The American International School in Abu Dhabi (AISA). How I ended up here in the desert at the age of 56 is a story in itself but, hey, where better to sit out a recession than the world’s richest city. And,just like in the 2 schools where I taught in England, it was only a matter of time before I started producing Shakespeare again. So, here goes – ‘The Dream in the Desert’ or ‘Very Tragical Mirth” to be performed not by an Athenian eunuch to the harp, but by AISA’s remarkable Middle School Grades 6,7 and especially, Grade 8! And in this school of 77 different nationalities, it’s no surprise that I have a cast from 5 continents!(Beat that for multi-culturalism,you trendy London boroughs!)
The United Arab Emirates is a relatively new country (it just celebrated its 40th year) and is still finding its cultural identity. Unlike other countries in the region such as Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, the case for live theatre and Drama in school has to be made strongly and repeatedly because, materialism, technology and local customs (which can forbid local girls to appear onstage-what would Shakespeare have said!) tend to work against live Drama as an art form.
So our school has a terrible stage in the gym which I had to develop into some kind of thrust, which meant turning the Sports Dept out of their own Gym for a week. However, with the Art Departments ‘punky and funky’ designs and original music by Jon Fielder, Head of Music at Reigate St Mary’s Choir School, we set out to overcome all of the cultural and practical problems.
So the play opened with Theseus (from Kazakhstan) and Hippolyta (Sudan), attended by Philostrate (South Africa) being noisily interrupted by a very angry Egeus (Iran) and a defiant Hermia (Canada). Remember please that in the culture out here, a father choosing a husband for his daughter and threatening dire consequences if she refuses, is an issue for TODAY and not 400 years distant!!
When Lysander and Demetrius (South Africa and USA) are both wooing Helena (South Korea), we worked on a routine where they both go to kiss her and appear to kiss each other. I ran this past our school cultural adviser. Her answer? Fine, but no kissing between boys and girls!!!
This also curbed the encounters between Bottom (Australia) and Titania (Thai/American) and between Pyramus, Thisbe (Canada) and Wall (France), though there was a great deal of hilarity, albeit rather innocent, at these scenes. The other mechanicals came from Egypt (Quince and Snug) while Starveling actually came from the UAE!!!
With very strong performances from Oberon (South Africa) and Puck (France), there was ‘a play fitted’ and very well received it was too by young and old, locals and ex-pats, afficionadoes and neophytes. It seemed as though the play’s magic crossed boundaries of time, place, culture and religion. What to do next, I wonder.The Merchant of Venice…………………………………………………………………………
David Gallichan 11 June 2012
The American International School in Abu Dhabi