It's a pretty blunt question. Is theatre dead? What it threw up by way of the answers was whether the fast-moving pace of Dubai was supportive of an art form such as theatre that requires time, effort, money and talent.

High stress jobs and traffic jams leave even the passionate few with little spare time to work in theatre at an amateur level.

That leaves organisers and those in the play circle with no choice but to import plays. Though some believe that it's a definitely better option and they reiterate it's not because of a dearth of talent.

"There's a difference between a professional actor and an amateur. Anywhere. An amateur, no matter how good, will recite lines with the required emotion but a professional gets into the character and you can just tell the difference," says Philippe Duquenoy of Street Wise Theatre.

Duquenoy is a well-known name in local theatre and stages productions - not local - at the Crowne Plaza in Dubai. He is also looking into organising theatre workshops this summer.

"There was a time when the Dubai Country Club would host a play a month but that doesn't happen anymore. Those were very well received and people who knew would definitely come out to them," he says when asked about audience interest in theatre.

Moving forward

He says that some of his plays have sold out and believes that as a producer it takes a while before audiences can trust the quality of work that is brought.

"I did make one mistake once. I brought a play that was billed a pantomime and it wasn't. It took me a while to get my reputation back after that and now I just don't bring plays that I haven't watched myself," he says.

Agreeing that there is a need for a vibrant local theatre scene in order to have a better appreciation for theatre from outside, Duquenoy recalls a time when the Dubai Players, later named as Dubai Drama, would stage local productions.

"I believe they do exist now but I think the lack of local productions just boils down to accessibility to venues, rising costs, no time and bad venues," he says.

Duquenoy is fiercely critical of the venues in Dubai. "They're all s***," he says before he rips them apart individually. He believes the lack of good venues stems from the fact that they're designed and managed by people who don't understand theatre.

Sponsors hard to find

Finding sponsors is another problem he faces, though he concedes things are looking up.

"This is an embryonic stage but I see an improvement each time there's a show. I'd love cash sponsors but they all seem to prefer the big names and big concerts. Though I have to say I'm fortunate to have the hotel, subsidised air tickets, one cash sponsor, great sound and lighting," he says.

Though the sponsors are running after the big gigs, local radio personality Gagan Mudgal, who is also establishing himself as a theatre force in Dubai, sees a dwindling interest in the hyped shows.

"People tell me they're fed up with the Bollywood shows and DJ nights. Every week there's some club doing something and the stars are also here every other month. So you miss one and you can always make it to the other. This creates a good environment for theatre to thrive in," he says.

Mudgal recently staged his solo-show Visit Visa - a play about a young man who arrives in Dubai to find a job in 60 days - for 1,800 labourers in the Dulsco labour camp.

Having staged the show at a commercial level, Mudgal doesn't think that theatre needs a great venue and all the other paraphernalia that go with staging a production.

"It would be nice [to have a great venue] and sponsors and lights and sound. But really, theatre just needs passionate people and actors and the will to make it happen. If that's there, it will happen," he says.

Mudgal's stage at the labour camp was created and he got into the skin of 15 characters in an outdoor setting.

"Sure there were distractions. But, after 15 minutes I just ignored it all and got involved in the roles. The final validation was when the labourers came up to me and said they felt that it was them on stage," he says.

The actor is particularly excited about the Community Theatre and wants to spread theatrical fever around so more people are involved and local talent finds a better platform.


Digby Taylor, communications director of The Great Entertainment Company, who recently brought Romeo and Juliet to town, says that he's quite pleased with the infrastructure and audiences in Dubai. "It's encouraging that things are getting better with each event," he says.

His company specialises in operas and ballets and he did admit that there was no venue in Dubai that offered an orchestra pit.

"That's something we need. But otherwise I think the venues are good for operas and ballets. I can't speak for the spoken word as we don't do that," he says.

Susan Sheriff of Rangmanch, a local Indian theatre group says that unlike other events, establishing a theatre company is much harder.
"In the early days finding a sponsor was impossible. It's been hard work changing perceptions, changing attitudes and finding the right plays. Once that reputation is established though there's no stopping, but it's one of those things that needs driven people who just do it for the love of theatre," she says.