Lights, stage, action at Dubai's Courtyard Playhouse

Lights, stage, action at Dubais Courtyard Playhouse

People from different walks of life experienced a significant moment when they stepped on stage for the first time at the intimate and cozy Courtyard Playhouse in Al Quoz.

By Arti Dani (sub Editor/reporter)

Published: Sun 28 Jun 2015, 8:34 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 3:00 PM

Lawyers, flight attendants, homemakers, a golf professional, a make-up artist, a media professional and an accountant all took part in a recent Desert Monologues course headlined by Kemsley Dickinson, who has been running the programme for the last six years in Al Quoz. “It has brought me the confidence to go out there and enter the real world. It has put a spark back into my life,” said Bonita Wirth, a participant who is a freelance voice-over artist with two kids. Other participants who showcased their talent on stage in front of a packed auditorium flooded out similar feelings as well.

Actors at The Courtyard Playhouse speak up

Omar Khodeir - “I am a lawyer and expressing ideas and words plays a big role in my career. Performing in front of a full audience on stage helps me with enhancing the skill to present before clients and hearings! Apart from work, I believe communication and knowing how to express and deliver an idea or thought is quite important. The course helps you with that too.”

Tatyana Stepanova - “At work I spend a lot of time being structured and rational and I wanted to bring more playfulness into my life. The course did exactly that! I also really enjoyed the process of selecting a monologue; searching through lots of different ones, trying them on like outfits. You learn a lot about yourself as you go through this. And it felt wonderful being on stage!”

Faye Brann - “The Desert Monologues opened so many doors for me. I’d done musical theatre before but never pure acting. The course put me at ease and the performance at the end was an amazing experience. I was one of the original team of improvisers at The Courtyard Playhouse. I’ve learnt so much in the past three years, about myself, about teamwork, trust, friendship and fun.”

Alex Oviedo - “This course was a well-organised, fun and memorable experience. So many individuals came together and we all portrayed different characters on one stage. The course was fantastic and I recommend it highly. Being an improviser is always thrilling and motivating. It’s truly a spirited and unique experience.”

Sana Nader - “The Desert Monologues acting workshop was my stepping point in acting. It was so much fun and a stress-releasing course. What I really loved is that it helps break your shyness.”

The Courtyard Playhouse is a tiny, intimate theatre located in Al Quoz. It is a passion project started by artistic couple Kemsley and Tiffany. “I received an Honours degree in Theatre Studies and then went on teach English drama for ten years in London, Sharjah and Dubai. I realised that there were no adult acting courses here; everything was for kids. So gradually over the course of eight years, I turned what was a course for adults that was done in a small, dark studio, into what is now Desert Monologues,” said Kemsley, Owner and Artistic Director of The Courtyard Playhouse.


A chance to select your own script, learn the lines, choose the costume, lighting, stage design. The full experience of going backstage, having make-up done, seeing your name on the running order of the programme, walking on stage and performing your piece in front of a full audience turned out be a life-changing experience for many.

“Desert Monologues is essentially for people who seriously want to go and pursue acting, but it’s also for someone who wants to have some fun and challenge in their life. For people who want to be professional actors, when they leave this course they can go for professional profile photography. It’s also for people who want to have fun, we really do, and we go out and socialise at the end of the course,” said Kemsley, who noted that the six-week course runs full for every batch.

How does it feel to someone who makes such a positive and remarkable impact on so many peoples lives?

“It’s hard to believe theatre (in Dubai) has come so far. It’s very gratifying seeing a full house and people enjoying themselves at shows and workshops. I know that the place means a lot to some people and has made a huge impact on their lives in Dubai. Most of these people have been with us from the beginning of the journey, so they know what has gone into the creation of the Playhouse. It’s very personal. The Desert Monologues workshop has been going for over six years now, and we can see the long-term impact it has had on people - in terms of friendships made, new career paths, creative exploration and confidence building. As we grow, we are meeting new people and it’s great to share it with them,” said Tiffany Schultz, Co-Owner and Marketing Manager of The Courtyard Playhouse.

Kemsley told us that one of the reasons for creating this playhouse was to give art lovers an outlet.

“The reason we started The Courtyard Playhouse is because other theatres are really ****. There is a lack of space for anyone in the community. Everything is outsourced from abroad. Dubai now has an artistic community; there are so many people here who want to do something artistic with their life beyond working, and they have nowhere to do it. The theatre fees are so high that it was completely restricted. So after a few years we were like, ‘Why don’t we look and see if there is a venue where we might be able to put something together?’

“After a year of looking, we found The Courtyard and we renovated it from an empty warehouse. And now we have a lovely green room and the nicest toilet in Al Quoz! It’s just me and my wife so there is no sponsorship. We completely funded everything ourselves, this is like a passion project. We wanted to provide a genuine home for people who want to put on community performing arts work or learn the trade. Courtyard Playhouse is a platform for artists to be cultural.”


Why are tickets rates for theatre in Dubai much higher than the movies?

Kemsley said that it has to be this way with the limited funding that art professionals face.

“With theatre, assuming you are not paying any of the actors or technical guys, you still have to pay taxes, a performance license and then you have to hire a venue for about Dhs5,000-6,000 a day. Then you have to buy the costumes, the props, the set, the scripts and lights for the production. Everything is a struggle, even if you want to get sponsorship from a private sector. There are no full-time actors in Dubai. I am sure some people say that, but there are none. There are twenty auditoriums within a five-kilometre radius at schools and universities but they are all empty. There is nothing on as running costs are too high. With no actor visas available in the UAE, theatres outsource shows and talent from abroad. We realised that if we want to build a unique theatre, we need content and we need it regularly. We thought to create plays on the spot, with no sets, props or costumes. So we studied improv, we went abroad and learnt this craft, which is very popular in Canada and the US. We host two improv comedy nights a week where participants set scenes for our actors - like a drama scene in Satwa, for example - and each actor gets awarded points until a winner emerges. It is very popular. We have a lot of corporate companies like Mackenzie, Audi, BMW as well as the British Embassy asking us to train them. The private sector really helps us to keep this place running.”


“There are really good improvisers and I think it comes from the multiculturalism of Dubai. People get familiar with other cultures and other cultures are funny to other people. When we are on stage and we have a scene in Pakistan with an American improviser on stage, things get really funny,” explained Kemsley.

They also held a twelve-hour non-stop ‘improvathon’ raising funds for earthquake victims in Nepal. “Last time we held a similar event and raised Dhs14,000 for the Rwandan Orphans Project,” added Kemsley.


What are their goals for the next few years?

“It’s the payback for the loan we took to build this place. We got 60 seats but we also have beanbags for those packed improv or comedy nights. We charge Dhs60 for entry. We just want to make this place stand on its own feet, so it can be a permanent fixture in Dubai,” said Kemsley.

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