Improv Revolution, UAE's first 'make it up as you go' comedy troupe
DUBAI // They had just three topics to work with: Muammar Qaddafi, the moon and a banana.
There are three men in the scene, which quickly develops so that one is the accused and the other two are his captors.
"Do you feel something wrong with gravity?" one of the interrogators asks the prisoner, drawing chuckles from the audience as he moves across the stage in slow motion. "I feel like I'm on another planet."
"Would you like some fruit?" the other asks. "Something yellow, perhaps?"
Eventually, as the would-be perpetrator works out that the crime he has been charged with is killing the Libyan leader , with a banana, on the moon, the room fills with the sound of belly laughs.
Welcome to the often surreal world of improvised comedy. Over the past week, the W Lounge shisha bar in Al Barsha Dubai has been the setting for the first week of intensive workshops to create Improv Revolution, the UAE's first improv troupe. Created by Dubomedy Arts, the nation's first and only comedy and urban acts school, it is the latest project designed to give local comedy a voice.
The course, which began this month with 13 participants, features more than a dozen training sessions over five weeks. It will end on June 18 with a free performance at Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre.
Dubomedy's founders, Mina Liccione and Ali al Sayed, are due to take over teaching duties for the remaining three weeks. The first sessions were led by the Pakistani comic Saad Haroon, who has been a professional comedian for eight years. He launched the first Pakistani improvisational comedy troupe, BlackFish, and also created and hosts Pakistan's first English-language comedy TV show, The Real News.
Though the Dubai troupe is also breaking new ground, Mr Haroon says the aim is to do more than hone comedy skills. Improvisational comedy is as much about building social skills as it is about making people laugh.
"The things we teach are basic tools you can use in conversation," he says.
When it comes to improv, people need to learn to think on their feet and convey a sense of command. "Make a decision. Confidently walk into the scene and do what you need to do. Sometimes, if you see a scene die, push yourself. Try and save the scene."
The most important thing to remember, the comedian says, is to answer the most obvious questions for the audience: "Who, where, and what."
Many of the participants learn improv skills without pursuing comedy. But the majority of male and female participants want to be comedians.
"Sure, we're training a bunch of people for the troupe, but we don't expect everyone to jump on stage," Mr Haroon says.
Watching people perform during the first sessions was a joy, says Miss Liccione, Dubomedy's co-founder. "I was scared for them, going on stage, but everyone is so supportive."
One person more than willing to jump on stage was the French actress Stephanie Inglesfield, who has lived in Dubai for seven years with her husband and four sons.
Mrs Inglesfield, who has trained with Dubomedy for three years and stars in a made-in-Dubai film due for release next year, turned to comedy after deciding she needed something to focus on in her life.
"At the time I found Dubomedy, I was 38," she says. "My sons were all at school, and I thought to myself, 'What are you going to do for the next 20 years of your life?' I had a think about what I wanted to do, and now there's no going back."
The pursuit has also given her children a new-found respect for their mother.
"It's amazing to see that my eldest son, who is 14, is on the verge of thinking I'm cool," she says.