Fame: the UAE’s biggest showcase for people of determination is back

Organisers of the free-to-attend talent show talk about what goes into making the event and why mental health is in the limelight this year

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On Friday, 40 talented people of determination will get a chance to step into the spotlight.

Fame – a community talent show – is back again this year, for its first in-person event since the onset of the pandemic. The title is an acrynom for fashion, art, music and entertainment. The two-hour extravaganza will offer participants, whose ages range from 5 to 37, a chance to show off their skills through the four creative channels. That means audiences can look forward to a number of musical acts, dance performances, drama and a popular fashion show.

Rosy Ahmed, founder of Fame and chief executive of Purple Vogue Events, hopes that this year’s showcase will attract an audience from all walks of life.

“The aim is for this year's Fame to reach an audience beyond the special needs community, inspiring them to come forward and enjoy the talents of our determined children and young adults,” she says.

Rebecca Shamji, the event's organiser, says: “From a production point of view, it’s a much bigger event than most parents suspect. I think a lot of people expect a school production, but it’s a whole stage set-up, with a technical team, weeks of rehearsals, lighting, logistics, all of it.”

How Fame began

Rosy Ahmed, founder of Fame, with her daughter Hana. Photo: Fame

Fame was first launched in 2016 and is inspired by Ahmed’s daughter Hana, 25, who has Down syndrome.

With Ahmed working in the events industry and developing ties with people of determination in the UAE, launching the talent show seemed like a natural next step.

She would visit centres where children would be rehearsing for school productions. “It just clicked,” she says. “I saw some incredible talent. You only have to leave them on stage, and they’re singing, dancing, playing instruments. I remember thinking that all these children need is a proper platform.”

The fact that it could break barriers was an additional bonus. “We wanted to encourage integration, break any stigmas or perceptions of what they could or couldn’t do.”

When the first show took place in 2016, they didn’t know if it would be a one-off or recurring feature. However, the reaction from parents and audiences convinced them to make it an annual event.

“News of it spread, largely through word of mouth. We had a choir and dancers who were excited to participate,” she says. Some of these participants from 2016 have been back on the stage every year since.

While the event couldn’t take place in 2020, owing to the pandemic, Ahmed and Shamji improvised by making it virtual. However, this year they’re back to their physical format and as they say, “bigger and better”.

“The participant list has grown, the production team has grown. During the first show we were just getting to know the participants, but now we’re a bit more experimental and confidence has also grown,” says Shamji.

Ahmed says: “When we put the registration list online, it was completely filled up in a few hours. There were so many excited to be in the showcase that Fame couldn’t accommodate all within the two-hour timeframe, and some had to be wait-listed.”

What to expect from Fame 2021

Girls from Stepup Academy perform a ballet dance at Fame 2019. Photo: Fame

Spurred on by the pandemic, this year’s event will begin with a drama written by the show’s creators – and brought to the stage in collaboration with Tender Hearts Arena – drawing on how stay-at-home measures had an impact on mental health.

“It’s something that’s affected us all over the past year and a half,” says Ahmed. “I myself had issues, and almost everyone I know has a similar story.”

Shamji says: “Routines are a big thing, and they have been thrown off. So we wanted to put together a play that really depicted that. Most plays usually showcase a problem and then a solution, but over here, we’re saying that there is no solution – but that’s OK because together we are stronger, in a light-hearted way, of course.”

Andrea Michelle Khayat, 17, one of the participants in the show, says it’s been a “long journey”.

“I’ve learnt so much about myself, and have grown so much. The play is about how Covid-19 has affected the lives of teenagers and how we communicate in general.

"I feel like when I’m acting in the play, I’m showing my real self. I also have a lot of close friends now because of it,” she says. Rehearsals have been taking place twice a week for six weeks.

Audiences can also look forward to dance performances from Stepup Academy, which has a dance troupe made up of members with Down syndrome.

Laila Labib, 16, says she and her team will be performing two dances, one called The Toy Shop where they will be dancing as dolls, and another as the finale dance.

“I love Fame because it gives me something to look forward to every year,” she says. “My team and I practice so hard and learn new moves. We love to show people what we can do on stage.”

Zia Mirza, centre, walks the runway at Fame 2019. Mirza will be participating again this year. Photo: Fame

Meanwhile, a catwalk has always been one of the most popular parts of Fame. In 2019, participants got a chance to showcase work by fashion designer Rina Dhaka, alongside professional models. This year, Dhaka is back and has curated a collection especially for the show.

Zia Mirza, 25, who previously walked the runway, will be returning to the stage once more this year.

“Being hearing-impaired, it helped me a lot with grooming and getting more confident in expressing myself not only locally but internationally as well. Internationally, people came to know about me more through Fame,” he says.

“I always love participating. The first reason is the organisers are very caring and loving. The second is that every year there’s something new, and I love to take up new challenges.”

This year will also introduce a group dance, with all the contestants participating. “Dancing and modelling are my passions, and I think Fame is the correct platform to showcase my talent so I can become a well-known and famous model one day,” he says.

This might be the overarching goal of this inclusive event – to give anyone who needs it a foothold to achieve bigger and better things.

“I’d like to encourage everyone to take opportunities – it doesn’t have to specifically be Fame – but if there are similar platforms, go for it,” says Ahmed.

“There were so many parents who would initially come up to me worried that their children couldn’t handle being on stage. But you have to give them a chance to see how much these children shine.”

Friday, November 26; 6.30pm; free, but registration is a must; Al Multaqua Ballroom, Dubai World Trade Centre; 050 694 5330; fameeventglobal@gmail.com

Updated: November 22, 2021, 2:22 PM