All the World is a Stage by Amy L. Bovaird
I had recently moved to the Middle East. As a newbie and still in the honeymoon stage of culture shock, I hadn’t fully grasped how various traditions impacted everyday life in Ras Al Khaimah, one of the more traditional emirates in the Arabian Gulf. The rhythm of life in RAK—as it was called—was slow-paced, filled with camels and goats. Nothing like Dubai’s superhighways or grandeur.
One Thursday night, “Broadway Baby” arrived in RAK. The singing troupe came from England and Scotland, other ‘exotic’ countries forming blips on my new radar screen. The expatriate community looked forward to the production. We were the second “city” on their six-week tour. I couldn’t wait!
“Broadway Baby” would perform in the courtyard of the city’s historical museum. Situated in an older section of Ras Al Khaimah, it hosted a variety of cultural programs and performing artists for the community each year. The open-air theatre is nestled in the courtyard with a winding staircase behind it leading up to a natural stage, more befitting a Shakespearean drama than a host of Broadway singers. Nevertheless, with its palatial backdrop against the night sky, the museum bestowed such an air of expectation I’m sure both artist and audience felt the structure’s allure.
That evening, I took my seat and eagerly awaited the start of the program.
The bald pianist wore full tails in spite of the near hundred-degree temperature. The female singers wore gowns with plunging necklines and the other men, their white dress shirts and tuxedo pants. They featured a medley of familiar songs from West Side Story to Gene Kelly’s “Singing in the Rain” but their voices resonated like those in an opera.
I was beside myself in glory – enthralled.
About forty-five minutes into their presentation, the male lead took a deep breath, preparing to deliver a touching love song, no doubt. Just as he opened his mouth, the call to prayer sounded from the minaret of a nearby mosque. The performer looked up at the sky with a look of wonder. The iqama, a follow-up summon to prayer, engulfed the area. He looked around, waited for a minute. The distinct call seemed to fade away.
But we knew better.
When the singer opened his mouth again, the prayer call returned, louder and lasting longer. Laughter erupted. The entertainer turned to us, then to his fellow performers, clearly out of his element. Then he shrugged, sat down and picked up a large bottle of Masafi water, unscrewed the lid and took a long gulp. His fellow singers followed suit.
The production had come to a standstill! They smiled self-consciously at each other while initially, we, “the locals,” watched them.
But then I noticed a shift in behavior.
“They’re watching us,” I whispered to Lesa, the librarian at the Men’s campus.
“What else are they going to do?”
Some members of the audience pulled out books. Obviously, the unscheduled intermission didn’t take them by surprise. Others left to walk around. Two young Emirati girls swung their long black hair from side to side in unison. They stepped to the right then to the left, and finally toward each other, catching hands. When they let go, they danced in opposite directions. Their floor-length gallabeyas, against the ground. I recognized the dance as The Hair Dance, typically performed by young Ermirati girls. These two were just killing time.
One performer pointed the little girl out to the other singers. They watched, seeming fascinated. One of the women on stage fanned herself – waiting and watching us with interest.
We had become the entertainment and they, the audience.
“I think they’re waiting for a cue from us to re-start,” I observed.
“They’re in for a bit of a wait – to the ‘tune’ of fifteen minutes,” the librarian quipped.
In time, Ed, our college director, gestured from his front row seat, signifying the prayer call had officially ended. The production resumed without a hitch. Afterward, Ed hosted a small, intimate after-performance party at his villa. My name was one of six lucky ones drawn from a hat to attend the party. Could life get any better?
I had the chance to mingle with the performers and discuss the unscheduled interruption.
They laughed and clapped each other on the back in amusement. One singer said, “We were actually warned in advance. But I guess we didn’t really believe it would stop the show. When the prayer call came, it was so loud, we couldn’t carry on. But it sure was fun watching you guys.”
The Shakespearean quote came to mind. All the world is a stage. That sure seemed to fit the role reversal.
Chatting with the British and Scottish performers as well as hobnobbing with my director at his villa made me feel like I was brushing arms with royalty. The hors d oeuvres included a platter of fresh oysters with splashes of lemon. In my euphoric state, this dish seemed quite a delicacy. I had never eaten any oyster until that night.
If this was how my life would go in the Middle East, what an adventure I would have!