DUBAI // As seven-year-old Kaylen Hashemian waits in the wings for the curtains to rise and the spotlight to cue his entry, he tries to ignore the butterflies in his stomach.
"My tummy feels ticklish, but it's a good ticklish," said Kaylen, moments before stepping on to the stage to perform as Harry Potter in a play organised by Kids Theatre Works! last weekend.
He learnt how to lose his inhibitions when he joined the theatre group in Dubai a few years ago.
"The first time it was scary, but I just drank some water to ease the nerves," he said.
It's natural for children to struggle with self-esteem, but drama can boost their confidence, said Emily Madghchian, the founder of Kids Theatre Works!
"It's like a healing process, especially for children who find it hard in social settings," said Mrs Madghchian.
"Theatre opens them up to life- skills which cannot be taught through mathematics and science books: those of resilience, risk-taking and empathy."
She said she has seen children walk into her classes timid and walk out ready to take on the world.
"Some of them cannot even speak or look at you," she said. "But in a year, they are transformed."
Which is why, she believes, parents are starting to enrol their toddlers early to give them a voice by bringing out the actor inside.
Tiffany Schultz, the marketing manager of Drama Dubai, which organises adult and school workshops, said drama forces people out of their comfort zones.
"They have to let go, use their imagination and not be self conscious during various improvisation games," she said.
"But it's easier because you are in a supportive group environment where everyone is in the same boat - a bit nervous and excited."
The actors take the lead and don't just get a script, but are involved in developing it.
"The whole idea is to tap into their ingenuity and make them responsible," said Ms Madghchian, who has 400 children in her classes for three to 18-year-olds.
Nine-year-old Sophie Gatward played Mary Lennox, a character from the novel The Secret Garden, and had to interact with Harry Potter in the play Forget Me Not, put together by 15 youngsters of the theatre group with the help of Haley Doyle, their instructor at the Dubai Community Theatre and Arts Centre (Ductac) recently.
"We decided on the book characters we wanted to play, and experimented with being them and talking like them to see how they would communicate," said Sophie about the play that portrayed the children's misery over the closure of libraries in the UK.
Ms Doyle, who wrote the script, said acting is an outlet of expression and one that pushes boundaries.
"Working with kids is the most inspiring process as their ideas and enthusiasm just rub off on you," she said.
She believes any child can take up acting as "newcomers mingle with the experienced bunch and feed off each other's potential".
Raquel Barros, mother of 11-year-old Luisa who played Winnie the Pooh, has seen her daughter come out of her shell since the classes began.
"She was never an outspoken child, doing her own thing," said Ms Barros.
"This exposure and her time with the other children had helped her confidence grow."
For Nadecheda Justens, her child's heightened language skills and creativity is what makes the weekly drama lessons worthwhile.
"She likes anything to do with languages so this is a good place to further her passion," said Ms Justens, whose daughter Floortje, 10, was performing for the first time.
Mrs Madghchian said many parents also seek drama classes when they find their children struggling at school.
"A mother got in touch with me about her daughter who was having trouble at school and had anger issues. We have started involving her in various aspects of the shows," she said.
"She will continue to come to us and I am sure eventually theatre will communicate to her and she will blossom."