It was a good omen that the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop returned to the venue where some of the largest festivals have been organised by them. From the year 1992 till 2008 all the major festivals by them were held at the Alhamra Cultural Complex and the venue had become synonymous with international festivals that consisted of theatre, music, puppetry, dance, films, covering nearly all aspects of the performing arts. But unfortunately due to the bomb blasts, the venue had to be changed for the purposes of security.
In the intervening years the indefatigable Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop did not give up but continued to hold their festivals albeit on a much smaller scale with little foreign participation at the Rafi Peer Cultural Complex on Raiwind Road and the Alhamra on the Mall. It was seen important to keep the flame alight even in circumstances where the wind was blowing at a blustering speed. It was a welcome sign and an indication perhaps that few were picking up the courage to bring normalcy back to life.
The administration though had its jitters. As is the case in Pakistan, only pulling strings and knowing the right people work. The permissions were granted at the last minute after the local administration had refused point blank terming security risk as the major reason. This has been a familiar story with the organisation of these festivals and, except for a few instances, in all other cases it had to be a waiting game till the very last minute when the news of the No-objection Certificate (NOC) was received over phone or a harried government functionary arrived with a piece of official paper.
The organisers did not know whether the festival was on till the last night but all is well that ends well and the festival was held and safely participated in by a large number of people.
This year the participation was not only from the institutions but also individual effort at forming a group of dance, music, theatre or a film unit. The established educational institutions are facing a tough challenge from the institutions which have been set up in the private sector and since these place greater emphasis on the extra curricular activity there seems to be a greater incidence of participation by these institutions. There were multiple entries for example from the Punjab of Group of Colleges, Lahore Grammar School and Beaconhouse Schools but the other institutions did not lag far behind.
It is also been seen that the participation in forms like music and dance by comparison is larger as well as more enthusiastic. These are the expressions that have got greater element of prejudice involved but it is either out of vengeance or defiance that the output is more charged with energy. Though this fizzles the as the prejudice becomes greater with grown ups, especially women.
There are few institutions to hone this talent, and then there are no opportunities to translate these on professional lines. It has been seen that the final outcome of this enthusiasm does not realise itself fully as it should.
The festival was designed as a competition and the performances were judged by a set of competent persons.
But as it happens there can be only one winner. The National College of Arts’ dramatic society ‘Alif Adab’ with the Last Vow and ‘Mime’ with Fusion bagged most of the awards. But this did not mean that the other groups were not good enough to figure in the award ceremony on the last night. The important aspect is the willingness to participate in such festivals again.
The awards were divided into Junior and Senior sections and there were many categories that focused on production and aspects of theatre than merely the script, acting and direction like lighting, design, set design, costume and sound track.
In the run up to the elections last year, everybody woke up to the educational and artistic needs of the youth of this country. The entire focus shifted to catering to the requirements of the youth as they constitute more than 60 per cent of the population. Some political parties directed their entire energies towards pampering the young while the government particularly in the Punjab too initiated programmes like the distribution of laptops and computers so as to snatch the initiative away from any other party claiming to be the voice of the young. Similarly festivals, particularly in the name of the young were held and a youth policy launched with great fanfare. The youth have now become the darling of the political forces in the country.
One body that has worked consistently in offering a platform to the young through its various festivals has been the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop. This festival 13th in line, speaks of the length of time as well as the consistency with which these have been held. Even in the hundreds of regular festivals organised by the group the youth have always had a presence.
As the focus has really been on harnessing the creative energies of the youth through the performing arts, rather than only concentrate on the academic side of human development in these festivals colleges, schools and even amateur groups not belonging to any institutions have been eager participants. The Rafi Peer Group has really made this approach acceptable, and others too have realized the importance of the platform for the young.
Since there was little to distinguish between the winners and others the list of nominations gave a better and complete picture.