DUBAI // Although most of the people in the room had never met before, within minutes they were shouting, gesticulating wildly - even hauling each other to the ground. But this was not some kind of fight club. The 25 participants had turned up to the launch of a series of improvisational workshops hosted by the Dubai Drama Group.
During this first meeting, people were separated into pairs and given five minutes to prepare for roles as boss and employee. Their main instruction: they could not speak. Instead they yelled or grumbled, pointed and beckoned. The exercise aimed to prepare them for the stage, said Gordon Torbet, 45, the group member leading the workshop. "All the time in our lives we have status," he said. "In conversations, at work, in the family, someone is always higher or lower. It is the same in the theatre. We need to be aware of the relationships with other characters on the stage. So here we are finding ways to explore them."
The hour-long workshop will be a monthly fixture on the drama group's calendar and forms part of a larger goal to feed an existing appetite for drama, Mr Torbet, from Britain, said. "Personally, I think the people of Dubai need and really want good theatre," he said. "We have travelling companies but they don't really connect with the audiences. They come for a few days and leave again. We want people to be able to go and see something in the theatre, put on by us, that they can relate to and that is of good quality.
"That's why we decided to put on the workshops." Although the group has been running for 25 years, putting on occasional productions and hosting social gatherings, the group had dwindled in numbers until a few years ago. A small band of enthusiasts reformed the committee and started putting together a structured programme of events. Rodger Talty, 38, from Ireland and the group's chairman, said it was a great opportunity for people to get started in theatre.
Now that the resurgent group has almost 70 active members, Mr Talty said he plans to double productions and put on four plays in 2011. He also recently opened submissions for an annual script-writing competition, which will see eight short plays staged in November. The workshop, which included a trust-building exercise, focused on the physical side of theatre. Mr Torbet said he would explore character building and vocal skills at later sessions.
Raza Hamid, 29, from Pakistan, has a day job as an investment analyst. He has lived all his life in Dubai but never tried his hand at drama before. "I came because my friend dragged me along, but I found it very interesting," he said. "Normally I'm a reserved person but tonight I was pulled out of my comfort zone. I also met a lot of different kinds of people. I will definitely be coming back." Iradj el Qalqili, 35, a German Palestinian who works in private equity, said the evening provided a nice break from ordinary social outings.
"Before everyone was just in Dubai to work and you only met people you worked with or ran into in bars," he said. "But here no one talks about work or how much money you earn. I come because it is one of the few places I feel like a normal person, a human being." The monthly workshops are held on Wednesday nights at Knowledge Network on Sheikh Zayed Road. For more information, visit www.dubaidramagroup.com