The first time I visited the Dubai Community of Theatre and Arts (Ductac), I was a tone-deaf 14-year-old auditioning for Hairspray.
I couldn’t sing, dance or act, but I was motivated by a deep-rooted desire to live out a High School Musical fantasy. I wanted to wear costumes, chase the thrills of being on stage, and, most importantly, find a pocket of friends who would tell me to ‘break a leg’ backstage.
After an off-key rendition of You Can’t Stop the Beat during the two-hour-long audition process for Hairspray, my dreams of playing Penny Pingleton came tumbling down under the glare of stage lights.
Still, I decided I could make peace with playing a background character. Then came the rejection email with the words: “Unfortunately, you have not been successful on this occasion.”
There were only 80 roles to fill, the email said, and more than 350 people had auditioned to be a part of the show.
The surge of disappointment was accompanied by a determination to learn how to get better. So, I went back to Ductac, left my musical theatre dreams at the entrance and signed up for youth theatre classes.
There weren’t always costumes; most times, we wore all-black. There wasn’t always a stage; sometimes, the end-of-term performances were held in the same studio where we had classes every Tuesday.
But there was always a pocket of gold stars — the friends who danced with me to Little Mix’s Change Your Life and the teachers who helped us conquer our shyness, forge special connections and dream big.
During those four years, I looked forward to Tuesdays. It was an unspoken rule that we would all arrive an hour before class started — not to memorise lines or squeeze in last-minute assignments, but to pile into a black three-seater couch and talk about our week.
There were days when I was dead on my feet after pulling an all-nighter to study for a chemistry exam, but skipping drama class on Tuesdays was not an option.
To skip even one was to miss out on surprise fro-yo runs, birthday celebrations and homemade chocolate cornflake treats. Some days, it also meant missing an unexpected announcement that one of us was moving away, leaving behind an empty seat on the fuschia carpet where we laughed, cried and hugged.
In many ways, Ductac, which closed in 2018, defined the formative years of my life. I didn’t just conquer my fear of public speaking; I learned how to love the arts by being in a space that was always buzzing with activity. In every room, in every corner of Ductac, people were devoting time to honing their craft, their passion, their hobby.
And though my dreams of playing Penny Pingleton and wearing 60s-inspired geometric dresses went unrealised, my drama class at Ductac was perhaps the best trade-off.
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