All the world’s a stage!

As a high-profile new dance and drama school opens its doors in Dubai, Vision explores the global rise of the performing arts academy

As the performing arts gain popularity, Dubai is getting a piece of the action. In September, celebrity performers Lisa Scott-Lee and her husband Johnny Shentall-Lee opened the Dubai Performing Arts Academy in the emirate to train kids between the ages of four and 18 to act, sing and dance.

The move is part of a wider worldwide trend. According to a RAND report titled ‘The Performing Arts in a New Era’, the number of nonprofit performing arts organisations in the US alone increased by more than 80 per cent between 1982 and 1997, while the number of commercial performing arts organisations grew more than 40 per cent. Companies in the industry produce live performances by actors, singers, dancers, musical groups, and other performing artists.

Performance Arts 1
Students are put through their paces at The Dubai Performing Arts Academy

According to the United Nations, world trade in creative goods and services, including the performing arts, is estimated at about U$624bn per year. The rise in middle-class populations in emerging markets, the growing number of older people with more time to attend performances and the ability to reach a wider audience due to social media have contributed to the industry’s growth.

The number of nonprofit performing arts organisations in the US alone increased by more than 80 per cent between 1982 and 1997, while the number of commercial performing arts organisations grew more than 40 per cent

Michael J Young, Provost and Director of Education, at the New York Film Academy, which has had a branch in Abu Dhabi since 2008, says the growing international interest in the industry is reflected in the Gulf region.

“What we found is there’s a great thirst for visual and performing arts and story telling and that desire to tell stories and reach an audience is universal. In the Gulf, and specifically in the UAE, there’s a great excitement around that industry,” Young says.

“I think the real interest in performing arts is the sharing of content on the internet. The ways that people are sharing film performances made it more accessible to everybody and more democratised. We started to demystify film-making – you very quickly realise if you have the passion and commitment you can do it,” he adds.

Lisa Scott-Lee enjoyed a successful professional life, as part of Steps, a group that sold more than 20 million records. Johnny Shentall-Lee danced for superstars Robbie Williams and Diana Ross and starred in top roles in London’s West End. Between them, they have 25 years of combined experience and they want to share what they’ve learned with Dubai’s kids.

Commenting on the launch, Scott-Lee said: “Since we moved to Dubai we have had a dream to give aspiring performers here in the Emirates the opportunity to experience and enjoy an all-round training and foundation in Performing Arts. We have two young children ourselves and we have built the Academy using experience as both performers and parents."

But can training inspire or limit young talents to meet the needs of the industry? Young believes limitations can push artists to find more imaginative ways of expressing their creativity.

'We truly believe  are giving children a real chance to build their confidence, develop their skills, make new friends, and – for the ones that want to follow their dreams – the first step on their road to becoming a star'

Lisa Scott-Lee, founder, Dubai Performing Arts Academy

“In general, limitations  – be they commercial or other – on artists push them to find creative solutions.

“Do the commercial requirements of the industry hamper creativity? You create something that might not be interesting to millions of people in your country, but it might be interesting for many people in another country,” he says.

Plus, points out Scott-Lee, while training in the performing arts could lead to commercial and reputational success, the life skills that can be learned are of equal importance. “We truly believe that we are giving children a real chance to build their confidence, develop their skills, make new friends, and – for the ones that want to follow their dreams – the first step on their road to becoming a star."