KARACHI: The National Academy of Performing Arts Theatre Festival 2014 kicked off on Tuesday evening with a fitting speech by its president, Zia Mohyeddin.
There were a few seats empty when he took to the podium but the crowd started trickling rapidly soon after he uttered his first words. By the time he finished, the hall was fully packed. The event had begun.
"I want everyone to take part in our festivities," said Mohyeddin. "It is heartening to see such a positive response from international actors. We want to promote some of the more 'modern' trends that now dominate national and international theatre."
There was a general sense of pride and achievement going through all those involved in organising the event. Napa festival director Zain Ahmed told The Express Tribune how excited they were to have some globally acclaimed plays being performed in the city. "This is the first time that an international festival has been organised by Napa and we are very happy with what we have lined up," said Ahmed. "There was an almost mundane trend that only comedy plays can work in the country. However, Napa has changed that."
Ahmed then went on to reveal that the festival, which ends on March 27, will feature 30 international performers along with a multitude of Pakistani ones. "Artists have arrived for this event from England, India, Nepal and Germany to name a few countries."
When asked if any of the guests had raised any security concerns, Ahmed revealed the passion that defines the lives of those involved in theatre. "These artists are risk-takers and they crave to perform," said Ahmed. "They do not care about security. All they care about is performing." Ahmed added that all festival actors are being paid the same in a bid to promote young talent. "At the end of the day, everyone draws the same paycheck, whether he is Naseeruddin Shah or a struggling artist looking to make his name in the industry."
Napa programme director Arshad Mahmud highlighted the importance of taking an initiative to improve the mindset of the city's general population. "We cannot just sit, hand-in-hand, and wait for the situation to improve," said Mahmud. "It is high-time that people felt good about themselves so they look forward to such events rather than getting caught up in the city's problems."
Fusion's guitarist Shalum Xavier, who also teaches guitar at Napa, praised the work done by those involved to turn this event into a reality. "I am happy to see the festivities, the lights and the vibrancy of this place. Such an event requires a lot of effort," said Xavier. However, despite praising the academy's efforts, he was critical of how they spent it. "Perhaps they could have marketed it a bit better. At the moment, it is only targeting a very small market. This should be an event that excites the whole country."
The first performance at the event was produced by a graduate and former faculty member of Napa, Ahsan Bari. "This is the start of a revolution. Entertainment for the sake of entertainment is not enough, entertainment should improve society." Napa student Fawad Khan, who will also take a part in the festival, was as dramatic and theatrical with his words as his work surely is. "The stories that will unfold during this event are the rebellion of life against the death that hangs over this city."
Despite Xavier's complaints of poor marketing, perhaps the only issue with the event was that it ended up being 'too popular'. By the time the first day was truly underway, Napa's theatre hall was filled to the brim, so much so that anyone trying to go inside was met with a solid 'audience wall'.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 5th, 2014.