x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Desert Monologues gives little teapot an outpouring, at last

The instructor and participants in Ductac's Drama Workshop Dubai programme talk about the course designed to teach acting techniques to non-thespians.

Kemsley Dickinson, centre, coaches Tim Paul and Christine Azazedo in acting techniques at Drama Workshop Dubai.
Kemsley Dickinson, centre, coaches Tim Paul and Christine Azazedo in acting techniques at Drama Workshop Dubai.

The last time Christine Azazedo was on stage she played a teapot.

While she did have a meaty role as Ms Potts in the ninth grade Dubai school production of Beauty and the Beast, she still pined to play the lead, Belle. The role was denied back then, in part, because of her short stature.

This Saturday night she will make her return to the stage at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac), after nearly a two-decade absence – her height no longer an issue.

As part of The Desert Monologues amateur acting programme, she will deliver a four-minute monologue as the lonely wife April from the film Revolutionary Road, a role famously brought alive by the Academy Award-winner Kate Winslet.

Azazedo, a Dubai English teacher from India, wouldn’t know about that, though. She refuses to see the film before her performance for fear it would interfere with her own approach.

“If I watched the film it would put it in a very different context,” she says. “I would also have Kate Winslet in my mind if I did it and I would copy her when the point of it is to bring my own interpretation to it.”

It may be a six-week course, but The Desert Monologues programme, run by Drama Workshop Dubai, is serious business. That is the way Kemsley Dickinson, the workshop’s founder and instructor, likes it. The London thespian and teacher says the course was intended to be a stimulating yet intense experience. “I think people respond better if they have a challenge. They learn their lines better if they have direction. I wanted a course to be a real challenge for people and not a drama club that you drop into, or a salsa or handwriting course that you do with no final goal. This is a course with an endgame that you work towards.”

Beginning in 2006, Dickinson designed the course in response to requests by Dubai residents for some form of acting workshop. He never expected his flyer posted on the Ductac wall to draw so much attention, from aspiring actors, bankers, teachers and housewives.

“I got a call from the theatre saying that there were 26 people who had signed to the course,” he says.

With the exception of a few tweaks and minor changes through 17 courses, the programme has stayed largely the same.

Participants sign up for six weeks, with a course fee starting from Dh1,500, to study different elements of stage performance, from spontaneous and structured improvisation to script work and stagecraft. At the end, they perform their chosen three- to five-minute monologues to a public crowd.

Dickinson says the course’s tight structure is deliberate as it ensures the focus of the participants and introduces them to the enjoyable yet disciplined world of theatre.

“You can’t come to the stage late or half-heartedly to perform,” he says. “They need the discipline to raise their own standards and that’s what we are aiming for.

“Generally, when they walk off stage they understand the purpose behind it all.”

For Tim Paul, the course was an ideal way to let off some creative steam. The 28-year-old South African, who works in a Dubai shipping company, chose some words from the edgy late comedian Bill Hicks for his monologue.

Paul says the immersive nature of the project really comes to play when participants decide on the material.

It’s more than simply learning the lines, he explains: “Acting is more about being comfortable and having that spotlight on yourself. The more passionate about the piece you are, the more you don’t feel it is an obligation to learn it, you become excited about it and that comes out in the performance, hopefully.”

The Desert Monologues will be performed at Kilichand Studio, Ductac, Mall of the Emirates on Saturday from 7-9pm. Entrance is free. The next Desert Monologues course will begin in March, with registrations now open. For details go to www.dramaworkshopsdubai.com