GEMS Group Cultural Co-ordinator, Kevin Oliver, has been directing GEMS productions for almost 30 years and is a stalwart of the UAE stage scene. Taking performing arts to new heights and exposing students to the rigours of the arts industry, Kevin and the GEMS Student Choir are getting ready for an exciting performance at the December 12 opening of RewirEd Global Education Summit led by Dubai Cares, at Expo 2020 Dubai.
It’s hard to miss the blue-haired teacher-mentor-playwright, Kevin Oliver when he enters the room. Whether he’s teaching Performing Arts at GEMS Modern Academy or directing the choir for a corporate event, his energy is quite infectious. From Starlight Express and Saturday Night Fever to Clowns and Cats among many more engaging student-led musicals over a period of almost three decades, Kevin’s theatrical productions have gained acclaim far and wide.
Kevin will be leading a 24-strong choir to Expo 2020 Dubai on 12 December, to perform at the RewirED Global Education Summit by Dubai Cares. A song specially chosen for the event will be performed by the students personally auditioned by Oliver, from eight GEMS schools: GEMS Modern Academy, GEMS Dubai American Academy, GEMS Wellington Academy – Silicon Oasis, GEMS Winchester – Dubai, Our Own English High School, Our Own Indian School, The Westminster School – Dubai, and The Winchester School – Jebel Ali.
Kevin revealed that students from various GEMS schools “have been chosen very carefully to come together for this extremely special event and they are very excited to be given this chance to take part at the Expo venue.”
We asked Kevin to tell us about the audition process: “I went to the schools that I hoped had the talent that I was looking for. The brief was to keep communities and a mix of nationalities in mind, without sacrificing the talent level, and I was completely amazed with the level I found… everywhere I went. I generally work with students who are in high school or the secondary level and this is my prowling area to hear voices and sounds that I can blend into a harmony that is unique and different. Taking a song and finding the message and the soul of it and then trying to bring that out in interpretation with dynamics and modulation is what excites me the most.”
He added that rehearsals take place on Saturdays from 9.30 am to around 11 am and will continue untill the day of the performance.
A veteran in the field of musical theatre, Kevin elaborated on some of the rewards and challenges of putting up a live stage performance.
“The rewards are so many. Taking a raw voice on a journey from start to finish is so very special and I love this. When I finally get the blend of what I am looking for – that’s the ultimate reward. The challenge is to find that special sound or voice. I go through so many auditions looking for that special ‘X Factor’ a student might possess.”
Kevin is thankful for the UAE’s progress, and the growth of GEMS Education has been reflected in his own personal creative journey. He added: “I have lived and worked in Dubai for over 25 years, and the changes in the city match the growth period I have gone through, and believe me, I have loved every single moment of this journey. This city is truly special.
GEMS has grown from a small group of schools into this huge community of over 60 schools worldwide. And from productions of Starlight Express in the early ‘90s, to my last original operas (Shakuntala and The Lost) that I have staged in Dubai and at the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh – the journey and development has been amazing. I could never have achieved this growth anywhere else in the world.”
However, he still feels “music and theatre brings out the best in every one of us”, concurring that such pursuits are an essential part of education today and can make a drastic difference to one’s confidence and attitude towards life.
“Why only children – I think the adult world could never do without the comfort of music and the magic of theatre. The creative arts has always been the best part of growing up, and schools need this to open a child to what we call the holistic being. Being on stage, even if it is the drawing room of your home or the open space in your garden, the front of the class room or the large spot lit area of a professional theatre, brings out a certain confidence and a positive attitude in every one of us. The student or the adult always celebrates that one moment and remembers it forever.”