British Actress, travel junkie and connoisseur of all things fabulous. Emma's love of performing began at a young age and never left. Not quite as sweet as she looks.
The inaugural Alex Broun Play Festival was staged at The Junction over the course of four days, featuring 44 short plays and a 100 actors. The 44 plays were picked out by 30 directors from Alex Broun’s own collection of over 100 plays. The Camel Stub team was all over the event, and here’s their take in-short.
[Disclaimer: Phil Apaza was a director and actor in Green (Racing Now) and Magenta (Jade). Normally, participants are excluded from providing reviews. However, in this case, an exception has been made since Phil saw the remaining three groups and had a particular inside perspective.]
Emma Haylan Hall’s Take
Comedy, Drama, Love, Heart Ache & Tragedy… all in one night, and from one seat. The breadth of topics covered highlighted Alex Broun’s versatility as a writer, and provided ‘something for everyone’ in each session. I felt the excitement brewing weeks ago, as the community selected their chosen scripts and began rehearsals for the festival. After an epic night out at Pick Ups, I was excited to see an entire evening of Alex Brouns plays. [See Emma’s review of Pick Ups.]
Rosine Saad’s Take
The ABPF, in its first edition, was a mixture of artistic inspiration and production disorganization. Excellent initiative that got us all involved: actors, directors, audience and critics. It was a free reign to the directors, as long as they agree to take part of the festival. For the sake of good numbers for press release?! I can’t be sure but I can’t find another reason either. If it needs to survive, the festival needs a good deal of trimming, time-wise, and in number of entries. And more involvement in the showcasing in general, Art can be creative by all means, but to a certain extent when it involves this majority of amateurs in the field.
Phil Apaza’s Take
When a festival consists of pieces from only one writer, it exposes the myriad of strengths, weaknesses, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities and eccentricities of that mind. Fortunately, the strength of Alex’s mind is its range: hilarious comedy, wonderful characterization in short scripts, engaging drama, tense situations, gooey romance. But, with that range comes a fear of delving deep, often leaning on pop scripts and clichéd writing as a crutch, with fewer pieces testing his limits. The breadth of plays allowed for a range of interpretations, and with those many directors’ and actors’ interpretations came a sense of community to the whole festival.
What we liked…
I hate artists that play it safe, and taking on taboo subjects such as paedophilia (Jade), and another man’s regret at parenthood (The Celine Dion Songbook), were brave choices for Alex, the actors, and directors, and were executed well – highlights for me and talking points from the audience between sessions. The comedic skills of the actors in Television Women & I Miss You the Most When I Catch Sight of the Moon gave me ‘lol’ moments and Diary of a Break Up/Break Down made my heart hurt in this realistic tale of heart ache. Meh… we’ve all been there right?
Being on stage gives you a ‘high’ that can’t be replicated … well, unless you are a skilled pharmacist! And I believe everyone should get a chance to experience that – and this festival brings that opportunity to the theatre fans here in Dubai.
We got to hand it to Alex, he brought together the community theatre people for a creative collaboration that is hard to find outside a format like Short+Sweet. The level of adrenaline was contagious and the energy catchy. In a society like Dubai and its expats, where finding cultural entertainment is already hard, Alex created an extra space for the interested crowd to be active and come up with a festival that they can proudly proclaim as theirs. It was interesting to see the different sides, interpretations and genres of one playwright from different angles and mentalities.
I wanted to go to each color group to see what I was getting. I was never left in doubt that I would see some good pieces. There are wonderfully funny or terribly dark pieces in Alex’s repertoire that, when interpreted by good directors and casts, can really engage an audience and come to life. This happened many times throughout the festival. For a first-year festival, there were nice organizational touches that made it feel a bit more polished (i.e. badges, media passes, t-shirts, strong technical assistance, provided set pieces).
While the team was there on Saturday, we interrupted the festival to do a Mannequin Challenge.
What we didn’t quite like…
Amateur directors directing first-time actors resulted in a few painful performances and pieces to watch. I question why Alex would let his scripts be aired in this fashion? Especially at a self-titled festival. Alex Broun is a talented script writer and each of his scripts had the potential to stand alone as a short play – unfortunately, a few were let down in the directing, and therefore possibly the performance stakes. More focus on the quality, pace and arrangement of the plays is needed to ensure the audiences enjoyment is just as valued as Alex seeing his words come to life and the actors getting the chance to perform them.
In one word: organization.
The directors were given free rein on their work, they were given no time limit for the play, no rules on adding or taking off characters, no rules on anything apparentl. They could choose any event date they wanted, regardless of the number of plays already in the lineup. So, obviously, all chose the 7:00pm shows on Friday and Saturday. It all turned into chaos on Friday and brought down the audience enthusiasm, who sat for two and a half hours in a row. And, of course, everyone got a pat in the back for a job very well done by the politically correct Dubai Art scene.
Directors killed good scripts. Some actors were line-reading at best. And some scripts were downright unsalvageable. (But, in the hands of good directors and casts, some mediocre scripts were given life, like 27 Flavors of His Kiss.) The whole festival felt more about the people on-and-behind the stage than about the audience. That deserves credit, in that it does a lot for the community and elevates the arts. But, it’s a disservice to audiences who were left wondering what to expect (and not always in the best of ways.)