NYUAD Brings International Flavor to Middle East Theater Scene

NYUAD theater students often travel to Kerala, India to enhance their studies. Theater Program / NYUAD

Abu Dhabi is where past and present, East and West, mingle to create a multicultural microcosm of the world. NYU Abu Dhabi's theater program has taken up the task of opening new possibilities for theater in the Middle East by dissecting the global and regional roots of plays and emphasizing intercultural learning in its emerging story.

The timelessness and global flavor of theater in Abu Dhabi is highlighted in productions like Mujeres Cabalgando en la Arena / Women Riding in the Sand. The play, staged by actors from a multitude of countries, is a fascinating international take on its original Spanish texts written in the early 20th century.

The opportunity to grasp both local and worldly understandings of these kinds of productions is facilitated by NYUAD's central location in the UAE. Theater students who come to Abu Dhabi from around the world often travel to Nepal, India, Uganda and Turkey where their lives as young artists are changed and they return to their studies with a sense of spiritual awakening.

“Uganda was incredibly important because we had the opportunity to actually watch plays that we were learning in class," said Ankita Sadarjoshi, Class of 2019, who visited the Kampala International Theater Festival and also studied Indian martial art in Kerala. "Theater in developing countries is very different from the common perception of theater ... it helped us understand how theater makes people and how people make theater,” she explained.

I really believe in the program. I've seen it change so much and it's nice to be part of its history.

Valentina Vela, Global Academic Fellow
An adaptation of Hamlet at NYUAD's Black Box Theater. Theater Mitu / NYUAD

The influence of theater on people and people on theater emerges in several ways at NYUAD. The program strives to maintain constant engagement with the Abu Dhabi community. For example, students often conduct theater workshops for local children with autism. Close ties with the community also blossom because of elective classes like Theater in the Arab World, and through performances and workshops led by guest students and professors from University of Cairo, University of Sharjah and American University of Beirut, Lebanon.

A similar engagement is facilitated by student-led productions — small-scale theatrical productions and works created by students — which offer students access to a wealth of resources and the freedom to explore topics of their choice; these topics are often inspired by experiences with the wider university community, Abu Dhabi and the UAE. Past projects have included an exploration of femininity and womanhood in Abu Dhabi, as well as UAE-inspired artworks.

Teaching theater in Abu Dhabi is exciting because I work with an international community ... I have to articulate and understand things in a way I never did before.

Aysan Celik, assistant arts professor

“Teaching theater in Abu Dhabi is exciting because I work with an international community of students and colleagues,” said Aysan Celik, assistant professor of theater. “I see the work through new perspectives, and we ask new questions. I have to articulate and understand things in a way I never did before; my own practice evolves from every person I encounter.”