The National Academy of Performing Arts’ (Napa) month-long theatre festival that concluded last week brought certain realisations to one’s mind.
The most significant of these was that an off-season festival remains logistically possible despite heavy monsoon rains that have a tendency to make everything else grind to a halt in Karachi.
Aptly titled Jashan Sawan Ka (A Celebration of the Monsoon), four plays were presented each weekend, with Thursdays reserved for media previews. Some truly uniquely experimental, adapted and musical works were showcased during the festival.
Napa alumnus Fawad Khan directed the first play of the festival titled Lights Out, about a couple that hears a woman’s screams from afar and wonders what to do about it, in an intense dramatisation of fear and apathy towards pain and misery.
The second play, Heer Project, directed by Zain Ahmed, was an interesting experimentation in the genres of the performing arts — dance, theatre, and music — along with poetry, to enforce various messages regarding women’s issues. It was performed entirely from women’s perspectives.
Napa’s recently concluded off-season theatre festival once again drove home Napa’s contribution to the arts and to society
The third play, Dead End, directed by Sunil Shankar, was a stark characterisation of the cut-throat market forces that trivialise human engagement and existence. Uzma Sabeen’s Pooja was the final play, a musical tale of two princes who fall in love with the same girl!
Napa director and teacher Uzma Sabeen typified the audience reaction, expressing pleasure at the experience which provided her a break from children’s theatre.
“Many acquaintances came to see the plays and the people in the audience brought along their relatives who were visiting from abroad,” she says. “This aspect was particularly interesting for me.”
Napa Festival Director Zain Ahmed points out that there hadn’t been any theatre activity since the beginning of the year. “So the team decided to test the waters by running an off-season festival, which defied the normal practice of organising such festivals when the weather is more pleasant — from November to March,” he said. “This is the time of year when people are usually away vacationing.”
But it turned out in favour of Napa in the end. The crowds showed up at the 200-seat Repertory Theatre in droves, packed to capacity almost every night. “Some nights we had more than 200 people who couldn’t find seats and had to sit on the floor,” says Zain.
The directors and the majority of actors were from Napa’s alumni, adds Zain. “But some actors selected for the performances were not from Napa. This exchange [between Napa and non-Napa actors] offered some good learning experiences on both sides. Napa’s actors learned something from the outside ones and vice versa,” he says.
Since the Napa community has a certain notoriety for cultural arrogance, it was a pleasant surprise to hear someone from the community talk of learning from non-Napa actors.
Napa’s Repertory Theatre has come a long way in 10 years. “We began with six plays a year and are now up to 40 a year. Also, the audience has grown to accept new and unconventional messages, genres and styles of plays,” Zain points out. “Napa students are also indulging in writing scripts and plays, which is another feather in our cap. However, corporate funding for theatre has shrunk due to the revival of cinema.
“People do not realise the huge effort our students — who hail from different backgrounds — put into performing theatre despite grave hurdles, such as resistance from home or pressure from society,” he adds. “We should laud and appreciate their efforts. That’s the only way to fight orthodoxy.”
Indeed, Napa’s contribution to the arts, especially theatre, remains undisputed. This contribution should not go waste due to lack of funding and/or financial support.
The government needs to include theatre in its tourism initiative and make it an important part of it. Besides, famous plays should run throughout the year, just like they do on Broadway in New York City or West End in London.
On a side-note, Napa plays that contain expletives or foul language in dialogues should carry a PG rating. Also, children under 13 should strictly not be allowed admission into the hall.
Originally published in Dawn, ICON, August 11th, 2019