Article in PDF (Download)
My Fair Lady in Saudi Arabia by Maha Noor Elahi, UAPP ESL Lecturer, Drama Club Advisor, Dar Al-Hekma University
Love. Passion. Positive energy. Commitment. Determination…and action! It was an evening full of all that and more. But before that evening could happen, it was a dream; a seven-year-old dream! As the Drama Club advisor, I have been dreaming of directing and producing My Fair Lady for several years, but it wasn’t an easy journey at all. It seemed to be such a remote dream, for how can we with our limited abilities, time, and budget_ produce such a huge play? Besides, apart from all the time management and financial issues, there was the cultural issue. The art of drama is still strange and rather undesirable to some people. It’s true that a lot of people in Saudi Arabia are more aware of the importance of drama and entertainment in general nowadays, but when it comes to young women performing on stage, the matter becomes complicated and problematic. However, against all odds, I was determined to achieve this dream, and I was lucky to be surrounded by young girls who shared the same vision. We tried once a few years ago, and we failed due to conflict of our timetables and our tight schedules during the university hours. After that, I changed my plan and decided to do something easier and I succeeded, but that My Fair Lady fantasy was deeply-rooted in my heart and mind. I tried at the beginning of 2014, and was about to succeed, but I failed …even to begin properly …again due to time restrictions in the busy-like-hell work hours of the university.
But at the beginning of this academic year, I got to know a multi-talented graphic design student, Roya Barasein, who was as passionate as me about producing and directing the play. Together we called for auditions, started assigning the major roles, and working on modifying the script to suit our abilities. And so it was; the stars were chosen; senior law student, Maryam Al-Dabbagh, who is a dynamic, intellectual, super multi-talented young woman and a distinguished student. Roya and I could not imagine Professor Higgins’ role without her! Yes! We did it the Shakespearean way, but the other way around; male roles would be performed by girls dressed up as men. Our Eliza was no one but sophomore graphic design student, Sana Al-Duhaybi, whose “aaahs” and “aaaws” were as perfectly annoying as Audrey Hepburn playing Eliza in the movie, but that wasn’t all that Sana could do. She truly dazzled the audience with her performance of the renowned movie song “Just You Wait Henry Higgins”!
We faced some difficulty choosing Colonel Pickering, but then Larissa Anne Valles, with her subtle and reserved personality, earned the role after the third session of the auditions. Of course, after getting to know Larissa well, we’ve realized how crazy and funny she is! Mrs. Higgins was played by the amazingly witty Ayah Hashem, who would always spread laughter and joy during the rehearsals, and Mrs. Pearce was played by the talented Sundus Baroom, who would make anyone believe that she is as strict and disinterested as Mrs. Pearce.
Roles of Mrs. Eynsford Hill, Clara and Freddy were played by Hadeel Tayeb, Amena Awni, and Wafaa Bassam, all of whom are either sophomore or junior students in the university. And despite their minor roles, these three girls worked very hard to perfect their acting and their British accent, and were very concerned about the smallest details of their outfits and appearance.
Nevertheless, due to the limited time of the rehearsals, we had to do major reduction to the original script, and we, sadly, had to cut off Mr. Doolittle’s character. Yet the Ambassador’s Garden Party scene was a delight to work on. A lot of our freshman students accepted to appear in that scene only as guests in the party, wearing fancy dresses and suits, dancing the waltz. Of course, in a culture that does not implement music and dance in its education, it was a tough job to get those girls move gracefully in synchronization to Haendel’s classic Water music Hornpipe. But with all the love, energy, and will-power those girls had, they managed to pull out a simple waltz dance.
The audience who attended were really impressed and were so grateful to the classy flavor of the songs, music, outfits, and the whole performance of the play; it had that classy touch which is strongly believed to be missing in this young generation. For me, nothing mattered like the love and positive energy of the team of My Fair Lady, including actors, back stage officers and ushers. That genuine spirit of team work, cooperation, support, and fun which made each and everyone in the play do whatever she was doing with love despite the stress, hard work, wild schedule, and projects and research papers that needed submission. Throughout my modest 15-year experience with children and young girls, I have never seen anything like drama in absorbing the energy of the youth and turning it into something exquisite and positive as such. Despite all the pressure of assignments and back-to-back classes, the girls were willing to spare time for rehearsals and would insist on coming after university hours in order to practice more. The performance of My Fair Lady by the Drama Club unique members was definitely no Broadway show, but it was a display of perseverance, enthusiasm, and a proactive spirit that embraces change and never settles for common social norms.
Maha Noor Elahi, ESL Lecturer in a private college in Jeddah, KSA. Wife and mother of three children. Passionate about theatre performances, reading, art, and music. I have an MA in English Literature, majoring in Drama. I began my career in 2000, teaching in a private school in Jeddah, and then I moved to work as an ESL lecturer in a private college for girls. Because of passion for the theatre and for different types of art, I established a Drama Club, where I work, wrote several comedy sketches, and directed a number of performances. The Drama Club’s latest performance was in December 2012, and it was titled Kaleidoscope. It included a variety of theatre arts such as mimicking, stand-up comedy, flash drama, monologues, dancing, playing the piano, and singing.
Another very important aspect of my career and life is empowering women whether in their studies, professional or social lives. I also love to write poems in English although I don’t consider myself a professional poet.