Theatre as an international language

| by Abdulla Al Asam

Tags: Feature

As an actor, I never expected that my first taster of performing Shakespeare would take place in the country of his birth, let alone a location so fitting as Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. Of course, I have gained a large amount of experience performing modern theatre in Qatar, which perhaps is to be expected in a country whose recent development has come to define modernity.

It was this cultural contrast between the UK and Qatar that made my experience at the Sam Wanamaker Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe so enjoyable and beneficial.

My colleague Mohammed Ziyara and I were invited to participate in the festival, alongside 42 students from UK drama schools, by Globe Education, as part of Qatar UK 2013 Year of Culture. Qatar UK 2013 is a year-long celebration of the long-lasting friendship between Qatar and the UK and aims to cultivate mutual understanding between the two countries. Our inclusion definitely brought a different perspective to the weekend, and it was a brilliant experience sharing knowledge and bouncing ideas in an international group.

The weekend involved a variety of workshops and classes, each led by an expert who helped us improve our performance skills. I found all the Globe staff I met to be extremely helpful and encouraging, but the chance to talk about acting with students in the UK who share my interests and passions was a real highlight of the trip. As a whole, I would describe my experience as both unique and extreme.

What I found most encouraging was the internationality of our medium. The UK is, of course, home to not just Shakespearean-era plays, but a whole variety of modern theatre. Working with British students in the weekend’s workshops and bringing in various performance elements that I had learnt in my home country was a great experience.

I found that acting and humour easily transfers over boundaries. My highlight of the weekend was performing the castle garden scene from Othello with Mohammed in front of an audience of 1,500 on the Globe’s stage – in Arabic! With very few of the audience able to speak our language, my ability to translate the scene through my acting was truly tested!

Standing on the stage, I felt very intimately connected with the audience and the Arabic humour we brought to the scene was definitely appreciated by those watching our performance. Throughout Iago’s devious discussion with Othello about Desdemona, we used our environment to great effect to bring Othello’s passion to life. At one point, a pillar even became Desdemona!

The weekend left me feeling even more excited by my craft and inspired with a huge range of new ideas. Exchanging these ideas with students from another culture has also really highlighted to me the benefit of Qatar UK 2013 and the cultural exchange it is promoting. I would like to thank everyone involved in the Sam Wanamaker Festival for giving me such a unique experience. And I am looking forward to the chance to welcome some UK theatre students to Qatar in the future.

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