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Dubai: Theatre veteran appreciates getting 'Cultural Visa'

Dubai - Dubai-based Padraig Downey, who received the ten-year visa with the title ‘Theatre Director’ in 2020, is thankful


Purva Grover

Published: Sun 14 Mar 2021, 9:31 AM

Padraig Downey founded Danú, a Dubai-based theatre, a decade ago. He has spent decades on the craft, having studied it for more than six years at university. Under the UAE’s initiative of granting a Cultural Visa to writers, artists, and creators, Padraig’s work was recognised when he received the Visa in 2020. “Artists are often not taken seriously or seen as ‘lesser’; it is demeaning to be looked down upon because I chose to pursue an artistic life, a life I consider to be of meaning and expression. The Cultural Visa is a great start and I am incredibly grateful to His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister, UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, Dubai Culture & Arts Authority, and Dubai Government for implementing such a remarkable programme and for recognising the work of those who make a difference to the cultural scene.”

Cast of 'A Doll's House', produced and directed by Padraig.
Cast of 'A Doll's House', produced and directed by Padraig.

“It is a great initiative as it makes me feel like my work is appreciated. The visa also liberates me to engage in project work. The Cultural Visa has placed a new priority on artists as well as showing that we are worthy to be here and that we can contribute positively and uniquely to the eclectic and diverse canvas that is the UAE.”

Padraig has been instrumental in putting Arab women and local actors on stage. He teaches at the Dubai American Academy where many of his students, including Emirati students, have pursued theatre and film to a professional level. Through Danú, he has presented plays at major theatres in Dubai as well as festivals like the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature and The Sorbonne Festival of Arts. He is passionate about bringing an equal mix of Irish and Arab theatre.

In the summer of 2019, a few of his acquaintances encouraged him to submit evidence of artistic work in Dubai for the upcoming initiative. “At the time, I was in Bali looking at Balinese Theatre. I am often asked for the paperwork for projects, so I didn’t dwell on it too much,” he recalls. In September 2019, two journalists approached him to share his thoughts on the recently announced Cultural Visa. “I had read Sheikh Mohammed’s statement and had thought it was wonderful news,” he adds. In January 2020, he was contacted by The Ministry of Culture and Youth (MCY). “A representative asked me to come to meet him and to bring my passport along. I had a coffee with him and was presented with an invitation to obtain the Golden Visa (Cultural) as a recommendation from the MCY for my contributions to theatre in Dubai and the UAE. I was overjoyed; it was completely unexpected,” he adds.

After he received the letter, he took his medical and submitted paperwork to the immigration office at Al Jafiliya where the Ministry ensured he had VIP service and an assistant to help every step of the process. “They cancelled my old visa, thus creating the new ten-year visa which was all done swiftly in a matter of days with the title ‘Theatre Director.’ This was a new title to place on a UAE visa as the correct translation had to be checked and authorised. Now, that is Dubai efficiency! The visa is also renewable every ten years.”

At the time when Padraig was approached, he was working on numerous projects like The Voice of Tolerance at La Perle for The Year of Tolerance. In addition to his CV, the digital footprint of newspaper articles, reviews, testimonials attesting his work in Dubai and the UAE from the past decade aided the process. “I am indebted to Maxine English, who through her time at DUCTAC and the QE2 is a formidable force on the UAE arts’ scene, for her support. I was also encouraged by Dr Andrew Lee of Arts Ed International,” he added. Whilst Padraig had job offers from other countries, he says the visa was one of the factors in deciding to remain here.

He is currently involved in Expo with cultural projects and is a regular contributor to the Irish Embassy’s cultural programme. His next production will be Woman and Scarecrow by Marina Carr which previews in June.

He concluded, “When we study great empires or civilisations, it is the art and culture that stands out. It is my wish that the local youth positively define the arts scene in Dubai making it a world-class city for theatre and the arts, establishing its own distinct identity and voice on the global stage.”

Padraig has produced and directed over 30 productions in Dubai including original work and has ensured that surplus proceeds have helped charities. A few of his works include:

>> The Al Hamlet Summit by Sulayman Al Bassam

>> Amir Nizar Zuabi’s I Am Yusuf

>> A Khaleej version of A Doll’s House, which he rewrote for an Arab audience (scene pictured)

>> Saharcasm, starring and based on the life of the actress Sahar Ali

>> My Name is Rachel Corrie, a one-woman Palestinian piece

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