Theatre for hope
SPRING is in the air and if hope is to be found, we have only to turn towards the spate of cultural festivities that have lifted moods over recent weeks. Literature and Sindhi culture have been celebrated and Tuesday saw the kick-off of the over three-week-long international theatre festival put up by Karachi’s National Academy of the Performing Arts. The feat in the process of being pulled off is no mean one, given both the fact that traditionally it was Lahore that was considered the hub of culture and performing arts activities, and the nightmarish security situation that prevails in general in the port city. Supported by the Karachi Youth Initiative, the Napa festival showcases theatre and dance work by its own students, graduates and the Napa Repertory Theatre, while audience interest has been heightened with the participation of theatre groups from Nepal, England, Germany and India. Also performing are Tehrik-e-Niswan and Ajoka Theatre, who were amongst the stalwarts that kept theatre in Pakistan going during its darkest period. Performances specifically for children are a plus point. The diversity of the work on offer is commendable, as is the spirit that appears to be establishing Karachi as a centre for culture.
There is a lesson to be learned here, one that the state has taken a long time recognising. Theatre in Pakistan, particularly in Karachi, spent decades on the fringes, kept alive only by the efforts of a few dedicated groups and individuals. The one large-scale effort that promised to put the country on the theatre world’s map, the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s once annual international festival in Lahore, ceased several years ago because of both security concerns and the lack of governmental support. Napa, however, promises to be the catalyst that turns the performing arts in Karachi, hitherto considered a hobby, into a profession. This has been possible because of the support afforded to it by the state. The argument is an old one, and can easily be replicated in other spheres: if you build it, they will come.