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A Cut

December 29, 2014


There are two posts I’d like to write and I am fluctuating between the two: the first would summarise a very interesting chapter I read a few days ago, with a historical overview of Arabic theatre and language, which nicely follows on from last post; and the second relates to the selection process with Home Grown (HG), to respond to the understandable disappointment, and at times confusion, from candidates who did not make ‘the final cut’.

I’ll stick with the latter as that feels like a more burning issue for myself and aforementioned candidates. History can wait.

As I wrote in a previous post, regarding the mix of communal and artistic endeavours of HG, this initiative is, at its core, a hybrid pilot project. The longer-term intention of Home Grown is to help build the theatre community in the Middle East, through shared regional and international networks, rather than the current uncoordinated mix of private companies. Many candidates spoke of the difficulty they encounter in infiltrating formed theatre troupes, and the lack of opportunities to practise their art form, particularly those whose schools and universities do not put on stage productions.

Meanwhile, the more immediate objective of HG is to put on a production of a new play, with a commissioned professional writer, production team and design/ technical crew (UAE based). With the latter objective in mind, candidates were selected as a professional theatre company would, i.e., a group of actors who compliment one another in their level of talent, and who can best serve the play at hand, experience and diversity.

If this project was simply a series of training workshops, which KSF have carried out in other countries, then we’d have ended up with a very different group of young people. As it is, there is a product to be produced in the end, so participants go into initial training, likely to be tailored to feed into the play itself, before immersing themselves in a rehearsal process. These are interrelated, though quite separate processes in their own right.

As a theatre company, participants were partly selected to be cast in the required roles, in the written play, and/ or those we feel would work well as an ensemble to work on the more physical elements of the envisioned final piece. Again, individuals who we might have enjoyed meeting, auditioning and felt had great potential, might not have sat well in the overall company, and we grudgingly let candidates go. I say this, as I know, in the professional acting world, a similar process takes place; an actor goes for an audition, does their best and usual leaves not knowing why they might not have gotten the part, and that might simply be down to physical appearance, character, accent and a medley of other things with little or no relation to do with talent and ability.

With HG, we had the added brief of (ideally) selecting a balanced mix of genders (men and women) and geographical region (from across MENA). Now, given what I’ve said about the artistic requirements of producing a play, this ideal was further juxtaposed with those who actually applied (the pool of potential participants). For example, we had a majority of Syrian and Egyptian candidates apply, and relatively fewer applicants from the Emirates, Saudi, Yemen etc. The Creative Team, in charge of selecting candidates, debated back and forth (and back again!) as to how and who to choose. The wealth of talent- and I don’t say this lightly- was immense, and made this a truly challenging task. So, the final selection is therefore a mix of talent from across the MENA region, which is as much a reflection of the overall objective of HG, with the total number and quality of applicants, than mere talented individuals.

Going back to the longer term objective of HG, namely, to set-up the first Middle East Theatre Academy (META). This entity may be based in Sharjah, and supported by patrons in the Emirates and abroad, but the academy would remain a shared platform for all those from the region. HG is exciting as it’s exploring new possibilities, and with this, there will always be lessons for us to learn from participants and teams alike. As with all pilots, there will be elements that work beautifully, and others which would need finer tuning. In any case, we would have a detailed evaluation, to gauge how the brief was tackled, and what improvements can be made, to hopefully run the next initiative with experiential insight… but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Over 300 young people applied to Home Grown, we shortlisted some 60, who we met in person or over Skype, and from that we whittled the company down to the pre-set number of 35 members. As we’ve been saying, in response to all shortlisted talent, you can be proud that you made the shortlist, as that is by no means an easy feat.

In short, if you were shortlisted and did not make the final cut, then please know this is not simply due to your ability and capability, but part of your job as an actor, who may get some jobs you audition for, but not all. I have great admiration for ‘jobbing actors’, as this rejection is an inherent part of the process. How an actor copes with this difficult element, can make or break them in the longterm. Maybe the cliche of the ‘thicker skin’ applies here (not taking rejection too personally), and faith in one’s own ability and vision, regardless of who or what else is at work.

This selection is by no means ‘The final cut’, as one candidate called it, it’s ‘a final cut for one project’ (not quite so catchy!), and with drive, your talents and gained experience will take you to greener pastures…

Congratulations to those we, the creative team, will be working with next month. Get your rest now, as you’ll need all the patience, strength and energy for the work!

And to everyone else who participated thus far, please keep in touch- especially with those you met in the auditioning process or online, as you never know how you might serve one another in the future!- I imagine our paths may yet to cross, and I know HG’s longer term vision would not be realised without your talents and support, so by all means, stay connected.


As to the aforementioned chapter, I may post again with a summary of what I read, because I found it truly fascinating, and meanwhile, here’s the reference for those interested in delving straight to the source:

‘Arab Theatre and Language: The Continuing Debate’ by Elsaid Badawi, chapter in World Encyclopaedia of Contemporary Theatre Volume 4: The Arab World (World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre).

From → Artistic, Community

One Comment
  1. zuzu permalink

    Blogs are alien to my generation, which is precisely why I so love reading yours Starkin.
    The spontaneity and the sharing is what I enjoy most.
    Your explanation/justification that the end product, a play, guided the selection is very important to the applicants but also for clarity and transparency of the HG project.
    ‘Process’ versus ‘product’ are at the heart of my teaching of landscape architecture and a distinguishing mark from architecture. Interesting to see the issue debated in theatre.

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