One of the leading lights of the Dubai theatre world has joined an exclusive club of individuals awarded a Golden Card visa, granting UAE residency for 10 years.
Irishman Padraig Downey, 37, is the director and founder of the Danú Theatre in the city, where he has overseen a number of acclaimed productions since he moved to the country in 2011.
In addition to his work with the theatre, Downey also teaches drama at the Dubai American Academy.
He said being granted the prestigious visa was a sign of the commitment the government had towards both artists and art in the region.
“It is such an honour and one that I was not expecting at all,” said Downey. “It reassures me about the future of the arts here in the UAE.”
Downey joins a growing list of global superstars, including Cristiano Ronaldo, Paul Pogba and Novak Djokovic, who have also received the prestigious accolade.
The Golden Card visa grants recipients a residency of 10 years in the Emirates, instead of the standard three-year term.
It was introduced in May last year by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
“When I first came to Dubai back in 2011 there was nothing really in terms of theatre beyond the good work that community based groups were doing,” Downey said.
“It was seen very much as a niche activity. Now it’s been completely transformed and it’s so good to see how it has grown in that time.”
Downey and his team at the Danú Theatre have received international acclaim for a number of their productions.
Among his personal highlights were productions of I Am Yusuf and Ibsen’s Doll House, which Downey reworked into a local setting with Emirati actors.
“When I first started teaching drama here there were about five people involved. Now the class has 40 people,” he said. “It’s really grown in numbers and the most encouraging aspect is the local involvement.
“About 80 per cent of the class are Arabic, which is especially great to see.”
Before Downey came to Dubai he had worked in theatre in Paris, Rome, Dublin, London, New York and California.
He said theatre had never been just about making plays.
“It’s also about building community, friendships and understanding,” he said. “When you are creating theatre that resonates with people, it changes everything.
“It is contagious; it brings a movement and galvanises the community.”
Downey has overseen 20 full-length productions so far at the Danú Theatre, consisting of Irish and Arabic content.
He has also funded all the productions himself and has donated surplus proceeds to charitable causes, including aid for refugees and Arabic arts initiatives.
He refuses to take payment for his work at the theatre and has said he is especially proud of his Emirati students who were going on to study at some of the most famous institutes in the world.