x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Award just the beginning for mother of Emirati theatre

Personality of the year honour marks four decades of work for Mouza al Mazroui.

Among the guests of honour at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival today, one in particular has a special reason to attend.

Mouza al Mazroui, often referred to as the mother of Emirati theatre, attends after being named this week as personality of the year at the Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre.

The award was in recognition of al Mazroui's almost four decades as a mainstay of Emirati performing arts.

But things could have been very different - before she took to the boards in 1973, her first job was as a police officer.

Inspired by seeing actresses on television and reading Mawid, a Lebanese celebrity magazine, the young al Mazroui was inspired to act.

"Acting was a hobby of mine, so I wanted to develop it," said al Mazroui, who is now 55. "I saw all the famous actresses and I wanted to be like them."

She was given just three days to rehearse her debut role, as Rashid's mother in Farah Rashid, a play about the pitfalls of marriage.

"It was a lot of hard work," she recalled, "and long hours - but I enjoyed it all."

It was a time when it was hard for an Emirati women to work, never mind act.

"When I wanted to go into theatre, my family wasn't very happy," she said. "I had to overcome a lot of obstacles to get where I am today."

Two years later she had become one of the founders of the UAE's first theatre, the National Youth Theatre in Dubai. In 1976, she founded the UAE Theatrical Association and the Dubai Folklore Theatre.

In 1979 she received awards for her pioneering role at theatre festivals in Bahrain and Kuwait. She says now, though, that those awards are less meaningful to her than the one she received this week.

As the theatre work grew, she gave up her police job in 1980 to concentrate on acting.

Since then she has made numerous appearances on television, in film and has acted in over 30 theatrical productions - earning her the sobriquet Um al Masrah (Mother of the Theatre).

Her first film role came in 1990. Filmed in Jumeirah, Abir Sabil was the story of a man who is welcomed into Arabs' tents - only to give them a deadly disease.

"I love everything I did, every job, whether working in the police or in theatre." She says. "Each had its own ups and down. Each experience is like a child to me, I cannot take any away."

Most recently, in the 2008 film Nehayat Thaheya (End of a Victim), she played the Emirati mother of a man who contracts HIV through a blood transfusion.

"She was great to work with," said the film's 35-year-old director, Hafsa al Mutawa. "She always came on time and had all her clothes at the ready and acted the role exactly as I wanted her to without any instructions." She said the honour was one al Mazroui should have received years ago. "I am very happy she got the award. She has been a very important part of media in the Emirates for a very long time."

Yasser al Gergawi, the founder of the festival and manager of performing arts at the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, agreed the award was overdue. "She has been through so many problems in her life, and she deserves the honour for all her hard work," he said.

But for al Mazroui, the award is not an excuse to rest on her laurels.

"This honour is just the beginning of my career," she says. "The date of the award, 10/10/10 is a special one too. This has motivated me to keep pushing forward."