1) Tell us all about why you decided to start The Hive and how it all came to be?
The Hive is my wife Darshana’s brainchild. A bunch of us were sitting at home, trying to figure out to a place to rehearse our next play. Ever since I started doing theatre in 2002, finding a rehearsal space that was within our means and methods was impossible – I had used everything from parks, offices, warehouses, corridors, schools, cafes and even our living rooms. Sensing my frustration she suggested ‘why don’t we set-up a place which you could use for rehearsals?’ We opened doors to public in January 2015.
2) Is there another full-time job that takes up your time when you’re not busy directing new productions or conducting workshops at The Hive?
Yes. I also run a graphic design agency. Which, incidentally is now getting increasingly busy designing publicity, marketing and promotional collaterals for The Hive. So one hand washes the other.
3) How did you branch out from acting and directing to becoming a drama educator?
My wife was always keen on me teaching drama workshops for kids and share my knowledge about the craft. Since I had always worked with adults I’d keep refusing saying I wasn’t sure if I have the ability or the patience required to work with kids. Little did I know that she had already suggested my name to a school who were looking for someone to direct The Jungle Book with around 300 kids.
4) What exactly do you do as a Drama Educator?
I make kids fall in love with the craft. As an educator, I am always thinking of new ways of empowering them with a curriculum that develops their creativity, curiosity, communication, empathy, self-confidence, cooperation, tolerance, and leadership skills. All this by training them to effectively use their voice, body and mind both on and off-stage in a fun and enjoyable environment.
5) Could you give us an example of how the drama education helps kids build life skills?
We’ve seen kids discover themselves through drama – it starts from them making an eye- contact and speaking up in front of strangers with confidence. Over the years we’ve seen them develop language, numeracy and even negotiation skills. Drama has helped them laugh, learn and grow together with their peers week after week after week.
6) What or who got you into theatre?
My mother would see me quietly imitate family members, school teachers, road side hawkers, actors and once cornered me into giving an impromptu performance to entertain family during our summer travels. The encouragement, appreciation and the applause got me interested. Eventually, recognition in school and college, winning performing arts fests made it an irresistible habit. In Dubai, I made my stage debut in Shakespeare’s Othello, directed by Shanker Ramachandran and eventually joined Theatrics, a non-profit community theatre group run by K. Chandrasekhar. Both men are institutions in their own right and I consider them my mentors.
7) What sets The Hive apart as a creative space from others of its ilk in Dubai?
The Hive was conceptualised to be a place perfect for intimate, unconventional and experimental art experiences where performers could rehearse, learn, perform, jam, meet, entertain and showcase under one roof. Whilst drama workshops, productions and prepping kids for Trinity College London Speech and Drama exams remain our core activity, we’ve conducted everything from Kallari and Mohiniattam performances, salsa, photography and makeup workshops as well as book-swap afternoons, and stand-up comedy nights.
8) You’ve dabbled in other creative mediums such as television, short films and radio commercials – which one of these did you truly feel at ease in?
While each medium is fun, I found none of them to be quite like performing for a live audience and never quite got hooked to any. For a play, we rehearse for months, create characters, locations, time periods, situations and a world that exists only during showtime. The best part is the immediate feedback from the audience – to be able to hear them gasp, sigh, cry, laugh, applaud and even occasionally yawn is priceless. We know if the show is a hit or a flop by the time we line up for a curtain call.
9) What was the experience of directing your daughter in The Miracle Worker like?
Directing my daughter Mehr to play the role of 11-year-old Helen Keller was the most challenging and gratifying experience of my life. There’s a famous 20-minute breakfast scene in which deaf, dumb and blind Helen is taught table manners by her teacher. There’s no dialogue, just a prolonged physical confrontation during which Helen strikes her teacher several times with her fists and is twice slapped in return. As a director I had to ensure that we repeat and rehearse the sequence’s ruthlessness for it to look real. As a father, my heart would melt every time I saw it. But Mehr completely understood the approach and did not complain once despite being extremely scared.
10) What, if any, is your most memorable moment of breaking down the fourth wall?
When we were staging Danish playwright Henrik Ibsen’s Pillars of Society, about five minutes before the climax, the stage lights tripped and the auditorium went pitch black. Instinctively, we continued to perform in darkness expecting the lights to come back on in a few seconds. However, after about a minute of performing in total darkness someone in the audience took her mobile phone and switched on her flash-light to see the play. Seconds later, most people in the audience followed suit, lit the stage using their mobile phones and helped us finish the performance. That was a surreal experience because the fourth wall (the audience) decided to take itself down.
11) In a world where cinema and more recently with the advent of streaming services such as reign supreme, what role do you think theatre plays?
Streaming services are making it incredibly easy for people to not leave the comfort of their sofas and blankets. Theatre’s role in today’s world is one of subtle power as it gives people a reason and opportunity to gather, witness, contemplate and interact outside the boundaries of a silly smart phone or a tablet. The very fact that humanity is at the absolute center of theatre, in tangible flesh and blood, means there is intrinsic beauty in that art form.
12) What do you find more rewarding and why – acting or directing?
Even though I find myself directing more than acting, I do find acting most rewarding. There is no better feeling then being on stage, escaping under the skin of a character, and almost steer the minds (and the breath) of the audience, through the dialogues, one line at a time..
13) When you’re adapting famous literary works such as Sherlock Holmes and Harry Potter for the stage what are the challenges?
The challenge always is to re-create the iconic scenes without the availability of sophisticated computer generated visual effects we are used to seeing while watching the same stories as films. How can one possibly stage Harry Potter and not show the iconic Quidditch match with brooms flying around on stage, or the wizards walking through the brick wall of Station 9 ¾? Yes, we achieved it by attaching brooms onto hover boards, exhausted the smoke machines to create the clouds but its always a challenge re-interpreting iconic scenes for stage without breaking bones and budgets.
14) George Bernard Shaw famously said, ‘no conflict, no drama.’ Is conflict always integral to good storytelling and a great narrative?
Life is uncertain. As a story teller, I always choose plots that showcase life’s uncertainties – both internal and external – through its conflicts. Almost all the plays I have directed, from The Miracle Worker and to Sherlock are all stories that are driven by these conflicts – man versus man, man versus self (my favorite) or man versus society. When the audience see the characters deal with these conflicts, they can relate to the drama and consider the characters’ triumphs as their own.