Off hours: Dubai theatre boss acts with passion

Alex Broun is the co-founder and special projects manager at JLT-based Constellation, a firm that trains people in theatre skills such as acting, writing and dir­ecting. The Australian, 45, runs playwriting classes and productions as well as an annual 10 minute play festival Short + Sweet. He lives in Jumeirah 2, and in his early career acted in the enduring Australian soap opera Neighbours.

How do you spend your weekend?

I’m a very outdoor person. I like to go to the beach or for a walk, out into some nature, but I find the summer heat stifling. In season there’s usually a play to check out, at venues like The Junction. We might also be running an acting course, so weekends are often busy with work; going to shows, running classes. There might be forums or workshops I’m attending.

How did you become a special projects manager?

I’d been running theatre festivals in Australia and India and came to Dubai in 2012. I met the local theatre community who were very supportive of Short + Sweet starting here. Then I met Advet Bhambhani, a visionary man who runs Lifeline hospitals. He put seeding money in to set up Constellation in 2014 as a performing arts/theatre company. We were filling a gap in the market, to “upskill” performing artists to professional standard. We’ve also started screen acting classes. Half the people come to Constellation to have fun but also to learn skills important in business; to get more confident, speak clearer, present themselves better. Fifty per cent want a professional career.

What is your go-to gadget?

My iPhone 6. It tells me what’s going on. Also I take photos for work, so I use it as much as a camera as a phone.

What was the lowest point of your career?

I was involved in a company I thought shared the same vision, but it turned out we didn’t, which was extremely disappointing. Things like this happen in corporate life and the important thing is not to get stuck on it and let it eat away at you; take it as a learning experience. Suck it up and move on. Sometimes you’ve got to take it on the jaw and not throw a punch back.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

The big thing is to be open and aware. You might come to something with ideas, but you need to listen to the marketplace, to what people need. That may not be exactly what you’re offering, so you have to tailor. Don’t be set in your ways. The other thing is, don’t be scared to travel – go where you’re needed. I may not have seen myself living in Dubai, but I’m here because there’s a need for what I provide.

What is your most indulgent habit?

Travel. I was lucky; over a decade with Short + Sweet I travelled the world to theatre festivals. Recently I went to Croatia, also to Brazil for the Olympics; Sao Paulo and Rio. You’ve got to be careful because you get in this travelling mindset and you’re sitting at your desk thinking ‘maybe I could go there’ when you should be working. It’s important in business to compartmentalise. If you allow yourself to wander, you’re not productive in your daily work.

What do you have on your desk at work?

A script or two. A MacBook Pro. A notebook and pens. Lots of papers, maybe proposals for events. I would describe my desk as organised mess. Every two weeks I’ll do a big clean-up.

What can’t you live without?

Stories. I really need a daily fix of a story, whether reading a newspaper or watching something on YouTube or a movie, or seeing a play; something that takes me else-where, out of my own head for a while.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

A lot of my work is event or project-based, so we’ll work towards a deadline or event and then have downtime. I may work seven days a week for two or three weeks, but then have three or four days off. My work is my passion. If you get positively obsessed with a project then you can push through and finish. The key is to be focused when you need to be. The ability to switch off is how I achieve my balance. That’s why stories are important.

If you could swap jobs with anyone who would it be and why?

Manchester United player Paul Pogba, just to get his salary for a week. Other than that I’d be running Sydney Opera House or Dubai Opera; a big cultural institution with a supportive board that has a vision to enrich the culture of the city.

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