Sol Abiad... "When I step on stage I never forget to respect the moment, respect fellow actors, movement in the space, the story and belief." Image Credit: Silvia Baron

To me acting is addictive.

I feel acting is a talent that can be nurtured. If intelligence is inborn (and let's just say potential is), then any intelligent being can focus and harness skills to perform. I would say acting is for everyone because everyone does it anyway. As a teacher to actors, I treasure the trust they place in me. Actors donate their heart to the art. There is a tremendous onus on making sure nothing takes advantage of that. I feel it is crucial to have reverence in your heart. When I step on stage I never forget to respect the moment, respect fellow actors, movement in the space, the story and belief.

 

I come from a parentage that was a rich blend of cultures and a rainbow of interests.

My father Samir Abiad, of French-Lebanese origin, was an economist and my mother, Manuela Pena, was of Spanish-French origin and was a teacher. My parents are retired after working in the UAE from 1984-2003.

I was born in Paris and raised in several countries. We began travelling when I was eight. We lived in the USA, UK, UAE, Canada, and I took a leaf out of the cultures of every country I visited.

One of the finest things that I recall from my childhood was music, something I imbibed spontaneously from my grandparents.

My grandfather, Luis Pena, was a Spanish composer and my grandmother, Marguerite Conty, of French-Bretagnian origin, was a prized conservatory pianist. Music pervaded our home. I was strictly trained to respect my grandfather who would work in his studio at home. I took up painting because it was a quiet artistic activity I could practise while tonal sounds took over the house. I would enjoy escaping to my great-aunt's house a street away to use the attic as a theatre space: the alcove there looked like a stage. I feel my love for art, music and theatre originates from there. So when it was time for me to make my professional choices, I naturally opted to do my Masters in performance from Bristol University. However, I feel all arts are interconnected and communication happens through many mediums. That explains my love for writing which prompted me to complete my diploma from the London School of Journalism and to take courses in drama and philosophy.

 

My theatre project STAR TOO, here in Dubai aims to bridge gaps between artistic disciplines.

We bring together artists in the community to provide actors tools to build genuine stories and express themselves efficiently, practising experimentation and imagination.

At STAR TOO, we base a piece on improvisation. After 12 hours of engaging in exercises that hone alertness and creativity, the 12 hours that follow those focus on participants naturally developing narratives. Actors can script these for themselves if they feel more comfortable but they can also just feel for the skeleton of their story and flesh it out on the spot. In either case, it won't feel like recitation. These are personal stories no one else can tell but the actor himself. In our productions, we use plain white cloth to shape everything - from set pieces to props - keeping minimalism in mind and focusing on the story and people, and not just on things.

We do not believe in too much back-patting or appreciation. I don't think this crosses the mind too deeply when someone has given an honest performance, told a truth and shared it. Encouragement is something we can gather in training.

As the words STAR TOO suggest: everyone can act; everyone is a star in their own right. To quote Viola Spolin (godmother of improvisational theatre), "Approval or disapproval is keeping you from direct experience. Also, success or failure is a side product of the approval or disapproval syndrome. Trying for success or giving into failure drains us."

However, I feel there are certain elements every budding actor must know about and try and preserve.

I would advise any aspirant to follow the five fundamental rules: One, take care of your instrument, your body, so it can move beautifully and two, your voice so it can express a story effectively. Three, work on the basis of ‘why' rather than ‘how'. Four, take care of fellow actors so you can best tell the story together (maintain individuality while being an ensemble).

Acting is not about pretending but about convincing. Five, learn independently; gather information and think for yourself.

I refuse to compromise about certain things in life.

I think making magic through the arts is important and meaningful but selling dreams for a profit is not. It is unethical. An actor may use a lot of emotions but sentiments are vain if they are used to manipulate others. There is a fine line between convincing and controlling. This delicate balance differentiates art from propaganda.

 

I have been inspired by great people in my life.

Ariane Mnouchkine is one of them. She has greatly influenced me by being the most intelligent voice in contemporary theatre, giving life to theatre, lively as ever at age 70, and running the magical Theatre du Soleil. Then it's my icon in the theatre world, Ted Miltenberger. He is a founding member and lifetime honorary member of the International Schools Theatre Association. He showed me the importance of ensemble work, while maintaining individuality, and introduced me to the rocking work of Peter Brook (English and French theatre and film director) and Deborah Warner (a British director of theatre and opera).

 

I am a constant student of theatre.

I believe in refreshing my repertoire. I mostly take classes. If I didn't take classes I would get rusty. My last huge learning experience was listening to Ariane Mnouchkine at the Theatre du Soleil in Paris. I attend peers' workshops wherever I can. Here in Dubai, I truly enjoyed doing the Desert Monologues with Kemsley Dickinson (the founder of Drama Workshops Dubai. He runs the popular course Desert Monologues, a platform for many aspiring actors in Dubai) and doing comedy with Mina Liccione. Theatre is sublime but finding sponsors is a challenge. I find performance art is relatively relinquished to places that demand a high cost that cannot be met by budding artists and those spaces are not necessarily conducive to creativity and experimentation. Imagine if you were only allowed to hang a painting in a national gallery and nowhere else!

The great supporter for our Where is Home performance was The Fridge (a venue for music and performing arts), who gave STAR TOO the space and means to make it possible.

We've run a production on a shoestring budget, with the generous help of people who care for theatre and understand how much more interesting it can be when it is not limited to a square with a "fourth wall".

I believe in the philsosophy that truth is subjective.

I am certain only of my uncertainty, said Socrates. So I experiment, experience and produce. Life is beset with challenges. I meet mine each day by watching, listening, interpreting, composing and expressing myself through different kinds of art.