This is just a quick recap of what we did in the USA. We cannot describe our feelings, and cannot thank enough our hosts for going many many extra miles to make us feel at home, and special. A big THANK YOU to all; you people were wonderful hosts, and extra ordinary audience.
Theatre Wallay took its play ‘This Stained Dawn’ (English version of its play ‘Dagh Dagh Ujala’) to USA in October-November 2015. It was the last phase of its project ‘Voices of Partition’. Theatre Wallay had already performed the Urdu version in Islamabad, and Lahore in April-May 2015. The team spent nearly three weeks from 19th October to 5th November 2015 making 7 performances, and 5 lecture demonstrations in Boston, Ithaca (New York), Fairfax (Virginia), and Washington DC.
Quite a few people in the USA already knew about the upcoming trip of Theatre Wallay as our US collaborators David Studwell, Kathleen Mulligan, and Sarah Morrisette had spread the word, and had organized screenings of the documentary on the conception and execution of ‘Voices of Partition’ in Ithaca College (New York), and Cambridge (Massachusetts). These helped buildt excitement for the impending arrival of the Theatre Wallay team.
We arrived in Boston on October 19 (with the exception of Hiba Ali, who had to delay her arrival by 3 days due to her class commitments in London, where she is working on her master’s degree). We were warmly welcomed by Sarah Morrisette, several other volunteers, and our respective homestay hosts. After a day of rest, we all gathered for a welcome dinner at the home of a Pakistani American and his wife in Weston, MA.
On Wednesday, October 21, after a cruise of Boston Harbor (donated by a patron), we performed our lecture demonstration (shorter version of the play without visual and sound effects) at the Boston Conservatory of Music for students and guests.
On Thursday, October 22 we traveled to Stow, Massachusetts. After visiting an apple orchard and being treated to dinner at a patron’s home, we performed the lecture demonstration at the First Parish Church of Stow for a large audience. Local high school drama students provided refreshments, and the actors enjoyed talking to them about theatre.
The next day and a half (Friday, October 23 and Saturday, October 24) were rehearsal days in our main performance venue, the Grace Methodist Church in Watertown, MA. Sarah Morrisette’s mother Lynda Johnson, who works with a theatre group associated with the church, was instrumental in securing staff and equipment for this venue. We had two performances that evening (5:30 and 8:30) and we estimate that audience for the two shows surpassed 500. The response was extremely enthusiastic. Well-known Pakistani writer Beena Sarwar attended and reviewed the performance.
It was difficult for us to say goodbye to our Boston hosts, as strong connections had been formed. But after striking the set and packing it into a rented truck, we were off to Ithaca, NY! We stopped overnight in Longmeadow, MA, where Mehlaqa Samdani and her organization “Critical Connections” hosted a lecture demonstration followed by a thoughtful dialogue with Pakistani Americans and Indian Americans from the community. The Pakistani American Association and the Indian American Association provided a wonderful South Asian dinner for us, and provided hotel rooms for the entire company.
We arrived in Ithaca, NY on Monday afternoon, October 26. Our hosts held a dinner at a local restaurant for us, and various members of the Ithaca College community who had been instrumental in supporting this project.
The week in Ithaca was packed full of activity. Company members visited classes in large and smaller groups, interacting with students in public health, theatre, history, and politics. A question and answer session in the Department of Theatre Arts was packed with students, and a highlight of the session was Rabia Pasha performing her VOP monologue first in Urdu, and then in English.
Meanwhile we were preparing for our Ithaca College performances. The students of Ithaca College served as enthusiastic volunteers, working as stage managers, technicians, escorts to class visits, etc. During the week, our hosts held a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for us. A local ice cream store donated ice cream cones to all. Many in the community went out of their way to make us feel welcomed and at home.
We had three performances at Ithaca College: Friday evening, Saturday afternoon and Saturday evening. All performances were extremely well attended: the Saturday matinee was one of the fullest houses anyone has seen in that theatre. It is pertinent to mention here that Saturday was Halloween, and we feared that there would be low turnout. Still all the three shows were house full.
A history teacher presented a pre-show lecture on Partition that afternoon, and another teacher moderated an audience talk back after the final performance. Many students shared how important that week was to them, and how much they enjoyed interacting with the Theatre Wallay people. One student wrote to her teacher after the final performance: “Crossing cultures and finding out that all of our souls have similar desires to story-tell was so humbling. I am so happy to have them in my life now, and to know their truths. How beautiful. Their voices will carry in my mind forever.”
On Sunday, November 1, we were treated to a trip to Niagara Falls. It was a long drive, but so worth it. It was one of the highlights of our visit to the U.S. That night we were guests at the Eid banquet hosted by the South Asian Student Association at Ithaca College. We enjoyed some Bollywood music, and danced a lot though we were all tired due to the long journey to and from Niagara Falls.
The next morning we left bright and early for Washington, D.C. in order to make our 3:00 performance at the U.S. Department of State. There we shared a selection of the monologues for State Department employees and invited guests. After the performance we headed to Fairfax, VA, where we held our final performance at George Mason University. This performance was hosted and arranged by James Witte, fellow Fulbright Specialist to Pakistan (who shared the Fulbright House in Islamabad with Sarah and Kathleen during their January 2015 visit.) It was a very successful and well attended final performance, and a great way to wrap up the tour. A local Pakistani American businessman provided dinner for the company after the performance. Robert Raines and James Cerven were able to join us for the performance and the dinner afterwards.
The next day we said a very difficult goodbye to our hosts, who headed back to Ithaca. We spent the day sightseeing in Washington DC, and then broke off into various combinations for visits to NYC, Miami, etc. before departing the United States.