His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah, with actor Kevin Spacey in Sharjah on Sunday night. Image Credit: WAM

Kevin Spacey picked a rather unusual place to celebrate his best actor Screen Actors Guild award on Sunday night: He was on stage at the Sharjah Institute of Theatrical Arts. Instead of collecting his second big win this awards season for House of Cards in Los Angeles (he won a Golden Globe earlier this month), the actor attended the final day of a theatre programme he helped launched in the emirate, which culminated in a performance by the students.

The programme, Home Grown, is an initiative by the Kevin Spacey Foundation to help emerging artists and aspiring actors through scholarships and grants. Sunday night’s performance, of a play by Iraqi playwright Hassan Abdul Razzak called Dhow Under the Sun, saw 34 students from across the Middle East and North Africa perform.

The performance was also attended by His Highness Dr Shaikh Sultan bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Sharjah.

“Tonight is the kind of night that I grew up with and experienced when I was very young,” Spacey told a packed theatre before the performance. “When I was young, I had to be part of many [theatre] programmes where I was brought together along with many emerging artists, put together plays, did workshops with professional directors, artists and working artists.

“Tonight is different because all the performers you will see are from so many different places. At Home Grown, we discover local talent and give them the skill and resources to survive and succeed on world stages. My foundation is proud to partner with the Middle East Theatre Academy to bring Home Grown to this region and have it hosted this year in Sharjah, the centre of heritage and culture in the UAE.”

Spacey said more than 300 aspirants from 17 countries auditioned for the two-week programme.

“We chose the participants based on their talents, ambition and potential, and they come from a mix of abilities — from relatively experienced to newbies,” he said. “To give you a sense of the ambition of the project, for some of the participants, this is their first time outside of their countries. Many of them have left jobs, missed weddings and postponed their plans to be here.

“They’ve been working together for these past two weeks. In that time they have developed their skills as actors, headed up by my professional team from the UK.”

Predominantly in Arabic, with English and Arabic subtitles screened next to the stage, Dhow Under the Sun is set in a refugee camp called Dhow, where residents of a city devastated by a flood have sought refuge. There, a young engineer tries to find a solution to her settlement’s power problems with the help of Anis, a cigarette seller. Through this premise, a story of romance, of loss and of believing in one’s dream despite many obstacles, is told. Spacey evoked the spirit of Shaikh Zayed in his speech, saying it inspires the vision for Home Grown in the Middle East.

“Just as the UAE was brought together by the vision of man who believed that he could unite all under one banner, tonight we celebrate that spirit by bringing together these young remarkable talents from so many different places,” he said.