“Until this festival came along,” says Alba Rose, a drama educator at The Hive, “watching a play with your child meant a Dh200-Dh1,000 purchase for my son and I. Festivals like The Hive Theatre Festival ensure that all children, no matter what their parents do, or how much they can afford, access quality theatre. It removes the barriers that limit a child’s access to the arts. It tells a child that they too can be up on a stage, share a story and have the world listen. And that is the single most important takeaway from this project.”

This June marks the seventh edition of the The Hive Theatre Festival, the largest in the country with 44 plays and over 600 children performing on stage. It is a unique theatre project that showcases plays for children, by children, and is completely free to watch. Any child or adult can simply walk into the Zabeel Ladies Club and watch as many plays as they would like — for free.

Among the 44 plays being staged this year are interpretations of children’s classics like Cat in the Hat and Alice in Wonderland, and Roald Dahl favourites like James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The festival begins on June 2 and ends on June 25, lasting all Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays of the month.

Also taking stage are devised theatre performances where teenagers and young adults have written, choreographed and co-directed plays about subjects they would like to address.

Immigrant stories, our complex relationship with our devices, the difficult selfie-obsessed world teenagers inhabit and the pains of growing up, and living in a place that is, and yet isn’t, home. The Hive’s devised theatre pieces can be watched at the Children’s City Auditorium at Creek Park and is open to all. These plays, titled Teen and InBetween, Smoke and Mirrors and Boy at the Back of the Class are followed by conversations between teens and parents, educators and thinkers about what it means to grow up in 2023.

Over 600 children have been preparing for this festival showcase since January this year. Each play has involved about 100 hours of work — scripting, casting, rehearsing and finally performing.

“We have kept The Hive Theatre Festival free for two reasons,” says Malavika Varadan, owner and managing director of The Hive. “One, to make sure every child, everywhere has access to good art. And two, because we want our young actors to know what it feels like to have a full house — and we weren’t about to let money be the reason it didn't happen. I guess this is what the world calls ‘disruptive’.”

Unlike most large school productions, every single child in every single class has a key speaking role to play in the story with each play having a cast of 10-12 actors.

“The Children’s Theatre Festival by The Hive is home to stories from our childhood being brought to life. It is an opportunity for children to step into the world of a book,” says Shalton D’cruz, teacher and sound specialist at The Hive, as he finds the right music to fit Willy Wonka’s grand entry. “They don’t just read the story, they become the story.” Animesh Kamath, educator and entertainer at The Hive, adds, “What we do is magical, for one reason — it begins with nothing more than an empty space that we call a stage. We spend hundreds of hours weaving voices, bodies and stories through this empty space and at the end of it — we have a work of art, a story that will live for only 60 minutes — and no matter what we do, we cannot capture or recreate it. In this lies the magic, the meditative practice of drama — and that is why it is so special. It is made of belief, space, time and light — and little else.”

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