Acting for non-Arabic speakers in Qatar
A guide for the courageous ones.
When I decided to start acting late 2015, I had no idea what I could expect. The Qatari movie industry is probably as active as that of Luxemburg, with an incredible turn-over of people and a strong censorship to deal with (all displays of affection are banned in theaters, so much that when the movie The Wolf of Wall Street was released, 40 min went missing in the final product).
Yet, I knew that the Doha Film Institute (DFI) was doing an admirable job at shaping a new Qatari film industry. Not only do they fund incredible movies abroad (such as Timbuktu, Mustang or Academy Award nominee The Salesman), they also support young Qatari filmmakers (by providing them mentorship and access to classes worldwide, including the infamous La Femis which hosts a Gulf summer university) and host incredible film festivals and projections. I reached out to them and found out they were having an open casting call to renew their database. A few days later, here I was, auditioning for the first time in my life. They soon called me back to feature in the short movie Al-Johara, in which I landed the Hairdresser’s role. Funny enough, I wasn’t in Qatar when the movie was projected, and I’ve never seen my performance yet! I then was lucky enough to be auditioned and selected for another DFI short movies, A Journey to from Love by the incredible Abdullah AL MULLA.
Yet, no matter how great the DFI’s work is, I noticed both that no feature movie has been produced locally yet, and that most productions are Arabic-spoken and featuring Arab-looking actors. That’s only fair, but it's making it harder for me to gain roles, and even more so speaking parts. So now that I had slightly entered the close circle of the Qatari movie industry, I decided to do what all actors are told to do: network.
Luckily enough, I bounded quite well with a few of the crew members. Some of them were quite established at the DFI and they confirmed that most, if not all, local productions there were Arabic spoken. My only go-tos for acting gigs quickly broke down to the four following options:
1. Keep following up with the DFI
That’s a must. No matter how few non-Arabic gigs you’ll find, the Doha Film Institute is a pool of precious resources, competent staff and great people. They work professionally and will help you build experience. They are also very well connected and getting to know people there will be a great help to hear about other potential projects and casts. Also, don’t forget that Qatar has a massive turnover: who knows where your DFI friends will be in a few years?
Finally, any experience with the DFI can be highly leveraged: read about the crazy competition in London and LA and realize how lucky you are to be featured as a beginner in anything else than a student movie. Those movies we’re talking about are well produced and being submitted to international film festivals. The current young directors are the founding fathers of the local form of this art, that's Something truly unique! Make a wise use of it!
2. Don’t refuse commercials
There are a few local agencies here, Trinity Talent, The Film House/Talent Factory or Century Talents. Although you may find it difficult to become a regular there, they do a good job at providing opportunities – for beginners included. The Talent Factory keeps shooting for Ooredoo and Qatar Airways, it’s great for you to get extra cash and get your first experience. Even as an extra, you'll get to chat and learn more about the environment. you'll see what a set is like etc. If you are curious and social, doors will eventually open!
Social media are also fantastic to help you connect with brands, photographers, and potentially actors. If you dream big, you should also reach out to the Talent Society of Doha thanks to whom Doha is the first Middle Eastern country ever to be represented at the IMTA event in New York. Try contacting them to get your chance!
3. Reach out to Dubai
I confess that I'm preaching Something I haven't done myself. Yet, if you're into commercials and can easily commute, you should totally explore the Dubai industry. It's probably 10 times as big as the Qatari one.
4. Talk talk talk!
Tell about your passion around you. Doha is a bubble and you never know what might come up. By talking and looking around, here's, what I got:
- Free books and advices by friends.
- Getting to hear about Trinity Talent and The Film House.
- Meeting 4 different photographers who shot beautiful pictures of me for free or even paying me.
- Being auditioned for a local Netflix production (yes, you read me). Sadly I didn't make it, that's my first audition failure! But I'm still hopeful and glad I even got to try it.
- Being tagged on a Facebook link for a casting call. Boom, that's how I landed the role of Sally in Arnie’s Syndrom by Waheed KHAN.
- Being casted for this July's IMTA event in New York. A photographer friend told me about it at 11am on audition day, I was there (still in my sports clothes) at 11.30, and was notified my success at 7pm! Here I am today, getting prepared for the big New York showcase!
5. Bonus: Learn!
It should be a no-brainer but this was actually the hardest part, for a very simple reason: there is no acting class for adults in Doha...or should I say, there was no acting class!
When exploring classes, I soon were to realize that Doha didn't offer any training for adults! There is a troop called the Doha Players, they do a great job at stage acting, but for those looking for a broader class, there just wasn't anything. Trinity Talent tried it, the DFI tried it, but nothing was set yet.
Fair enough, I wasn't to get discouraged and decided to learn by the book. I started reading acting literature and learned tremendously, yet I missed the practice, and the very few opportunties to act in Doha simply weren't enough.
People say you provoke your own destiny. Well, soon enough was I to meet the wonderful Tamlyn, an amazing friend, former acting teacher and solid screenwriter. That was enough for our ride, and it took us less than a month to set up The Acting Hub together! We now meet every week with a fantastic team of people for an incredibly creative and instructive class!
How can I conclude? Well I there's one thing this little acting journey taught me, it really is that magic can happen if you make it happen. If anything, this gives me the drive and the hunger for more.
And Doha people, please, reach out to me if you have any question or if I forgot something.
Thanks for reading, I'll see you on the other side!