Alison Shan Price, the CEO and Founder of One World Actors Center (OWAC) Kuwait, a leading theatre production and training center in the country, is a charming and positive personality who has been involved into the field of theatre since she was five. In Kuwait for the last 30 years, she has been successfully running OWAC with her daughter Eleni Rebecca, the managing director and chief choreographer of OWAC-Kuwait, along with a large team of artists from within and outside Kuwait.
With over twenty-five years of experience as a theater director, actor, and producer on a broad range of productions, OWAC-Kuwait has been producing and licensing plays here for a long time now. Sixteen of its international actors will journey across the world in August 2015 to perform at the International Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, UK. They will debut at the Fringe with Arabian Twelfth Night, their version of Shakespeare’s classic in the context of an unnamed Arabian land.
Although a UK-based Company, OWAC-Kuwait represents an impressive bunch of creative, like-minded, multi-cultural and multi-talented people in the country coming together to create evocative theater pieces.
Recently The Times Kuwait had the opportunity to meet and chat with Price at the Bayt Lothan. Once the residence of the erstwhile Amir of Kuwait, Bayt Lothan is now a place where creativity is tangible almost everywhere one looks. With the center abuzz with activity on a Thursday evening, waiting around for Price to arrive was anything but a boring affair. Walking around the open-stage area one could just as easily stumble across someone creating a few simple humble notes on the piano, or see the OWAC Stage Manager a tad bit stuck in his attempt at composing and clicking a picture of a beautiful flower and leaves.
To one side was Managing Director and Chief Choreographer of OWAC, Eleni Rebecca swaying gently as she gave directions to a couple of artists while two upcoming students were vainly attempting to hum a tune. It also not unusual to meet readily accommodating youngsters asking, "What's up? Are you looking for the acting class?”
Just when I was absorbing all this activity around me, an archetypal English lady donning a grey hat and clad in a grey lustrous overcoat walked towards me with a beaming smile. Without introductions I knew this was the legendary Price; we then sat down at the center's open-stage area for a lovely chat that went on for over an hour on all things art and beyond.
OWAC has reopened for 2015 with many plays lined up for the year, including the Fourth Annual Shakespeare Festival 2015. Elaborating on the line-ups Price said, "We launched Antigone, which is going to be performed in, both English and Arabic. After a tour of various locations in Kuwait during February, Antigone will be performed at the Dar Al Athar Al Islamiyyah in April as part of its cultural season. We also have 'A Little Princess' slated for March at Bayt Abdullah Children’s Hospice; 'Romeo and Juliet' scheduled for April during the Fourth Annual Shakespeare Festival and in May we have 'Into the Woods'.
OWAC Kuwait is the first center of its kind within the GCC and Price finds it interesting that she has been able to find absolutely talented people during her long stay in the country. "I am currently working with Hooda Shawa of TAQA Productions, she is one of the top play-writers in Arabic Literature in the Middle-East and we are doing a couple of projects together."
While we were talking, vocal director and a professional singer Olwyn McCollin, whose special performances include 'Around the World' and Sondheim's 'Into the Wood', joined in our discussion. "I have been doing it for more than 25 years, almost 30 years; but when I did my first direction with OWAC last year, which was 'A Night in the West End' and then I had seen the production of 'Much Ado About Nothing', I was blown away by how professional the people were. So, I thought “Well I can offer my experience and develop a new aspect to their directing. They were more into acting but people had the potential, and I am more into singing, so I thought we could branch off into musicals. That is how we developed a new dimension, which actors can take with themselves when they move out, which is not just acting. For example, if you look at Sondheim's 'Into the Woods' that we are working on, there are people who are not necessarily known for singing but they are chosen because they have the potential in them. So that goes a long way in the future."
McCollin, when asked why theatre-people attract to Shakespeare in general, said, "Shakespeare gives an artist the opportunity to explore the aspects of himself. It takes very fine-tuned actors to do Shakespeare. There are lots of elements in a Shakespearean comedy; there is the boring, the serious, the sarcasm all intertwined within the story and it takes very good actors to do that. I have seen many actors who could not bring that out. I think it is a good way to train young people. Although young people may see it as growing old, it has the developing skills that they need in the future. For a play to succeed you have to be able to take the audience on an entertaining journey and for me, Shakespeare does that."
With quite a lot of interesting people involved in OWAC, Price commented, "We made sure to bring the Emmy Award winner Adam Darius for workshops and as a trainer. We have also had a couple of other consultants, including the likes of Dr. Joyce Mordecai, Dr. Adriana Severin and Kazimir Kolesnik."
"Dame Judi Dench supports us by the way of giving her name; when onboard, she writes letters for the Shakespeare Festival, the introduction and it is great to have her onboard," she added.
When asked about 'behind-the-scenes' of OWAC, she laughed and said, "24/7, everybody is proactive and supportive of each other for each project."
On their association with Bayt Lothan, Price said, "We come into a country, we form associations with local companies and then we put on events, production, bring licenses over from UK or America and license it out to a theatre for events that are happening or to an embassy or it could be a charity performance like for Bayt Abdullah Children's Hospice or for something like the Concert of Hope – a big musical, a drama such as Antigone – written by Jean Anouilh in 1944, which is at the Dar International Academy."
"OWAC Education is the second part of what we do – something totally different from productions. Education is something that we are in association with Bayt Lothan since two years now. And we have been here for the LAMDA examinations, which are the official UK exam and I have been doing this for 15 years now. So, I have the contract in Kuwait to examine people for official qualification up to a diploma level and have a UK credit to themselves."
"I started my first drama school with KAST and a lot of young actors who have since left have become pretty well-known in their own areas, in their own countries. Shadi Alfons is now in a big Arabic Blockbuster called 'From A to B' and that is a film about three Arabic friends who travel through the Middle-East in a car. It has gone all around the Middle-East and abroad.”
Price is going on stage for Hooda Shawa in 'Freya Stark' as the character herself "because Freya is 45, so I can take that. She was a real person who died at 100. She was a British explorer and travel writer who specialized in oriental languages and she also fought in WWWII. This is set to come out in June with the original script."
"Also, we will be having the original film of Freya from the archives and Hooda has just been offered the letters that have been translated into Arabic of Freya's original work in Kuwait. It is wonderful, people are very supportive. They have 200 photos of Freya, where you get to see old Kuwait; she was here at that time; before the invasion."
Price’s life goes back and forth between being a physicist and a director. Back in June 2013, Price was invited as a delegate to the G8 Conference to discuss the development of business and to be honored as an exceptional businesswoman of MENA by the Foreign Office in London.
She is currently working with the Scientific Center on their ‘1001 Inventions’, a project about Arabic scientific inventions. "There are lots of projects that are possible by linking science with the arts. The 1001 Inventions that we just launched at the Scientific Center, was on a major tour in January in Paris and at the UN. We really want to bring together the arts and science in a way to teach people about Arab inventions. So this is why I can relate the both together and I am person who needs to keep on active. If I sit down for long, I get incredibly bored. I have to keep going, I have to keep my science going and I have to keep my theatre going," she added with a smile.
By Ghazal Praveen