On a cool and windy Saturday night, the beautiful National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) building looked more majestic than ever. With candles placed throughout the campus, the premises looked as if some royal court proceedings were about to take place. However, what followed was quite the opposite. For instance, there was no elaborate stage or set design, just a counter from where the audience members were given iPods so they could listen to the recorded instructions. These instructions took the audience onto an adventurous journey through the campus premises where they could bump into random characters dancing and sharing their stories.
The men behind this innovative idea were Peter Higgins, Enrichment Director at Punchdrunk Theatre Company and Owen Calvert-Lyons, Creative Learning Manager at Arcola Theatre UK, who worked with Napa students for six days to produce an “immersive theatre” performance based on Dickens’ largely unnoticed work — The Uncommerical Traveller.
The workshop and the performance were organised by the British Council in collaboration with Napa and were part of the Council’s Dickens 2012, which is a celebration of Charles Dickens bicentenary. Amongst the many theatre enthusiasts attending this workshop was Anwer Jafri, the man behind the Tehrik-e-Niswan plays. He had an interesting take on this venture. “It was a great exercise,” said Jafri. “However, I felt that all the stories told were quite similar in nature. Every story could have taken the audience on a different emotional tangent.”
Others were more appreciative of the interactive performances and lauded their efforts calling it, “a great learning experience”. Wajhdan Ali Shah, a current student at Napa who worked on this production said, “This workshop was a breath of fresh air for me. The best thing about this creative experience was that we were able to make a final product in a week’s time.” Another graduate of Napa, Mansoor Ahmed said, “It was a mind-blowing experience for me. I have never explored the campus premises in such a different fashion. It was very refreshing.”
Regarding the work ethics and creativity of the students, their instructors Higgins and Owen commented, “Some of the students that I have worked with are immensely talented,” said Higgins. “Sadly, they are offered a very limited range of theatre genres here. By offering them something different and unconventional, it turned out to be an excellent learning experience not only for them but for us as well.”
The event ended with a certificate distribution among the participants of the workshop. British Council’s Director of Programmes, Martin Fryer, appreciated the collective efforts of all people involved in the project. “Such efforts prove that even after two centuries, the writings of Charles Dickens are still very relevant today. The British Council is proud to be associated with such enterprising and talented young people,” said Fryer.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 15th, 2012.
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