The Short+Sweet festival's workshops at Ductac this weekend are the first step in helping UAE talent develop and stage a group of short plays. Maey El Shoush reports
A new theatre festival aims to make a big impact on the local performing arts scene, according to Joseph Fowler, the general manager of Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac). Short+Sweet is one of the largest 10-minute theatre festivals in the world and is led by the Australian playwright, screenwriter, actor and director Alex Broun.
The festival will make its debut in Dubai in February but the first workshops will be held from Wednesday to Saturday at Ductac, Mall of the Emirates.
Dubai is on the "cusp of a theatrical explosion", says Broun, the festival's director. The forthcoming workshops will focus on acting, writing and directing to help students utilise their skills in a 10-minute format.
The two-week festival aims to attract 150 UAE-based writers, directors, actors and theatre companies, which will present more than 30 10-minute plays at Ductac.
After being launched in Sydney, Australia, in 2002, the festival has been introduced in countries including India, New Zealand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Broun, who has visited Dubai several times, says that despite local theatre groups that produce quality work and a welcoming theatre community, there is "limited opportunity in Dubai for local writers to have their work staged on main stages". Short+Sweet aims to give theatre artists a chance to create something memorable.
"Short+Sweet is a wonderful way of achieving things you never felt were possible. Maybe you've always dreamt of writing a play but you never knew where to start," he says. "Whether writing, acting or directing, the workshops are a wonderful way of discovering skills, sharpening skills and reawakening skills, whatever your level of expertise."
Entry-level through to advanced workshops will be offered. Broun says it is not unusual for a first-time writer to end up watching a performance of their creation in just a matter of days.
"It's amazing how much you can achieve if you're willing to go on the journey," he says. "The idea is to cast the net as wide as possible and hopefully get a broad representation of the local theatre scene involved in the festival."
Fowler agrees that producing content for a 10-minute play is an attainable task. The UAE, he adds, already has established film and art festivals, but not yet theatre.
"This festival is open to all genres, including comedy, drama and thriller, and we hope to make a big impact. The festival offers incredible exposure and an opportunity to showcase talent," he says. "Alex Broun is a genius. He is fascinating and overflowing with passion."
At least 70 of Broun's 10-minute plays have been produced more than 600 times around the world.
One of Broun's most successful plays is 10,000 Cigarettes, which has been produced 154 times in 18 countries. It was also translated into Spanish and sent down to the trapped Chilean miners to help get them through their ordeal in 2010.
"To know as a writer you have helped people in that way, to bring them comfort in their darkest hour, is the ultimate affirmation," says Broun.
Broun says contemporary playwrights are working in a different environment from Shakespeare, for example.
"Life moves a lot faster now and we can tell a story in a much shorter period of time. The audience's ability to process information has sped up. So you don't have to take three hours to tell a story," he says. "I think some theatre today tries to pretend movies, TV and the internet were never invented. But they were and they have changed the nature of theatre."
Although it can be challenging to create a strong story in a short space of time, it only takes one line of dialogue or an action set-up to engage the audience.
"Wherever Short+Sweet has been introduced, it's been a massive boost to the local theatre scene, especially in terms of creating new work," says Broun.
Many theatre artists have been "discovered" during Short+Sweet festivals and the same can happen during its Dubai edition, he says.
Perhaps the most remarkable story is that of Bella Heathcote, who featured in Short+Sweet Melbourne in 2009 and from there was cast in TV shows including Neighbours, then in the Hollywood director Tim Burton's Dark Shadows alongside Johnny Depp.