It's easy to get lost in the deluge of festivals that seem to crop up every other day in the UAE. But Short+Sweet Dubai, the first local edition of the world's biggest 10-minute theatre festival, which kicked off on Thursday at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) and continues until Saturday, is worth paying attention to because, with 55 extremely short plays showing in quick succession, if you don't pay attention you may well miss the action.
The Short+Sweet Dubai director Alex Braun is something of a luminary when it comes to 10-minute plays. He's had 90 produced in more than 850 productions across the world and has been working with the festival since it began in 2002 in Sydney. He says the format is one of the fastest-growing in terms of participation and audience numbers. Short+Sweet itself now has festivals in five countries.
"We play all over Australia but also Auckland, Singapore, Penang, Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi and Mumbai," Braun says, adding that in the US alone there are around 200 other 10-minute play festivals.
How does it work?
Each night will feature 10 plays, each directed and performed by local residents and lasting for 10 minutes, with more than 200 people involved altogether. According to Braun, 60 per cent of the plays have been written by locally based writers as well.
"There's a limit of one play per playwright and actors can only be in two plays," he says. "They're welcome to explore whatever they like so long as it's 10 minutes or under. If plays go over 10 minutes, they get one warning. If they get two, they're disqualified. We're very strict on that."
There's a competition, too
Apart from the 55 short plays in 10 days, there is a competition going on as well. The audience, along with a panel of judges, gets to vote each evening, with the 10 best going through to a gala finale on Saturday. On the night, there will be awards in categories such as Best Overall Production, Best Actor and Best Actress.
Mixing it up
As you might imagine, with so many playwrights, there's a mixed bag of genres and stories. Among the topics covered are murderous Rottweilers, office politics, Russian internet brides, Barack Obama's family squabbles and the story behind Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.
"You're going to see comedy, drama, slapstick, farce," says Braun, adding that while most will be in English, one play is in Hindi and three in Arabic. "We'll probably be developing the Arabic component of the festival in future years."
Simplicity is key
"I think the best practice for playwrights is to keep it simple," says Kemsley Dickinson, the founder of Drama Workshops Dubai at Ductac, who is acting in a comedy that he has written for the festival. "You haven't really got time for the audience to engage emotionally with any of the characters. You've got to get right to the action."
And although the writing process might require strict editing (he says the first draft of his play was 21 minutes long), Dickinson thinks that the 10-minute approach is perfect for Dubai.
"The audience here isn't spoilt for theatre. Attention spans are less. But with technology, you can probably find this across the board everywhere," he says. "This format is good because if you don't like what's on, it's finished in 10 minutes and a new one starts. You're not stuck for two hours watching something you don't like."
Apples and rhymes
The Dubai-based performance artist Dana Dajani is appearing in two plays at Short+Sweet. Yeki Bood / Yeki Na Bood (Farsi for There Once Was / There Once Wasn't), is a tale in Arabic based on Adam and Eve, also starring the local actor Assem Kroma.
"It's a modern twist," she says. "There's a lot of broken English to heighten the humour a bit."
The other is a play with the hip-hop artist Jibberish and takes a more musical direction. "All our dialogue is in verse. It's casually delivered but it all rhymes."
The Twenty20 of theatre
With audiences treated to 10 plays, each a maximum of 10 minutes in length, is there not the worry many might leave confused, unsure which characters and plot lines went where?
"It's a different experience for the audience," says Braun. "And I think in Dubai, as when Short+Sweet opened in India, the audience will take a little time to adapt. Once a play is over, there's a very quick change. Sometimes just seconds."
But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad thing. "I think the best way to look at it is how Twenty20 revolutionised cricket. Normal theatre is test cricket, whereas this is Twenty20, where everything happens very fast. You've really got to concentrate."
Short+Sweet Dubai continues until Saturday. Tickets are available from Ductac. For more information about the festival, go to www.shortandsweet.org/shortsweet-theatre/our-festivals/dubai