Despite a growing culture of theatre-going that we see in the city, opportunities for formal education in theatre remain limited if not completely non existent. This is also reflected in the quality and type of plays produced and performed in the city by local groups, most of which are amateur.
These young, amateur groups produce, direct, act in and, at times, even script their own plays at school level. Sadly, they have been exposed to theatre only this much.
Some mainstream schools that offer O’ and A’ level classes have introduced theatre as a study subject, but they are very few in number.
At college, the opportunities to study theatre are even fewer, especially when it comes to choosing it as a career. Beaconhouse National University (BNU) is the only mainstream educational institution in Lahore that formally teaches Theatre. Though, it doesn’t offer Acting as a study subject, like Karachi’s NAPA does.
Having said that, most plays that are performed in Lahore and display some quality and standard, are the ones that have been produced by theatre companies and groups from Karachi.
Here, we find a gap between the commercial theatre performers on the one side and the formal training received by individuals. Even at the commercial level, theatre is treated as more of an extra-curricular activity.
Private theatre groups — new and old alike — have not been able to fill this gap. While groups like the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop (RPTW) provide ample opportunities for various independent groups along with societies from universities and schools to showcase their talent, they have not been able to provide a platform for formal training.
Recently, Olomoplo is production company setup by Kanwal Khoosat, has tried to bridge this gap by roping in some heavyweights from our television industry, with a strong background in theatre to conduct workshops. These workshops are exclusively for people who not only have a passion for theatre but also want to pursue their passion seriously.
The group participation is exclusive and the workshops are targeted specifically at building specific skills. More importantly, the people participating in these workshops are not only youngsters but also those trying to study and understand theatre acting formally.
Fetemeh Qizilbash, a drama teacher at the Lahore American School (LAS), joined the workshop because she wanted to hone her skills. “I never had formal training at school level, only took one course when I went to college in the US. I did a play along with some acting on television when I was younger but never studied it formally,” she tells TNS.
Qizilbash strongly believes that theatre is an important life skill and needs to be taught as more than just an extra-curricular activity. “Even when I was teaching Islamiat, I developed scripts with the students to help them develop their different personalities.”
According to her, with the growth of the television industry, formal education in acting has become more important than ever.
Syed Abbas Hussain, who acted in The Taming of The Shrew’s Urdu/Punjabi adaptation at Globe Theatre in 2012, says he recently took a workshop conducted by Sania Saeed and organised by Olompolo Productions. “I joined it because apart from being a huge fan of her [Sania Saeed] I wanted to perfect the art of acting.”
Abbas has also worked with Ajoka in their production Dara. “I’ve attended a lot of [theatre] workshops but my biggest problem as an actor was expression and characterisation. The fundamentals workshop with Sania Saeed has helped me to improve considerably.”
At best, theatre is an amateur activity in the city. One reason for this is that it is still treated as an extracurricular activity. It is something the people do on the side or if they could spare time. Establishing an institute within the city or providing more training opportunities such as those offered by Olompolo Productions might be a step in changing this attitude.