ProperGaanda interviewed a theatre director, actor and writer diving deep down into the theatre industry of Pakistan and whether it’s growing or coming to a bleak end.
The theatre director and his work:
My name is Ali Shan Bin Sohail and I’m a theatre director, actor and writer. I have directed and acted in more than 70 plays and have been coaching theatre in major schools and universities across Punjab since 2013. I run my own independent theatre company called “Behind The Mask Productions” through which we produce commercial plays and provide consultation to schools for extracurricular programs.
What is your take on the theatre system in Pakistan?
Theatre in Pakistan has seen a recent uptick in fortunes through the efforts of some independent theatre companies, which have played a huge part in bringing families back to the theatre and removing the stigma that came with regional theatre. We are currently in the midst of theatre re-establishing itself as a bonafide entertainment option for our entertainment-starved population. I believe this re-emergence has been galvanized by the schools, colleges and institutions which have started actively supporting performing arts in their extracurricular programs, which have led to people developing interest and then finding avenues (in some cases creating avenues!) to pursue their passion for the arts. We still need a lot of governmental support to make a sustainable structure for this fragile industry economically feasible and a viable career choice.
How do you see the future of theatre?
I think the long-term survival of theatre rests in economic viability. There are some examples like Kopykats Productions, who have done an amazing job in monetizing their art and taking it to the masses. However, the massive challenge we face as a community is the absence of new contemporary stories and scripts. We are still relying on evergreen legends like Anwar Maqsood to write blockbuster theatre stories. Old established theatre stalwarts have yet to evolve with the times to build on the base they had. We need to start promoting original plays and stories to ushering in a new era of modern, relatable contemporary stories that resonate with people and pass the test of time in all genres, I have this radical idea that I propose to all theatre houses to write and produce a show and after they are done earning from the story to release it free form to make it accessible for general audiences so those stories are enacted by students all over Pakistan and eventually become part of our literature (I’ve tried that with a few of my plays e.g Murder at Fountain House which has yeilded amazing results and been performed by more than 10 schools!) I understand the argument regarding royalties and rights but feel our industry in again in its infancy and needs scuh measures to bring new stories to the fore.
The need for liberal arts spaces and The Colony, a revival of theatre?
We need a lot more liberal arts spaces which host ten times the performances that we currently do, and one such place is The Colony in Lahore which has already revolutionized the dance scene in Pakistan and is a huge promoter of the arts. They have managed to successfully build a niche audience while generating awareness about lesser known dance and art forms, the freedom to present your play without censorship is also a huge benefit for independent theatre companies performing at the Colony. Ali Institute and Al Hamra are also options for young directors looking for supportive venues for their productions.
How has your experience been with The Colony
We staged our Play “The Box” at The Colony last year to huge critical and commercial acclaim, with Abu Dujana co-directing and Aysha Faraz with breathtaking choreography. It was a wonderful experience working with the Colony and the founder Saad Sheikh. That is why we decided to stage the Lahore run of our upcoming play “Sohni Mahiwal “at The Colony. They have some amazing creative people who are always excited to collaborate.
Your upcoming theatre endeavours, especially those in Dubai.
Our next production, “Sohni Mahiwal, ” is a musical and contemporary take on the classic, set in the backdrop of last year’s flood and the devastation that followed. This is a completely unique take on the elements of the classic we’ve grown up listening to and a prime example of how you can take your classic folk stories and adapt them to your current setting, making it more relatable and fresh for the audience, I am also honoured to be taking this play to The Junction, Dubai on the 12th and 13th of August to represent Pakistani theatre on an international stage and give the international audience a taste of the vibrant Pakistani theatre scene, it’s a love story that transcends time, borders and language and I’m proud that I get to showcase this to the world. The play is written by Ali Qureshi and Yusra Irfan featuring original music composed by Wajahat Kashif and Hayder Ali, Choreography by the amazing Gulshan Majeed and technicals by maestros Waqas Akram and Hashim Rasool, along with stellar cast which embodies the best that Lahore has to offer! You can catch the show in Lahore on the 5th and 6th of Aug at The Colony. This timeless tale of love, passion, and destiny will take you on a magical journey through breathtaking performances, stunning visuals, and an enchanting storyline.