Nothing can be more depressing for an artist than an empty hall. There were three amazing actors on stage; one of them buys a white painting with three white lines on it and considers it a piece of art, while the other one shrieks with disbelief that his friend actually paid millions to buy a blank canvas. The audience bursts out laughing only to hear their own voices because sadly, the auditorium is almost empty.
This was a typical pattern seen during the shows by the National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) latest theatre play, “Art”, which was performed at the Karachi Arts Council from May 4 to May 13. The play entertained 60 people on an average in an auditorium that can accommodate more than 400 at one time.
The audience attendance of the play directed by Samina Nazeer and Tariq Siddiqi varied between 25 to 70 people but Siddiqi still finds a tinge of hope in that. “Needless to say the audience turnout has been pathetic. I don’t know the reason but it has been a complete debacle,” says Siddiqi. “But I’m confident about the strength of this play that’s why I will be taking it to Lahore and Islamabad, and I feel sorry for the people of Karachi who have missed such a good play,” he adds.
“Art” was initially performed in a 10-day theatre festival in Napa from March 1 to March 11 and received an amazing response with a number of repeat viewings. As a result, it was chosen by Napa authorities to be performed at the Arts Council for a bigger audience. “We marketed on Facebook, went on morning shows to publicise it, got advertisements printed in leading newspapers but at the end of the day nothing really worked,” states Siddiqi.
When asked whether the fact that the play was in Urdu was one of the main reasons of the play’s lukewarm response — since the more affluent class is attracted to English plays — Siddiqi says, “I don’t think Urdu is the problem. ‘Pawnay 14 August’ was a superhit and so were some of the Napa plays, but one thing is for sure that the audience in Karachi goes after big names such as the legendary Anwar Saab.”
Siddiqi, however, takes the blame on himself and says that poor attendance may be due to the ongoing exam season or perhaps could be an outcome of weak marketing. He refuses to blame the ticket price, which was Rs600, because he believes it was quite economical.
Fawad Khan, an emerging name in the Karachi theatre scene, plays one of the characters in the play and has been a part of “Art” for the past four months. For him, the turnout was initially shocking and it affected his performances too but gradually he got over it. “Initially, it gets very difficult to accept that there aren’t many people around to enjoy the hilarious content of the play. As a result, you start feeling like you are doing something wrong and that affects your performance too,” says Khan. “But as an actor it’s my duty to entertain even if only five people show up and I’ll keep doing that.”
On a positive note, the final two days of the performance were well attended and literary figures like Dr Mushtaq Ahmad Yusufi showed up.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2012.