SHOWTIME! signals the return of a performing arts tradition after 10 years - and brings a new dimension to learning
Qatar Foundation is reviving a performing arts tradition among its schools community 10 years after it staged its last theatrical experience, with a virtual Broadway-style musical called SHOWTIME!
The show, which involves 75 students and staff members from across schools under Qatar Foundation’s (QF) Pre-University Education, is led by Steve and Jane Griffiths, the creative team who share a history with QF through planning similar performances for Qatar Academy Doha between 2000 and 2010. And they have been joined by West End choreographer Christopher Piper and QF’s Qatar Philharmonic Orchestra to bring the musical to life.
Student rehearsals initially started in January 2020 with the aim of a final performance in April 2020, but when COVID-19 struck these plans shifted from a theatre format to a virtual approach. The performance is now being encapsulated in five professional musical videos of some of Broadway’s most loved musical numbers, including songs from Matilda and Mary Poppins. These will be filmed in five iconic locations around QF (or iconic QF location) and also woven together into a documentary that will be released online to bring the young performers’ efforts to a wider audience.
As a Qatar Academy Doha graduate herself, and the spearhead of the production , Yara Darwish, Head of Extramural Programs at PUE, believes that the learning journey of a student continues beyond the classroom, and the chance to engage in extracurricular activities enriches and completes their educational experience.
We believe that, for students, being part of a performing arts experience of such a scale instills them with confidence, creativity, cooperation, and concentration
“When I started my career at QF’s Pre-University Education nearly five years ago, I noticed an abundance of extracurricular opportunities, but there were none in the performing arts,” she says.
“The performing arts program in Qatar Academy Doha was such a key part of our time in school and an extremely memorable part of our educational journey. By bringing such a program back, we can also elevate it to the next level as there are now more schools who are part of QF’s Pre-University Education umbrella.”
Darwish and the musical production team members say they were “astounded” by the reaction of students and parents to the musical project, with 200 students and staff members from across QF schools auditioning before 75 were finally selected.
“We believe that, for students, being part of a performing arts experience of such a scale instills them with confidence, creativity, cooperation, and concentration, as well as providing the building blocks for an appreciation for the arts,” says Darwish.
“As an alumna who was part of Qatar Academy Doha’s performing arts program, I can see how the skills gained from those experiences have also transferred into my professional career.”
After the pandemic hit, Steve and Jane Griffiths, the father-daughter creative team behind the musical, were excited by the idea of turning the live performance into a professional video format, as proposed by Darwish. They believe that such a diversion from the original plan has been an out-of-the-box alternative to the live show.
Describing the experience of working with student performers of different grade levels, some of whom were completely new to this experience, as the biggest achievement of the project, Jane said: “As a director, over the years I have watched students come from very little confidence and knowledge about theatre, and seen them believe they could perform onstage and flourish into wonderful little performers with great confidence, belief and skills.
Witnessing the rewards they reap from it in their confidence, dedication, happiness, and their school life, and receiving great feedback from their parents, are all extremely fulfilling outcomes for me
“Being part of their journey, witnessing the rewards they reap from it in their confidence, dedication, happiness, and their school life, and receiving great feedback from their parents, are all extremely fulfilling outcomes for me.”
As the choreographer of SHOWTIME!, Christopher Piper, who is resident director of London’s West End production of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and casting director of the acclaimed show Matilda, also believes that musical performance teaches students lifelong skills, boosts their self-confidence, and brings joy and enthusiasm that will continue to help them in their career path.
“When I came here, I didn’t really know what to expect, whether there is going to be interest, talent or enthusiasm for performing arts, and I just can’t express how overwhelmingly surprised I have been,” he said. “The growth, determination, and confidence these students have gained since the early auditions in the beginning of 2020 is incredible.
Students have a thirst for performance and musical theatre, and QF has given them a platform to explore that performance element
“Students have a thirst for performance and musical theatre, and QF has given them a platform to explore that performance element. Despite the pandemic interrupting the original plan, this shift to a virtual experience has been an added bonus to the students, as it gave them an opportunity to be part of a whole filming production - a once-in-a-lifetime experience that not many people get to experience, wherever they are in the world.”
Junior and senior students taking part in performing the five music videos shared their personal experiences, with Jassim Al Sulaiti, a Grade 6 student at Qatar Academy Doha, saying he was “delighted” when he heard of the project and saw it as an opportunity to discover his abilities.
“I have always had a passion for performing, so I was thrilled when I knew I got selected following my audition,” he said. “And I have learned a lot from the rehearsals on how determination and consistency can lead you to achieve big things in life.
“Performing gives you freedom, it makes you get rid of negative feelings, and it helps you stay focused and engaged.”
Lillian Al-Ani, a Grade 5 student at Qatar Academy Doha, described being part of the show as “fun and joyful”, and said that despite the seriousness and commitment of all cast members, they still had a lot of fun behind the scenes, allowing them to work on a creative show that carries a message and expresses joy at the same time.
Meanwhile, Abdullah Yasser and Fatima Adiong, both Grade 12 students at QAD who have previous theatrical experiences and share a passion for performing arts, said they were intrigued to participate in such a grand-scale production, opening a new gateway for them to explore their capabilities and offering them an adventure.
“I’ve always loved challenging myself, and being part of a project of that caliber – with this giant crew on set, crane cameras, recording in professional studios, and a massive production – all just seems so surreal,” said Yasser.
“The experience we had throughout the rehearsals taught us a lot about perseverance and discipline; for instance, while practicing our routines, we could do the same take 20 times in a row, and you need to keep the same energy in the 20th take that you had in the first. And working with a perfectionist like Christopher, you need to keep your dance moves sharp, to be on time, to know your placement and moves by heart.
And Adiong says: “As a shy person, being part of this experience has helped me break out of my shell, giving me an amazing chance to work on my confidence and see how far my abilities will take me.
The creative team pushed us to do things which none of us believed we could do. They saw our potential and believed in us, and we kept unleashing our true abilities with each practice
“We have learned a lot from this opportunity about how to balance rehearsals with school, and how to commit, repeat, accept criticism, and work on ourselves.
“The creative team pushed us to do things which none of us believed we could do. They saw our potential and believed in us, and we kept unleashing our true abilities with each practice.
“We are all excited and can’t wait to watch the final film once its released online.”
Students during SHOWTIME! singing rehearsals at Katara studios.