Director Zakaia Cvitanovich on directing Saleh Karama Al Ameri’s play in English
Zakaia Cvitanovich snaps her fingers and her voice rings out in the hall.
“You’ve got to be snappier,” she says as she begins clapping her hands, gradually allowing the rhythm to pick up speed. “Come on, come on, let’s go, snappier.” The dialogue on stage picks up and Cvitanovich nods in approval.
It’s the dress rehearsal for Saleh Karama Al Ameri’s Alms for the Poor, a play originally written in Arabic and set to debut its English performance under the directorial baton of Cvitanovich, the founder of the Beyond the Veil theatre company.
This is the company’s second production – in March, they began with Al Ameri’s The Great Redeemer – and the third Al Ameri play Cvitanovich has directed in English. “It’s really exciting as a director to get an original play, especially considering how generous Saleh is as a playwright, because he allows the director’s vision to be realised on stage,” she says.
Where The Great Redeemer reminded Cvitanovich a little bit of Shakespeare, Alms for the Poor, she says, has something of playwright Samuel Beckett’s touch about it.
“It’s amazing to me how much Saleh can capture in his writing,” she says. “His plays can be set anywhere, in any culture, at any time, and how like Shakespeare’s work, his plays are essentially about the human spirit.”
After moving to the UAE 10 years ago, New Zealander Cvitanovich never stopped pursuing her passion for the theatre. By day, she works at the Abu Dhabi University as an English instructor and by night, she takes to the stage, whether through her work with the Abu Dhabi Choral Group, the Resuscitation Theatre, or her recent launch of her self-funded company Beyond the Veil, which seeks to further the local performing-arts scene and to tap Emirati talent.
“Once you get bitten by the theatre bug, you can’t get enough,” she explains, “and that’s also the case for the cast and crew of this play. I’ve worked with most of them before, and I am always hopeful of bringing in more people, because what happens when we all leave? The UAE is very transient, and there has to be someone to take over from where we’ve left off.”
As part of the company regeneration plans, Beyond the Veil’s cast and crew are urged to try their hand at directing, as an experimental change. “We will do a couple of little plays in the Short +Sweet Theatre festival when it comes to Abu Dhabi next year,” Cvitanovich says, referring to the multitude of 10-minute plays that make up the festival, which is usually held in Dubai but will make its Abu Dhabi debut in 2016. “I hope my actors will try their hand at directing then.”
As the dress rehearsal wraps up and the cast erupt in song, Cvitanovich strides up and down the area in front of the stage: “Smile. Enjoy it. I want to see smiles,” she calls out. The hope, now, is that come tonight the audience will be smiling as well.