When the news of Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre, or Ductac, preparing to exit stage right on July 30 after 12 years hit the stands, there was surprise for some, shock for others. But what was universal was the sad sense of an ending that wafted through conversations and perforated artist meetings.

The small huddle of drama pioneers now find themselves sans a spotlight, but before the shutters are drawn for good, they speak to Gulf News tabloid! about their fondest memories of the venue.

For local resident Asad Raza Khan, Ductac was more than a place for drama; it was where he met the woman who would become his wife. “2013 January. She [Butool] was performing a play in the finals of Short and Sweet, and I saw her there for the first time.” It would be another year before the actor/director/producer would see her again, but the embers of romance had been lit.

Ductac was also where Raza Khan passed a professional milestone. He collaborated with the Dubai Government and “brought the Shakespeare Globe theatre to Dubai for the first time with Hamlet in 2016”.

The mall-ensconced enclave has provided shade and stage to many acts — local and international — over its short life (it launched in 2006) but in that time it also became home to many troupes. “[It’s] where we all started, sort of got together. It was a venue that was convenient and there was a small theatre as well as a big theatre. It was kind of like our place,” Sanjeev Dixit says. The scriptwriter and performer recalls his first time in Ductac; it was on opening night.

While that’s his first memory of the multi-venue spot, he was involved with the project from its gestation period. “We did our bit, a group called Theatrics did a play called Ring Around the Moon, [from] which we donated the proceeds to Ductac... It was a community movement back then.” The writer of Amazing Dubai calls it a sad day for theatre in the city.

His thoughts are echoed by other stalwarts including Padraig Downey, who has directed and produced 10 shows there. “I will miss a vital artery of the community being severed as Ductac was in a prime location in a mall.”

“It is a regressive move closing such a beloved venue. Closing an arts centre that has been established for over a decade is regrettable and gives people like me less outlets to showcase our work and develop local talent,” he says.

Brian Wilke, the founder of the centre, is quick to point out that Ductac is about more than just theatre. There were workshops and camps and exhibitions, he sighs, and there was a library. “My favourite memory happened quite often, going in there, usually early evening and seeing all sorts of different people, different ages, different nationalities — male and female — all doing their own thing; some coming for arts’ classes; some to attend one of the theatres, some of them to pick-up their kids or change their books at the library. There were all the different things that we built Ductac for,” he reminisces.

For the owner of The Junction, Rashmi Kotriwala, one may think it’s a winning situation, after all a competitor has died a certain death. Her reaction is not that of someone who has won the race; it is one of almost grief. Her Al Serkal Avenue venue was launched three years ago propelled by her success and achievements there, and it’s like saying goodbye to an old friend. “I have performed in many plays and experimented as a director at Ductac along with my theatre friends from Backstage [a group]. I have wonderful memories attached to the venue,” she explains.

The stage was also a happy stopover for comics, from The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah to Amazon Prime show writer and comedian Biswa Kalyan Rath.

Dubai-grown stand-up collective VDesi Laughs Amit Asudani (above), who has worked the stage about four times, including once as the opening act for comedian Zakir Khan at Centrepoint Theatre, says, “The fact that Ductac was the only place in Dubai that gave emerging comics a space to be recognised at such a grand scale. [Plus] I’m going to miss the green room, the room where I got to hang out with my favourite comedians.”

Miqdaad Dohadwala, VDesi Laughs’ co-founder, adds, “Performing in front of 500 people at the Centrepoint Theatre was a landmark for any theatre, performer and the fact that this iconic venue no longer exists is a great loss for the arts community overall.”

It might be even more personal for Alex Broun. He moved to the city after a trip to the site introduced him to similar-minded folks. “Ductac was actually the first theatre that I went to in Dubai... in 2010. I was running a festival in India and came across for just a kind of little break. On the last day I wondered if there’s any theatre in Dubai. So I actually went to Dubai and saw a very, very good production of Almost Maine. And there was a lot of Dubai theatre personalities at the time in it. And that’s how I ended up being based in Dubai because I met that night — I spoke to them in terms of running Short and Sweet festivals and people thought [it] would be a great thing to bring to Dubai.

“Over the last seven years, Short and Sweet has run there and then also I was general manager for a brief time in 2016, so I’ve had a big involvement with the place.”

So what went wrong? Why are we saying goodbye to the famed halls of Ductac — why must the silence take centre stage? Broun says: “I think there was always an issue with what Ductac’s purpose was, and when Ductac was first created by Brian Wilke... it was set up very much as a community theatre venue… And I think what there was an economic clash with reality of Ductac, in that it had to pay its bills, it had to make a profit — there was basically a clash between it being a community theatre venue and being a corporate venue, or a venue that made money,” he says.

“The problem I see is for theatre to grow at the grass-root level, if renting out performing arts spaces doesn’t become cheaper I don’t think it will go anywhere. It’ll be the same; only a handful of people will be able to afford this and that is not the way it should be,” says Jimish Thakkar, who has produced, acted and directed plays over the past 18 years in the city.

Wilke, however, blames the mall’s expansion plans for the downfall. "It's such a pity," he says.

Whatever the thought behind the act, it’s time for the curtains to close on Ductac; it’s time for a standing ovation.




A few months ago, edutainment play What The Ladybird Heard enthralled audiences of a young age at Ductac. The UK-based performers of the show were stumped upon hearing of the venue’s closure. Here’s what they had to say:


Emma Carroll

“It was a professional privilege to take our show to an international audience and wonderful to see how well it was received in such a fabulous space. The children in the audience were bouncing up and down with joy during our last song — it was delightful! The Ductac team made us so comfortable and supported us throughout our time in Dubai. It was a pleasure to perform there and we’d like to thank everyone we worked with for making it a great experience!”


Emma Breton

“I had a wonderful time performing at the Ductac. The audiences were great and for me the whole experience is associated with the excitement of performing in Dubai, the beautiful beaches and sunny weather!”