Dubai is getting a brand new three-day festival of theatre under the name Theme 8, with performances at the Theatre at Mall of the Emirates at the end of the month.
The festival is for original short plays (8 to 12 minutes long) in English and in any genre, all based on a common theme – which for this inaugural year is ‘Black & White’.
According to Orb Events, which is running the festival, the aim is “to develop local writers and directors who can think out of the box to use the theme effectively and create and present different stories on stage”.
Registrations were solicited earlier this year and closed at the end of March; participants then had two months to write a script and pitch it to the organisers, who selected 13 of them to enter the festival. They picked a further eight scripts to run in a pre-show for plays that did not get through the pitching round but which were deemed to be worthy of a second chance, and three of these will be included in the main competition round.
That competition is ultimately for Best Play, meaning best all rounder. Emphasising the essential point that a good show is a team effort, a synthesis of individual and technical contributions, there will be no individual awards for actors or directors. Indeed, ‘collaboration points’ will be used as tie breaker if necessary; and the only other prize will be a ‘best collaboration’ award.
Sabiha Majgaonkar and Rachel Kosbar of Orb say they’re keen that the festival should demonstrate all the important aspects of doing good theatre. “Through our processes, whether it be registration, pitch meetings, workshops or emphasis on collaborations, we are trying to give the Dubai theatre enthusiast not only a platform to get creative and have fun, but also learn what constitute good theatre practices…”
Theme 8 appears to be trying to strike a balance between maximum reach and professional standards. The two aren’t mutually exclusive, of course, but it is much easier to advocate for the essentials of theatre if the number of festival entries are restricted.
“We are striving to focus on the collaboration that is born from art in a cooperative, fostering environment,” Sabiha Majgaonkar told us. “We limit the number of potential entries so that we have the time to meet with each of them individually. We want to be available to help, and to connect the participants with other artists, and open up some of the boundaries that can form within communities.”
Dubai already has one very well established festival of short theatre in the shape of the long-running Short+Sweet Dubai (scheduled for 13 January to 12 March next year at The Junction). So is Theme 8 setting up in competition? No, said Sabiha Majgaonkar.
“We are absolutely not looking at Theme 8 as an alternative to any of the other festivals in the UAE, short format or otherwise. What we are looking to do with Theme 8 is to create an additional platform with what we think is a particular approach to playwriting development and collaboration. We have introduced prompts and restrictions and limitations in different places so that directors and writers can focus on the full development of an idea within the framework of the festival.
“Short+Sweet Dubai is an absolutely vital part of the Dubai performing arts scene. It cannot, nor should be replaced. What we are hoping to do with Theme 8 is build from there.”
Tickets are available online from bookmyshow