Organised by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, the event got under way this week and will be held over 10 days until October 17
Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre set to be the ‘most distinguished’ so far
Bilal Abdullah turned to stage acting in a last-ditch effort to stay out of trouble when he was younger. He was looking for an outlet to harness an overabundance of energy, and came to theatre with absolutely no knowledge of what was involved.
“I was a naughty boy – I had too much energy,” he says. “When I joined theatre, I didn’t have any background in it, I just started studying and reading up on everything – Shakespeare and everything.”
That was three decades ago, and he hasn’t stopped since.
Abdullah was on hand at Dubai’s Cultural and Scientific Association in Deira on Saturday night, as the 2018 Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre was officially launched. He has been involved in some way since its inception. Now in its 12th year, the festival aims to support theatre groups across the UAE, and provides a crucial platform for not only the city’s budding actors and directors, but also its make-up artists, sound engineers, lighting technicians, costume designers, authors and producers.
Organised by the Dubai Culture and Arts Authority, the event got under way this week and will be held over 10 days until October 17, with a packed schedule of performances showcasing some of the best local talent. An expert panel will be evaluating each act, and choosing the winning theatre group at the end of the programme. Each play is performed in Arabic.
Making a name for itself
Salah Al Qassim, advisor to Dubai Culture says that this year’s instalment will be the “most distinguished”, and will raise the level of competition among the Emirati teams. While the cinema industry is well established in the UAE, the theatre sector is still making a name for itself, he says.
The Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre took a hiatus last year and is considering becoming a biennial event going forward to allow groups more time to prepare between each festival. However, that decision will be made depending on the success of this year’s event, Al Qassim says.
It is an exciting event on the calendar for many people in the arts, and many of the UAE’s most famous actors – including prominent TV and social media star Marwan Abdullah Saleh and “ambassador of UAE theatre” Marie Al Halyan – got their breaks in the industry by being involved in it.
There are no similar theatre events that cater to young people in the same way, Al Qassim says. “Sharjah has been doing festivals for a long time, but we wanted to do something for the youth. We saw a gap there.”
A number of specialised workshops were held throughout August in the lead up to the festival, in conjunction with partners in the performing arts sector. This included a workshop on converting UAE literary novels into theatrical scripts, theatre acting and directing. The theme of this year’s event is aptly the “Year of Zayed”, which is to be integrated in all components of each production – from the scripting and directing to the acting itself.
'It's all about the youth'
A large number of youth theatre groups from across the UAE will be performing during the festival, including Al Ahli Theatre, Khor Fakkan Arts Theatre, Fujairah Cultural Centre, Bani Yas Theatre, and Sharjah National Theatre. There will also be special performances and events throughout the festival, including an evening with Al Halyan, who was named by the festival as its “Personality of the Year”. The performances are free to attend, and are each held at the Cultural and Scientific Association.
On Saturday, the opening ceremony featured a speech from Saeed Al Nabouda, acting director general of Dubai Culture, followed by a play that centred around the heritage of the UAE and its founding father, Sheikh Zayed. Fatima Al Jallaf, manager of theatre at Dubai Culture, said the festival had been “growing every year”.
“This year all the participants are from the new generation. It’s all about the youth.” Stage acting, she said, was still a relatively small industry in the UAE, as it wasn’t hugely popular with Emirati people. However, she said that was slowly changing. “Some people think that theatre is not from our culture, but theatre is another way to spread a message to society. Our country is open, so we have to be on the same road.”
Abdullah believes that the festival is a great hobby for Emirati youth to take up. It gives people an avenue to explore other cultures, and “gives them a chance to open their minds to the future”.
“I became a very good actor, but I also became calm. Art makes you very calm,” he says. “Every year it’s getting better and better and it’s good seeing new youth coming onto the stage.”
The Dubai Festival for Youth Theatre runs until October 17. For the full schedule, visit