One ticket, 10 plays – theatregoers in Abu Dhabi are in for a treat when the Short+Sweet theatre festival debuts in the capital this weekend.
Created in Australia in 2002, the largest festival of short plays in the world arrived in Dubai in 2013, and from this year, will be staged in Abu Dhabi. Local theatre groups will present original or adapted 10-minute plays on Friday and Saturday at the Black Box Theatre at NYUAD Arts Center.
Australian playwright Alex Broun, who introduced the Short+Sweet concept to the UAE, is the festival’s director. He believes the theatre scene in the capital is strong, but needs an event such as this to shine a light on it.
“The most important aspect of Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi is that for the first time, in the one venue, on the one night, we will be bringing all the theatre groups in the emirate together,” he says.
“It’s incredible, but there were people who had been creating theatre for many years here and had never met other groups before the festival.
“This festival gives them a chance to meet, work alongside each other and see each other’s work, which creates opportunities to work on future projects. This cross-pollination is so important to a healthy theatrical scene.”
It will also provide the audience with a snapshot of the drama scene in the emirate.
“What is exciting is that a lot of the groups and directors in the capital are pushing the boundaries of the theatrical format,” says Broun.
“But many audience members won’t have seen many of these groups perform before. The festival is definitely a shot in the arm to the local theatrical scene.”
Festival organisers received 30 submissions, which were whittled down to the 10 that will be staged on both nights. In addition, three wild-card entries that are more experimental in nature will be performed on Saturday afternoon.
“This is our first year in Abu Dhabi, so in this first year writers and directors are beginning to test the form and see what works and what doesn’t in 10 minutes,” says Broun.
“In a night of Short+Sweet, what we look for is a wide variety of themes, ideas and theatrical styles – it’s a theatre festival not a play festival – and we’ve certainly got that in this first year of Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi.”
• Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi is at the Black Box Theatre at NYUAD Arts Center. The top 10 plays will be staged at 7.30pm on Friday and Saturday. The three wild card productions will be performed at 3pm on Saturday. Entry is free but reservations are required at www.nyuad-artscenter.org. Visit www.facebook.com/shortandsweetabudhabi for more details
• Writer: Alex Broun
• Director: Charlie Cunningham
This drama by festival director Broun explores the burning issue of gun control around the world through a one-woman performance. Emma is haunted by her past experience with a handgun, and shares with the audience a series of incidents concerning mishandling and gun violence around the world.
Director Cunningham, who started the meet-up Abu Dhabi Drama Group, says the 10-minute format promotes variety in theatre by providing a showcase of talent from a range of drama groups.
“The greatest challenge is the time constraint,” he says. “Writers always want to add more to the scene or script, actors want to ad-lib more on the lines, and directors like to edit things in just that stretch the time. Ten minutes zip by when you’re on stage.”
Electric Lamentations: On Air
• Writer/director: Hurr Al Dalli
This original production by Abu Dhabi’s Resuscitation Theatre is a comment on the relationship between corporations and the news media. The one-man satirical play – directed, written and starring Al Dalli – reflects on the evolution of the communications media and its consumption.
“The 10-minute concept is a good exercise in efficient writing and performing, which are challenges in themselves,” says Al Dalli. “It gives writers the chance to see whether they can delve into a theme in a relatively short span of time in a way that captivates and entertains the audience.”
Flight Attendants Attending
• Writer/director: Simone McGregor
Abu Dhabi resident Simone McGregor’s comedy about flight attendants and passengers will strike a chord with frequent flyers. It gives the audience a sneak peak into what goes on behind the scenes on a plane, too.
“The 10-minute concept allows the writer to produce material that is set at a much faster pace than normal,” says McGregor. “One challenge is to write a suitable ending that fits the needs of the play within the time frame.”
The Golden Apple
• Writer/director: Faisal Al Jadir
Abu Dhabi Resuscitation Theatre’s original production is based around a mysterious stranger who shows up at a seedy tavern and starts asking about another person. Al Jadir sets out to explore the intentions of various characters in different scenarios in this dark comedy.
“I enjoy the challenge of trying to tell a very short story, while trying to ensure that the characters are memorable enough, and that the scenario being played out has a sense of urgency,” he says. “Its also a great way to experiment with pacing, rhythm and time, which you may take for granted in a feature-length play.”
It’s the Quiet Ones You Have to Watch Out For
• Writer: Chris Sims
• Director: Tashia Dorsey
After it’s successful staging at Short+Sweet in Dubai, director Dorsey opted to give an encore in the capital to this comedy set in a rundown department store, in which two mannequins in the window come to life at night to cause mischief.
“Although it is only 10 minutes, the plays have a chance to express some powerful material in a short period of time,” says Dorsey. “The minuses are that the character development is short-lived and we don’t get to see a range of emotions from the character.”
• Writer/director: Nick White
White was inspired to write and perform this comedy after reading a news article about a traffic jam on a motorway not far from where he lives in the UK. In this one-man piece, which is also a homage to Welsh emerging artist Hugh Hughes, White plays a usually punctual man who is running late one day and scrambling to get to his destination on time.
“Ten minutes is really hard because you spend half of the time setting the scene,” says White. “But the opportunity to get straight to the point is really important and I think very helpful for an audience.”
• Writer: Juan Ramirez
• Director: Angeleene Abraham
The cast and crew of Beyond The Veil theatre company in Abu Dhabi present US-based writer Juan Ramirez’s suspense drama about loyalty and confrontation, in a love triangle involving two women and a man. The team say they chose the play because of its strong female characters. Abraham finds the 10-minute concept exciting. “The festival provides the perfect platform for new writers and directors to practice their crafts in a fun-filled atmosphere.”
• Writer: Faisal Al Yafai
• Director: Marianne Catalan
This drama, about a young woman who wants to flee her war-ravaged country in search of a better future overseas but gets entangled by strong emotional ties at home, was written by Al Yafai, a columnist with The National. First-time director Catalan says she was attracted to the script by its themes of courage and tough choices.
“The 10-minute format is an amazing exercise in getting to the essence of the play and of the characters,” says Catalan, who has been acting for eight years. “The opportunity is to make the most of the two wonderful actors’ abilities to occupy the space harmoniously. I am a big fan of the novella form, which is the equivalent in literary terms of what we do here. I would like to achieve the same emotional impact on our audience that a beautifully written, well constructed short story has on me as a reader.”
• Writer/director: Baindu Kalokoh
Kalokoh’s comic monologue recounts an experience in a New York subway. She will present, through sketches and impressions, a number of bizarre characters she encounters. She says the benefit of the festival format is that it doesn’t allow boredom to set in.
“The biggest challenge, as a playwright, is deciding what to retain and omit in the final piece,” she says of the format. “The biggest opportunity is witnessing the works of other artists. It is very inspiring to see the productions of other artists in the UAE.”
Rucking Good Time
• Writer: Zakaia Cvitanovich
• Director: Sanoop Dinesh
Cvitanovich, the founder of Abu Dhabi theatre company Beyond the Veil, wrote this comedy about male relationships, competitiveness and acceptance. It is set during a sports practice session that takes an unexpected turn, which the writer teases has something to do with socks.
Cvitanovich says keeping to the time constraints was the biggest challenge, but that it became a stimulating experience. “I think it’s great for Abu Dhabi theatre practitioners to showcase their talents and try out new skills, like writing or directing, without the pressure of staging a full-length production.”
Writer/director: Peri Desai
Two girls meet in a store’s fitting room and their chance encounter changes their opinions about themselves forever.
The Last Supper
Writer: Cerise de Gelder
Director: Mufaddal Bootwala
Louisa has sinned all her life with few regrets until she commits her latest sin – which proves to be one she cannot live with.
Based on the book Ugly Saber by Iwona Taida Drozd, an Emirati folk tale.
Director: Stephen Delano Presented by Maplewood International School,
Ugly Saber is about a man who uses his horrifying face to scare children.