Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi: third time around

The Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi is hosting the third running of the capital’s version of the Short+Sweet short play festival on 19 and 20 January; and if you’re in the area, you should take this opportunity to check out the local theatre scene.

Bill Bragin, executive artistic director at The Arts Center at NYUAD, is eager to see what the local dramatic talent has to offer this time: “Our collaboration with Short+Sweet has created new relationships between The Arts Center and locally-based theatre artists, and provides an important complement to our on-going series of visiting artists. We’re proud to offer our stage to artists from our own community. ”

This community engagement is exactly the kind of ancillary function that a university arts centre should have, and Short+Sweet is exactly the kind of candidate it should be hooking up with – local directors, writers and actors, producing local work for local consumption, and operating within a professional (and well proven) framework.

The Short+Sweet brand began in 2002 as a small festival of 10 minute plays in Sydney. Since then it’s expanded into dance, cabaret, comedy, song and film, franchising the idea around the world (currently it features in 23 cities and seven countries). Says the website: “The vision is simple – a more creative world 10 minutes at a time”.

That’s because no performance can exceed ten minutes, which manages to combine several big pluses. No one has time to get bored with a bad show, a good show leaves you eager to see more, there’s a load of variety in each session, and the performances are short enough to be reproduced with enough fidelity to compete in knockout rounds if required. Short-form theatre can be also as effective as the more conventional longer alternatives – just as a short story can be as punchy as a novel, or a burger as satisfying as a three-course fine dining menu.

Short+Sweet says it has three broad aims:

To develop the artistry and craft of theatre-making by creating a fun and professional workplace with high levels of administrative and technical support

To showcase ten-minute performances by creating a platform for artists to present their skills to new audiences and their professional peers

To create excellence via a vigorous, merit-based process of selection, employing an open call for material, auditions, and artist interviews.

Short+Sweet Abu Dhabi is smaller than the better-developed Dubai version, a situation that reflects both its immaturity – these things take time to develop – and the relative lack of theatre groups and opportunities in the capital (Dubai has a dozen active theatre companies and many more impromptu groups, with several performance spaces available around the city).

But the Short+Sweet profile is improving in Abu Dhabi. Once again the Festival Director is the indefatigable Zakaia Cvitanovich, flagbearer for amateur theatre in Abu Dhabi (she runs Beyond the Veil, currently the most active of Abu Dhabi’s theatre groups).

She’s keen on the open participation element, naturally – “whether you’re an experienced theatre practitioner or new to the world of theatre, Short+Sweet has something for everybody” – but it’s an equally good experience for audiences. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the venue; The Blue Hall is a professionally fitted and unintimidating performance space in The Arts Center.

The format is slightly complicated. The Top 10 performances (ten shows of 10 minutes apiece) are repeated on Friday and Saturday. On Saturday afternoon (3pm) there’s also a Wildcard session; this consists of performances that haven’t come through the normal selection process but which are regarded as being of equal standard to the Top 10.

Short+Sweet is a competition, and that too comes in two parts: the Judge’s Choice and the People’s Choice. Judges decide on the best male and female actors and runners-up for both, best new talent, best writer, best director, best independent theatre company and best overall play. For the People’s Choice, audience members receive a voting slip when they enter use it to vote for their favourite play at the end.

In short:

19 Jan 8pm Top 10

20 Jan 3pm Wildcards

20 Jan 8pm Top 10 reprise

Tickets are AED 105 per session (half price for children under 16 and students). Book here.

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