Indian artists revive theater in cosmopolitan Dubai

Dubai’s burgeoning theater and performing arts industry has the potential to be a big-hitter, but only if it gets the patronage and sponsorship to grow and thrive, local professionals have warned. The city has long been known as a haven for international big-budget, larger-than-life, entertainment. From big-budget movies filming in the emirate to well-known theater productions stopping off there, the challenges facing residents looking to produce their own community theater and attract interest have been numerous. However, according to Dhruti Shah, an award-winning director who has has written and directed dozens of productions in the city, the growing expanse of arts and creativity has created considerable opportunities for budding actors and directors. “Dubai is a diverse melting pot of cultures, tastes, and interests, the city has reinforced itself to be an archetypical center for a wide scope of sustainable artistic pursuits,” Shah told Arab News. “There was a time we used to watch only imported theater production in the city. But things are changing; the city is now pacing toward its very own original theater production. However, it is a long way to make it a success story.” Way to go While optimistic about the future of theater in Dubai Shah warned that a lot more needs to be done to make it a success story. “The performing arts industry has never been an independent means to earn livelihood in the city and artists associated with the production and presentations of theater and performing arts have not been entirely dependent on it for their sustenance,” she said. Her thoughts were echoed by Gautam Goenka, who has been involved in Dubai theater for over 17 years and runs H72 production house. As if to illustrate the problems facing him and his fellow thespians, Goenka has only been able to pursue his passion after 5 p.m., as during the day he works as a corporate trainer in a leading multinational company. He is in no doubt as to the main problem theater faces. “Putting up a community production in Dubai is expensive,” Goenka said. “In fact it’s more expensive than anywhere in the world. I used to be part of a community group when I lived in the Netherlands. Costs never even came close to what we incur here.” Unhealthy obsession Obsession with big names and brands is another big challenge to bringing people to the theater. According to Goenka, Dubai audiences like a big-brand name play and well-known actors. “It is harder to convince them to come to the theater, spend a 100 dirhams and watch a relatively new play with no famous actors in it. People would much rather buy a cinema ticket and go to the mall (and see star-studded film),” he said. Goenka also stressed the need for more auditoriums in the city to encourage community theater culture. “Right now, we have only box community theater, The Junction, which supports theater at the grass root level.” A bright future Akansha Goenka, co-founder of The Junction Community Theater, believes that it is a great time to be part of the industry in Dubai. “Over the past few years the theater scene in Dubai has grown exponentially. So I believe there is so much potential here and it is going to grow immensely. “We need to stimulate this growth at the grass root level. Once that happens, I believe that the industry of theater as a whole will grow. In fact, we are starting to see that already,” she said. Nevertheless, she also stressed providing financial support toward the development of grassroots and community theater. “Funding can go a long way to encourage even more productions and indeed the growth of community theater in Dubai,” she added. “Dubai has great stories to tell, which must be told and heard — diverse and multicultural stories. We are a wonderful and dynamic city with a character and voice like no other. I vehemently believe that theater will help a society like Dubai to export its culture to the world and establish our unique brand around the world.”

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