The Power of Art – Sol Abiad

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Painting, performance or prose- art and it’s many forms inject a shot of courage and bravery into the artist. It
takes grit and gumption to bare your soul and be judged for your work. But who are the faces that create these
wonders? We talk to those that have mastered the arts and carved a niche for themselves

Sol Abiad

Theatre Director

“Theatre, in its simplest form, can be described as a place in which to observe. To that extent, the art form is a natural part of life and an act of communication,” says Sol when asked how her journey with theatre began. But it was while she was finishing secondary school in Paris, that her late mentor, Ted Miltenberger, who was also the founding member of International Schools Theatre Association, introduced her to the works of directors such as Peter Brook, Deborah Warner and Ariane Mnouchkine. “These were my most formative years,” she explains, “And I was lucky enough to see their work live. Years later, I got an up close education into Mnouchkine’s work while attending her workshop at Theatre du Soleil.” It was after discovering her work up close that Sol returned to the UAE and was determined to start a laboratory style theatre. She founded Dubai’s first experimental theatre, Star Too, where they put on productions in ‘found spaces’, such as industrial areas, in an effort to re-invent the playing space and break down walls.

Over her 20 years as a practitioner of this art form, Sol has realised that she gravitates towards theatre that transcends fixed definitions, age or gender. “If I had to pick a play with a woman as a central figure, I’d pick ‘Happy Days’ by Samuel Beckett and Winnie is the character I treasure.”

When asked what her thoughts are on the theatre industry in the UAE, she says, “I don’t know if I can view it as an industry per se. I see theatre as an art, not a product. At the same time, the hardships, costs, and acquisition of skills needed to create it should not be forgotten. To paraphrase highly regarded textbooks, theatre can be surprisingly more costly and time consuming than other arts, including film and painting. Yet, existing programmes for the arts put theatre at the bottom of the barrel for budgets; a sign, perhaps, that it is still considered as people in make up and declamation; cheap, convenient and without cross-breeding with other art-forms.”

As a woman in theatre, Sol understands that discrepancy takes place in any field but acknowledges that it is an extra challenge to be taken seriously as an artist if the art is considered quaint or superfluous. “I do encounter some misconceptions when I say I do theatre and it is more often than not assumed that I must be aspiring to be an actress,” she explains, “I don’t know if there are visas that say ‘actor’ on them, but with the intent on being legitimate, I have painstakingly gone out of my way to obtain one that says ‘director’.” The effort to obtain that particular visa is in response to the claim that it’s not possible. Cherishing the opportunities that have come her way while living in this country, Sol is neither interested nor equipped to work on commercial projects. Instead, she focuses on working with higher education establishments that foster research and learning.