When Rania Ashur moved to Dubai in 1998, family theatre was virtually non-existent. Now, 15 years after she founded Art for All, she’s taking it full circle, bringing back her first ever show, George’s Marvellous Medicine…
How was the art scene for children when you created Art for All?
There were two theatres back in 2002 – one in Knowledge Village and a tiny theatre in Children’s City. I did my first show, George’s Marvellous Medicine, in the Knowledge Village theatre, invited some schools along, and discovered most of the children had never been to a theatre before. The culture of going to theatres was non-existent and there were very few drama schools back then too.
Why do you think live theatre is so important for children?
Children need to be able to sit, focus and appreciate traditional storytelling, and that’s becoming more of a challenge as they rely more on video games and devices for entertainment. Art for All is trying to address that, and most of our shows are based on books or well-known plays, helping the children understand the plots from literary classics by Shakespeare or Roald Dahl. Children can also remember facts and relate better to certain subjects because of shows such as Ministry of Science Live or Horrible Histories, and enjoying the show encourages children to read. In today’s crazy and violent environment, performing art can inspire and engage children in such a positive manner.
How do you go about selecting your programme?
I have dealt with the same producers for many years, and I visit London several times a year to attend the latest plays. A big part of our work involves checking with schools to find out what books are on the curriculum that year. If we can coordinate a great show with one of those books, it’s a winning formula. We are limited by the size and technical spec of the theatres we use, though sometimes we challenge ourselves with larger shows to push the boundaries.
Tell us about the workshop programmes for children
We like to offer literature and drama workshops for smaller groups of children, to allow them the opportunity to talk to the actors and producers of the play they have seen, which is academically very helpful. For example, we work closely with Globe Education, which is part of Shakespeare’s Globe in London and, for younger children, we run Globe Interactive Storytelling sessions, which are wonderfully entertaining. It’s truly inspiring to see a five-year-old get to grips with a classic Shakespeare tale because they’ve attended a Globe workshop. It remains in their memories and helps them understand Shakespeare far better at high school.
What are the key benefits of exposing children to art?
Art encapsulates so many amazing things, from philosophy and music to communication and expression. Art is culturally diverse, but also inclusive. Children who are exposed to the arts from a young age have stronger imaginations and are able to develop their creative talents far more easily than those who spend their free time playing video games. Theatre particularly can be interactive, educational and inspiring.
What shows are you most excited about bringing to the UAE in the upcoming programme?
I am looking forward to bringing the Birmingham Stage Company’s production of David Walliams’ Gangsta Granny to the UAE in 2018, as he is one of the most popular children’s authors right now.
Is there a show you’d love to bring to the city and haven’t managed to yet?
There are many shows I would love to bring to the UAE, but I am limited by budget, stage specifications and the size of the sets. Art for All is not subsidised and we rely 100 per cent on ticket sales – if our productions are too expensive to export here, prices go up and families can’t afford to see the shows. We want as many children as possible to experience our live performances, so we try our best to keep it affordable. Having said that, I’m an optimist and I always like to think big, no matter the constraints. So, who knows what could be in the pipeline? You’ll just have to watch this space.