Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 2 December 2020

'A hybrid between film and theatre': How this Dubai company is staging a show entirely over Zoom

'Ashputtel', a retelling of the classic Cinderella story, will feature actors from Dubai and London connected by the video app

Venetia Clark plays the starring role in 'Ashputtel', a retelling of the Cinderella story. Supplied
Venetia Clark plays the starring role in 'Ashputtel', a retelling of the Cinderella story. Supplied

The coronavirus has changed countless things around the world, and live entertainment is undoubtedly among them.

However, after months of limited new content, theatre aficionados are in for a unique experience, with Dubai events company Bark at a Crow putting together an interactive show.

Ashputtel is a retelling of the classic Cinderella story – based on the original 1812 fairytale by The Brothers Grimm – that will take place entirely via Zoom.

Taraash Mehrotra plays the role of the prince. Supplied
Taraash Mehrotra plays the role of the prince. Courtesy Bark at a Crow

In the tale, the titular character is reduced to servitude by her new stepmother and stepsisters. Assisted by a mysterious half-bird, half-tree forest creature, she is able to break free, run to the palace and attempt to win the heart of the prince.

Five 45-minute shows will take place between Thursday, July 16, and Saturday, July 18, featuring actors from Dubai and London performing from their homes.

Audiences around the world can tune in, interact with the actors and influence the play in the comfort of their homes.

From custom backgrounds to on-screen tricks

It’s innovative, but one would expect nothing less from director Liz Hadaway. As the artistic director of Bark at a Crow (BAAC), Hadaway is no stranger to hosting one-of-a-kind theatre experiences. One of the first shows she directed in Dubai was Romeo + Juliet, which took place on the roof of Mall of the Emirates in 2016. Then there was the immersive rendition of Macbeth, for which sections of Alserkal Avenue had to be cordoned off, in 2017, followed by Gatsby: The Immersive Experience, which took place across three decks of the QE2 in 2019.

“I think the space shapes the performance,” says Hadaway. “I usually look at where we are performing and then think about what kind of show will work well within that space. The space really transforms the show and becomes an integral part of it.”

If the physical space really is a key part of each performance, then Hadaway surely has her work cut out for her with a production that will be entirely digital. Ashputtel is the director’s first Zoom theatre experience, with five actors in Dubai and two in London.

So, how does it all come together? Hadaway credits production partner MXB Studios for providing the technical know-how and "making the magic happen".

Shereen Saif in the role of The Bird Tree, a mysterious forest creature. Courtesy of Bark At A Crow
Shereen Saif in the role of The Bird Tree, a mysterious forest creature. Courtesy Bark at a Crow

Zoom backgrounds have been custom created to give the show a "fairytale feel", while actors will appear to pass each other props on screen. One scene will even feature two of the actors – one in London and another in Dubai – appearing to ride a horse together.

Audiences can get in on the action. At certain intervals, viewers will be unmuted and encouraged to be a part of the story, helping Ashputtel find her prince and defeat her sneaky stepsisters.

Redefining theatre

“This is a completely different experience for me as a theatre director,” Hadaway admits, adding that everything, from the inception of the project to rehearsals, has happened over Zoom.

“It has been such a learning curve, a very positive one at that. Even though it has been brought about by a pandemic, my understanding of what theatre can be has broadened.”

It gives us an international audience and a chance to showcase things created in Dubai to the rest of the world

Liz Hadaway, director

The idea of live entertainment has evolved in the wake of the coronavirus, with what was once an intimate experience between actors and their audience now taking place entirely through a screen.

“What we are doing is essentially a hybrid between theatre and film,” Hadaway says. “Luckily, some of our actors, including Venetia Clark who plays Ashputtel, are film actors, and that experience has been very useful. Meanwhile, stage actors have had to learn.”

No matter the challenges, the crew is taking it in their stride, says Hadaway, who believes that this new medium is here to stay. “We can’t wait to do live events again. But, on the side, I would like to continue working on an online platform. It gives us an international audience and a chance to show things created in Dubai to the rest of the world.”

Tickets for the play can be purchased from www.barkatacrow.com and cost Dh75 per Zoom code. This allows anyone in a household to watch and participate.

Updated: July 14, 2020 03:48 PM

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