Sunday, August 8, 2010

‘Open Act’ blazes new theatre trail

By Mushir Anwar

Originally published in DAWN on Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We from the partition time who happen still to be hanging around, with or without our Victorian hang ups and Muslim League mindset, need some education about this third generation of ours that is now preparing to enter practical life in the all round chaos that we have created for it. Sure until now of the soundness of our life view, I was rudely nudged into this idea of a refresher course, or more correctly re-education, about the English spitting youths whom we generally consider unworthy of carrying the heavy coffins of our post-Persian wheel illusions, by a performance of spontaneous theatre that a group of cheeky rascals presented to the roaring applause of an audience that was just not prepared for a surprise of this calibre, this richness and relevance.

Quite aptly called ‘Open Act’ the fifteen piece group and solo encounter was the work of a voluntary team of theatre enthusiasts, Insolent Night, that Claire Pamment, head of the Department of Theatre at the National College of Arts, Rawalpindi Campus, is currently working with to ultimately evolve a faculty and induct a trainee group of its own. From the first performance that was presented by this collaboration on Friday night, the idea of giving expression space to new performers and create a contemporary theatre of our own — away from the current sterile, prescriptive formula output of our stage, cinema and television — looks promising. If pursued with seriousness it has seeds of growing into a creative parallel even to the protest theatre which, with all its relevant trappings, is kind of stultifying. Then for a few years past Islamabad has seen the staging of fully borrowed plays, like the Phantom of the Opera that Shah Sharabeel, an enterprising young man who is into many things than just theatre, skillfully produced and which initially provided an opening to young people here to perform on stage besides generating interest in live performances, being all in English and lavish cost wise, which have had a limited reach to the upper class only. The NCA approach, though still loaded with much English content, is not stuck with any elitist notion as to language or class. English, Urdu or Punjabi, it is the unabashed iconoclastic nature of the material, this initial work presented, is what gives hope it is creative independence that they are trying to nurture. The roaring applause from the audience was not for the language proficiency so much as for the freshness of themes and their socio-political relevance.

Among the sharp and cutting satirical pieces were Satan’s Trade by Wijdan Khaliq that skillfully tossed the metaphor of toilet paper by dilating on the crap world politics has become engulfing all from the Potomac to Euphrates to our own sweet smelling Leh. Survival 101 by Tulin Khalid Azeem and Wijdan preparing toddlers for the war on terror, What’s Genocide by Palvashay based on Carlos Andres Gomez’s poem, Peace be upon Him by Faheem Azam — a dialogue between the 15th century and our present day Islam, Exorcism of the politically rebellious by Osman Khalid, with Ahmad and Salman; Sarmad Sehbai’s From the dark room, by Faisal Kamal Pasha who also read a poem by Sahir Ludhianvi, Optophobia by Natasha Ejaz who joined in a number of other acts with Papaninjinho who composes instant interactive verses, raps and rolls on the ground and looks like someone out of MTV. Natasha and Usman also performed Sale, Sale, Sale by Atif Siddiqui.

There were flashes of brilliance in other acts too; the variety itself allowed no dull moment, one sat on the edge all through the show as the audience roared in applause refreshed by each sparkling event. The murky puppet theatre hall of the Liaquat Auditorium was packed with a fairly mixed gathering of boys and girls at ease with their physical being and comfortable with inter gender proximity that we, of the old lot, have no experience of, since our joints have long been stiff with a prudish rheumatism that has not allowed our limbs to open up and taste the ecstasy of free movement. The generational contrast was astonishing, yet despite the fact they could still be dismissed as a lot deep fried in American margarine, albino souls struggling to emerge in Anglo-Saxon plumage, migratory birds mostly of the ‘70s and ‘80s motley flock, without cultural roots or national awareness, they could not be ignored. It was time we took stock of ourselves and saw the world from their angle also, from their direct knowledge of it through tools that we find difficult to handle, that they use habitually now. They may not be a rebellious horde ready to soldier a revolution of our liking but they seem to possess the kernel for change from the martial syndrome to a more livable social order with space for evolving a society based on values different from ours that may come about in spite of us.

Open Act is going to be a regular feature of the NCA programme and aims at providing a platform for new talent and experimental performance. The department of theatre is also conducting discussion forums with performing arts exponents.

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