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Getting Work

Actor Benjamin May wasn’t immediately sold on the idea of performing in a theme park but since working in the UAE he’s found it’s a great way to support yourself creatively.

Opportunities for raw creativity were available and many of my colleagues developed music, dance and even entire shows for the park.

Have you ever considered working in a theme park as an actor? if you’re like I was and thinking “Nah…” then I get it. But what if I told you this theme park was in the Middle East? Probably “Nah” again, right? Maybe you’d even follow it up with a “Are you joking?!”

Or maybe you’re the adventurous type.

Rewind to March 2019. Having just walked out of an unsuccessful meeting with an agent, I commenced my obligatory scroll through job listings and stumbled across one for a theme park.

Let me be honest with you, when I first discovered the job, I wasn’t immediately sold on the idea. I had a shameful stigma about working in a tourist attraction and was apprehensive as to how it may be viewed but there are two things you should know about me: 1. I hate admin, and 2. I love money. The visa, flights and accommodation would all be taken care of by the company so no admin for me at all! The salary was tax-free and included food and travel, which made it, what my eternally worried parents would call ‘good money’.

I consulted actor friends and the verdict was “darling, just do it”… except nobody actually said darling. So once my theatre contract ended, I joined the cast of Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi.

I knew very little about the United Arab Emirates (UAE) so I did what any millennial would do, I Googled. To be honest, what I read was terrifying. Nobody needs reminding about how complex the Middle East situation is so I’ll leave that aside. The UAE prides itself on being one of the safest countries in the world but it’s worth noting that Islam is a way of life as is Sharia Law.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has guidelines on drinking alcohol, social media, dress codes, photography, importing goods including DVDs that “may be subject to scrutiny and may be censored.” I wondered how they might feel about my Yes, Minister collection!

I waded through all this without much trepidation until I noticed under the ‘Technical Equipment’ heading, a line advising against transporting recording devices. The voice actor in me began to worry less about Jim Hacker and more about being mistaken for his namesake. No need to panic, I thought. I’ll visit the embassy, explain the situation and see if anything is required before I travel

“If you aren’t sure, don’t bring it” I was told. Hmm, not quite the assurance I was looking for. Given that voice work is an important part of my business, I decided to take the risk and haul it to my new home.

Cut to me clutching my employment contract with the words ’12 months’ and ‘actor’ emblazoned on it, hoisting the largest suitcase imaginable in front of a stern man in military uniform at Abu Dhabi airport and hoping I wasn’t going to need my un-thumbed copy of ‘English to Arabic’ to get myself out of this one.

Fortunately, the microphone was wrapped in an Oxford United football scarf, which he amazingly recognised and we had a lovely chat about football. After the briefest of inspections, I was on my way.

The job itself was very different from my usual gigs. I had three varied roles and six 30 minute shows, six days a week.

The two-week training process began with character immersion as strict intellectual property rules meant characters had to replicate a specific interpretation. I did voice and movement work, which was then incorporated with fight choreography, dance and improvisation. Opportunities for raw creativity were available and many of my colleagues developed music, dance and even entire shows for the park.

Guidelines were issued for interacting with audiences, something everybody saw the wisdom in. Whilst it rarely occurred, it was not unheard of for guests to be offended by an accidental arm on the shoulder mid-selfie.

Despite my initial fears, I found the UAE to be a welcoming and friendly place. I was able to unwind in licensed premises safely (wisely restraining my inner Inbetweener) and took holidays to places I would never have otherwise visited.

The company looked after me both before and after the dreaded C-word struck (that would be Covid for those who have been living off-grid!) and like many of it’s kind around the world has been able to reopen. Sadly our industry has struggled to do the same because, well, the virus. I get the feeling that jobs like these may be more integral to an actor’s future career that I had previously considered.

Ben May is an actor and voice over artist whose credits include: ‘King Lear’ at the Brockley Jack and ‘Call it Even’ at The Pleasance Theatre. As a voice over artist Ben has narrated a range of audiobooks for Audible.co

Headshot by Daniel Sutka

Hero image by Doug P via Unsplash.