Alhamra revived a good tradition by holding a festival of plays last week. The festival extended over almost two weeks and the number of groups that staged plays was sizeable, fifteen in number. This proves that creatives are always waiting for opportunities to be able to display their thespian talent.
Though many of the groups that took part in the festival have staged plays earlier as well, and many also claim to be more than mere amateur efforts at staging and producing plays, there were also several that have no pretension of being professional outfits.
The usual meaning of professional is making money out of your endeavour or, in the case of theatre groups, that the plays are a source of earning for those involved. So they better be good enough to not only survive but also to thrive in a field that may have created opportunities not only for them but for other groups to facilitate competition.
It can be said that many of the groups that have performed here over a period of time have remained amateur in the way they put up their productions. They have failed to rise above the common understanding of what theatre is, and have not been able to hit a level that is above the commonplace. They have remained amateur in its negative sense.
Being amateur should not exclusively be a negative term because, in societies like ours, being amateur means that one has the means to survive in theatre with alternative sources of income and to keep the hearth warm. In that sense not tied to the market and the various compromises that you may be forced upon to sell the product at the box office. Being amateur may give the freedom that may be necessary to rise above the demands of the marketplace and put up a show or a performance that is free of compromises or with a level of compromise not at an undesirable level.
The two-week festival featured 15 stage performances by renowned theatre groups including Ajoka Theatre, Mass Foundation, Azad Theatre, The Curtain Raiser Production, Salamat Foundation, Orange Media Production, Aks Theatre Production, Sirimiri Production and Chota Mota Theatre among others. Besides professional theatre groups, famous groups from various universities, such as Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS), Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad and Punjab University also participated.
Kafan, a short story by Munshi Prem Chand, seems to be a favourite script for the groups to perform, and in this festival it was staged by Mass Production. Actually, the short story does not lend itself to be performed but it seems to be attractive enough to be made the subject of plays. Perhaps it is the socio-realism that is very compelling, if one is intent on doing theatre that is meant to be built round issues that are about exploitation, lack of equitable distribution of resources, wealth, and power which leaves out a sizeable segment of population on the margins.
One wonders who made this or converted this into a script for it to be staged but it has been around and it has never bothered the organisers to give due credit to it stage version. It is solely attributed to the novelist.
Ajoka’s Marya Huya Kutta written by Shahid Mehmood Nadeem too has been staged many a times over the last fifty odds years and, at times, the production has had an element of flair about it. The beautifully written Akhiaan, originally a radio play by Rafi Peezada, was staged once again by Azaad Theatre.
It was heartening that one group from Quetta also participated. In the past festivals two groups from Quetta have been participating with their productions. This time round Sangat Theatre Production, Quetta staged Jan Muhammed B.A Gold Medallist. Another group from outside of Lahore, the Quaid-i-Azam University’s Quaidian Dramatic Club staged Main Haan Waras. Another educational institution, LUMS Dramatic Production, staged Gumrah. Muhabbat Fatahe Alam was staged by Natak Theatre of the Punjab University.
The other plays staged were Bol Key Lab Azad by Chota Mota Theatre, Yeh Shahrah e Aam Nahi by Sirimiri Theatre, Tujh Say Nahi Ho Ga by Zig Zag Media Production, Baanjh by Aks Theatre, Sanwari by Nauratan Theatre while Salamat Production staged Hor Da Hor, the Curtain Raider Production did Dr Salahuddin, and Orange Media Production staged Zainbay.
One should go by the general assumption that more opportunities and frequency of production will ensure improvement in quality. Alhamra should have faith and keep up its good work and wait patiently for steady and inevitable improvement if these opportunities continue to be provided.