Those people who were here in the summer of 2018 may remember when Dubai Community Theatre & Arts Centre at Mall of The Emirates closed down. It was a disappointment because it was one of the few spots in Dubai where residents could enjoy small productions and amateur shows. Now, the theatre is back, but only temporarily.
Rebranded as The Theatre, the venue at Mall of the Emirates, still one of the few community theatres in Dubai – especially after the stage at Madinat Jumeirah closed down last year – is on a trial run until the end of June and its future hinges on the support of the community.
The space officially opened last month to a sold-out performance by comedy duo Jordindian, also known as Naser Al Azzeh and Vineeth "Beep" Kumar, and it is back in full swing with a line-up of plays, performances and film screenings.
So what did it take to bring the theatre back to life? Rania Ashur is the force behind The Theatre's reopening.
Although Ashur has a background in finance, she has been bringing shows to Ductac, Madinat Jumeirah and Dubai Opera for the past 20 years with her company Art For All.
She says that while the emirate's position as a cultural hub has grown in the past decade through shows, fairs and new cultural institutions, there is still a need for a space for smaller productions.
That's where The Theatre comes into play. "We need a space that delivers small to medium-sized productions for the community," she says.
The space was "a mess" when she took over, she says. "The seats had been sold, the stage curtains were missing. Lighting was missing. Pest control work was needed," she tells The National.
"We contacted a technician and did a rundown of everything that was necessary to get the space in working shape again. Once the technical aspect was done, we put all the health and safety measures in place, took care of pest control and applied a fresh coat of paint. We redesigned the entrance and put some trees to make it more aesthetically pleasing. But then, we had to figure out what shows to put on."
For Ashur, this was a matter of quality over quantity, to make sure the venue pulled in the crowds during a critical relaunch phase. Today, The Theatre presents The Fig Tree, a play that tells the story of Palestinian playwright Raeda Taha's journey to Palestine. In it, she narrates the story of losing her land, her childhood home and her father, Ali. A second performance will be held tomorrow.
The Theatre will bring the family-friendly show Mr Men and Little Miss On Stage to Dubai with three performances on Friday, February 28. Divas by Lebanese singer Jahida Wehbe, a show in which she performs hits from some of the world's most powerful female vocalists, including Umm Kulthum and Edith Piaf, will be held on Saturday, February 29.
"We also have some more performances in the pipeline, one by a renowned Lebanese singer and another by a Russian ballet dancer," Ashur says.
The Theatre will be a space where films will be screened, with workshops and classes held there, too. Ashur says a film club is in the works as well.
"I feel that we miss Diff [Dubai International Film Festival] tremendously," she says. "Some of the movies and documentaries that used to be shown at the festival no longer have a space to be screened. They aren't blockbusters and serve a niche audience, so it's not like they're going to be shown at the cinema."
For Sama, which was nominated for the Best Documentary Feature Oscar this year, is scheduled to kick-off The Theatre's film club. But how well will The Theatre do? And will it pull in the crowds?
"I have no idea what to expect in the coming months," Ashur says. "The only thing we can work on is delivering quality performances. Whether The Theatre remains open after June is up to the audience. We need to show that having a local community theatre is a necessity."
Time will tell if she is successful. Until then, enjoy the shows.
More information on coming shows is available at www.artforall.ae