Five performances, five standing ovations from over three thousand people and incredible audience reviews; Theatre Wallay’s 2017 tour to the United States was a resounding success.
Theatre Wallay has been working since September of last year on its latest project “On Common Ground”. This project resulted from a collaboration between the group, Ithaca College Department of Theatre Arts, Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), and Artists’ Repertory Theatre, and was made possible by a grant from the US Embassy in Islamabad.
American theatre professionals Linda Alper, David Studwell and Kathleen Mulligan produced, devised and directed the show, which involved a large Theatre Wallay team of more than a dozen writers, eight actors, two musicians, a vocalist and a dancer, as well as a stage manager and sound designer. This group embarked on a two week tour of Oregon in Jun/July as the culmination of Phase I of this project.
At a time of heightened political, social and religious sensitivity and growing intolerance to diversity all over the world, Theatre Wallay chose as its subject public places, our “common ground”, the spaces that are changing and disappearing due to extremism and that need to be reclaimed. “On Common Ground” explores how we celebrate and reclaim public places – schools, market squares, mosques, parks — spaces intended for learning, leisure and worship which have been under attack by extremists in Pakistan (and elsewhere!). It also focuses on the fact that ordinary lives, aspirations and dreams are quite the same across continents and cultures, and that people are united in a shared human experience despite differences of culture, religion, ethnicity and language.
Theatre Wallay is the first Pakistani group to perform at OSF and Artists’ Rep, both institutions that are powered by the values of diversity, inclusion and community. Two performances were held at Artists’ Repertory Theatre in Portland, and three at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival Green Show in Ashland.
In addition to this, the sitarist, tabla player and vocalist performed in three public jams with Oregon pianists, guitarists, vocalists, a drummer, cellist and rapper. Amna Mawaz gave a master class in Bharatanatyam, attended by forty Portlanders, and also performed with a Portland based Indian American dancer who specialises in the same form of classical dance.
When the group was not on stage, they were busy spending time with theatre practitioners in discussions and workshops, learning from their expertise and technical knowledge. Theatre Wallay company members participated in eight workshops about directing, acting, producing, and theatre education. In addition to this, the stage manager and sound designer worked one-on-one with technical experts.
Theatre Wallay artists shared their stories on four live radio shows, and attended several OSF productions including “The Odyssey”, “Julius Caesar”, “Unison” and “Shakespeare in Love”.
With the US tour behind them, Theatre Wallay is now gearing up for the next phase of the project. They will now prepare a new script on the same topic, in Urdu, to be performed across major cities in Pakistan at the end of this year. Two team members will travel to Ithaca College for a residency in October to work with students there to incorporate the American perspective into the new Pakistani version of the script.
In addition to this, the group will be working with Pakistani university students and mentor them in script writing and acting; the students’ performances will be showcased in a festival to be organised by Theatre Wallay early next year.