New Abu Dhabi theatre group seeks to tap Emirati talent

Beyond The Veil, a new theatre company in the capital is looking to expose theatregoers to Emirati theatre by staging plays by Emirati playwrights in Arabic and English. Their first production is the Great Redeemer by Saleh Karama at The National Theatre this week.

From left, Assyl Yacine, Valerie Ryan Miller, Kathleen Moran, Ahmad Jasim, and Samah Konia rehearsing as part of the new Emirati theatre company Beyond the Veil. Silvia Razgova / The National
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What started out as a university research project on the various facets and history of Emirati theatre has turned into Beyond the Veil, a fully-fledged company that seeks to further the local performing-arts scene and to tap Emirati talent.

Zakaia Cvitanovich, the company’s director, moved from New Zealand to the capital in 2006 and began by teaching drama at Abu Dhabi International School. She went on to direct and act in annual productions by resident companies, including Resuscitation Theatre. The proximity to an increasing number of Middle Eastern theatre enthusiasts led the director to establish Beyond The Veil, an extension of her master’s programme at the University of New England in Australia, this year.

Her self-funded company will open the season tomorrow with its debut play The Great Redeemer – an English-language version of a script by award-­winning Emirati playwright Saleh Karama Al Ameri at Abu Dhabi Theatre.

“I recently decided to do a master’s in theatre because that is my passion,” says Cvitanovich, who also has a master’s in communication. “I started thinking about what I wanted to focus on and Arabic theatre was quite unknown to me even though it has a very long tradition.

“So I decided to look at Arabic theatre for my research assignment and that led me to look at Emirati theatre in particular.”

She says the theatre’s mission is to expose the multicultural audience in the UAE to Emirati and Arabic scripts, as well as attract Emiratis to the field of performing arts.

“Local theatre is so alive,” she says. “And there are so many Emirati playwrights to look at. For example, the Ruler of Sharjah, Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qasimi, is a playwright, and I’m trying to get my hands on some his plays to stage. I’m also looking at bringing some poetry and short stories and adapting that for stage.”

Cvitanovich has managed to attract four Emiratis, who are involved in everything from acting and choreography to ­promotions.

“My goal is to foster Emirati practitioners and spectators,” she says. “I see that as the bare minimum of things I’d like to do with this company.”

She believes a career in theatre does not enjoy the status that a career in film has among Emiratis. “But I’m seeing an interest now,” says Cvitanovich. “I don’t mind how hard I have to work to get them involved but that was partly the reason I started the company. There is so much talent out there and it can’t just be a pastime.”

Cvitanovich plans on staging two plays a year that will explore Middle Eastern playwrights and literature.

"We've started with Saleh's plays because I had directed his play Mobius at ­Resuscitation Theatre and we had workshopped The Great Redeemer, but couldn't stage it back then.

“I’m already planning my next play – coincidentally, it is one of Saleh’s again. I’ve got all these ideas about how I’d like it to go, and there will be more work and actors involved because I want to stage the next one in Arabic and English.”

The Great Redeemer is at Abu Dhabi National Theatre Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Tickets are Dh50 for adults and Dh25 for students. Visit ­www.beyondtheveilad.com or email ­beyondtheveilad@gmail.com for more information

aahmed@thenational.ae