture of Dubai by opening shows on Wednesdays and hosting mid-week performances. We hope to get more corporate and individual patronage to help us grow.