World Theatre Day: The show must go on, but some support won’t hurt

Directors and actors decry lack of support, political will for the industry.

Sehrish Ali March 27, 2013
Some years ago (from 2004 to 2008), the Islamabadi theatre scene produced 10 to 12 plays a year. PHOTO: FILE

ISLAMABAD: Stage plays in the capital bring a flurry of excitement for the theatergoers who wait in queues to buy tickets outside auditoriums or more conveniently, get free passes. Gauging by this display of enthusiasm, one would interpret the theatre scene of the capital to be thriving.

However, the ground reality is much different. While the international community celebrates World Theatre Day with fervour, the local directors are still struggling to get technical or economic support from the government.

Some years ago (from 2004 to 2008), the Islamabadi theatre scene produced 10 to 12 plays a year. But the figures have whittled down. “Back then, theatre was pursued with a passion, backed up by civic authorities and sponsors. It was becoming a cultural identity of the city before 5,000 restaurants opened up,” Osman Khalid Butt, director and actor, said.

“Once the charm wore off, theatre became more about the monetary aspect. Almost if we were operating heavy machinery,” he added.

According to Butt, the city was becoming more receptive to different genres. “We had commercial plays yes, but on the other hand we had plays by Junaid Malik who directed sharp satires and Tulin Khalid whose plays were well received. Hence the theater culture was growing till it came to a sudden halt,” he said, adding that theatre is an art, not a privilege.

Meanwhile, alternative theatre groups have similar woes. According to Sohail Akbar Warraich who has been a part of Ajoka Theater for 30 years, alternative theater is now gaining momentum.

“We have managed to stay afloat only through sheer commitment. I still remember we had no place to practice but now we are the thriving group,” he said. While referring to the endless financial struggle, he said, “one cannot live on theater alone.”

Meanwhile, Ajoka Theatre Director Madiha Gohar, said, “Musicians and artists have commercial viability. Theater in other countries is always supported by the state with proper institutions and subsidised rates. It does not have steam to run on its own, especially non commercial theater which needs to be supported in order to be sustained.”

On the other hand, Dawar Mehmood, an Islamabad-based theater director, who shot to fame with “Pawnay 14 August” and “Angaan Tehra” is not too keen on relying on the state or organisation. “Directors, writers, producers and actors should leave their egos at the door and create a forum for theater. Just work hard and believe in your dreams. They do come true in Pakistan,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2013.


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