IRC’s 14th Theatre Festival

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Sarwat Ali

Following swiftly on the heels of the 8th Vasakh Film Festival, the same organisation held its 14th Interactive Theatre Festival last week. If anything, it brought in a dramatised manner the differences between the two mediums, theatre and film, and the effectiveness of each.

Though film has greater outreach being a portable medium, the immediacy of theatre is ever more poignant. Perhaps the organisation is more experienced and apt at holding theatre festivals that it all seemed more worthwhile and effective in comparison.

The purpose of the Interactive Resource Centre formed in December 2000 has stayed consistent over the years despite it having diversified the modes of expression. The aim has been to explore new avenues for community mobilisation and dialogue to assist people in their struggle to regain their collective power and strength.

For the purposes of enactment, this interactive method is quite useful. It keeps the audiences involved and on their toes and gives them clarity about what is happening on stage. Actually what happens on stage itself provides and provokes the audience into asking questions about the injustice or discriminations. This then forms the raw material for actors to develop the play in such a way that it provokes more questions, and this process of provoking the audiences and then building upon it is where real creativity rests in this type of theatre.

It is quite commendable that theatre groups from different parts of the country, in particular the remote areas, performed in Lahore which itself is a rare feat. Nine groups from various parts of the Punjab participated over three evenings. Mostly from rural areas or small towns, these groups or persons associated with these groups have been on the frontline of the issues of intolerance, religious extremism and gender bias derived from certain readings of religion and tradition. Mostly students and community workers, their understanding of activism involves theatrical output as integral to their other activities.

In the earlier festivals held by IRC, it appeared there was a mix of theatre hands with limited experience and many raw hands that one had got accustomed to seeing in the last decade and a half. But as it becomes more difficult to differentiate between the idea and its enactment, the pretence of this distinction has been done away with. It appeared that the distinction between theatre experience and simple advocacy of an issue and its solution has become rather minimised and the two are now also considered as one. In the brochure that was circulated among the audiences, the names of the groups were not even mentioned, rather only the issues enacted were highlighted.

Various theories about the role of art have been afloat and equal number of methods and forms has been applied for definite results. One method which has been applied in such theatre festivals has been interactive. The action on stage poses a problem and the audience is free to intervene and give their suggestions as to what course the play should take.

The main inspiration of this method has come from theories and concept of the Theatre of the Oppressed by Augusto Boal. He worked around Forum Theatre, Invisible Theatre and the Theatre of the Oppressed. He evolved his form in the workshops (Forum Theatre) and then took it to the street (Invisible Theatre) removing the distinction between the actor and spectator. For him, it was more important to achieve a good debate than a good solution. Being engaged in performances could bring forward questions, experiences and issues that were difficult to express initially in words but could reveal elements for the group to work on.

He was arriving at a solution between the total involvement of the actor with the character as propagated by Stanislavski and the detachment with the character of the actor as propounded by Bretcht. By turning actors into spectators and the other way round, he wanted to arrive at the golden mean of intensity and detachment depending on the centrality of the issues concerning the lives of the community where the play was being staged.

The real strength of such plays or enactments is topicality. These days the burning issues of exclusion based on religious readings or of the equal rights of a citizen in a modern state, or the gender bias, or the solution of these issues through violence and its justification instantly drew ordinary folks to whatever was happening in the arena of performance. These short enactments were based on incidences involving discrimination based on minority rights, attack on the Army Public School in Peshawar, the ensuing questions about security in schools and parental concerns, insecurity resulting from uncertainty of ongoing terrorism, interfaith harmony, Youhanabad violence and the question of women equality.

Being so close to the thick of it all, the audiences were quick to add their input into what the issues really were and where did the solution lie. It was heartening to see that the response, varied and quick, did not necessarily align with explanations that were the outcome of complacency. For one, the hall was totally full and the people there did represent a cross section. They were also not necessarily pinned down to the explanation and the solutions that were being offered during the course of the enactment. But then the real task is to ask the right question and to let the answers brew and evolve rather than be prescriptive or merely knee jerk reactions.

It seems that the prime aim of Interactive Resource Centre to employ interactive theatre techniques for awareness about human rights and struggle of marginalised communities in Pakistan has stayed on course.

Sarwat Ali, “Provoking audiences effectively,” in The News, June 14, 2015. Accessed on June 14, 2015, at:

The item above written by Sarwat Ali and published in The News on June 14, 2015, is catalogued here in full by Faiz-e-Zabaan for non-profit educational purpose only. Faiz-e-Zabaan neither claims the ownership nor the authorship of this item. The link to the original source accessed on June 14, 2015, is available here. Faiz-e-Zabaan is not responsible for the content of the external websites.

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