Theatre for awareness

In conversation with Syed Mohsin Ali

2016-05-17T21:27:59+05:00 Faizan Hussain

Street theatre is a form of theatrical performance in outdoor public spaces without a specific paying audience. It is the oldest form of theatre which is still surviving and admired. It is an effective means of spreading awareness about any issue or to convey any desired message to the common masses, especially dwelling in rural areas. This mode of communication is used by several theatre groups in the country. According to a report street performances attract the attention of even those people who don’t lend ear to long speeches or sermons. Dost Natak is one of those theatre groups which performs in different villages and backward areas to spread awareness about different social and health issues. Syed Mohsin Ali who is attached with performing art for the last 15 years formed this group four years ago. According to him it is a worship to give awareness in a society where everything is becoming commercial. In an exclusively interview with Sunday Plus he talked about his work and also the difficulties which he faces during performances in different villages. Following are the excerpts of his interview:

Tell us something about Dost Natak?

Dost Natak is a group of young actors who believe in social service through their acting. We prefer to spend our energies on issue based performances than to do commercial theatre. We aim to spread awareness about social and health issue in rural areas where other communication networks have not yet developed.

On what projects you have worked up till now?

Our initial projects were about cotton picking industry and different health hazards linked to it. For example, those women who pick cotton in fields or work in factories often bring their young children with them, which cause many health problems like asthma in their children. Similarly, working in factories often turn them deaf because of loud noise of heavy machinery and also lose their eye sight at a very young age because of working in low light. There are other social issues linked to it like the factory owners should provide a separate place for women who have to breast feed their children. Some people working in factories carry heavy burden on their back causes many back bone problems in them. Then the use of pesticides in agriculture is very harmful for human health. WWF helped us in this regard and we performed in Rahim Yar Khan, Bahawalpur, Multan, Kabirwala etc.

How many campaigns do you get in a year?

It is relevant every year but mostly we get three to four campaigns in year and normally we give 30 to 35 performances of every campaign.

How do you gather the audience in rural area?

Gathering people is the most difficult task and we use different methods for it. Most commonly are to say Munadi (announcement) in the mosque but we also take help from Town Nazims in this regard. The field workers of collaborating NGOs also play their role.

How street theatre is different from commercial theatre?

There is a lot of difference between the two. Street theatre is a more dedicated service than commercial theatre because there are less financial gains in it. It is edutainment whereas commercial theatre is entertainment. More importantly, there are many technical differences, for example, street performers have to do all their work themselves like erecting tents, making stage etc. Most of the time there is not even proper backdrop and different clothes are used to make a setup. They also have to deal with different nuisances and issues which you can imagine from people coming there free of cost. Whereas, a play performed in halls, where ticketed audience come have pin drop silence. They know the ethics and most importantly the admin has its rights reserved for trouble makers. In contrast, street performers have to ignore trouble maker and should be focused on their performances.

Who writes script for the plays?

Writing such script is not the work of drawing room writers because there is lot of field work required for it. The essential elements for the script of these plays are the dialect and the particular terms spoken in the target area. Most of the time I write these scripts once the donor organization briefs about the issues to be addressed. There are many things which we have to localise. I remember during performance in DG Khan we faced lot of problems because it was a Siraki speaking belt. But with grace of God we were successful in conveying our message.

What was your most recent project?

We worked in collaboration with Muslim Aid, an NGO working on different hygiene issues related to water and sanitary problems. We performed in almost 15 different villages. It was a community theatre and almost ten to fifteen thousand people watched these performances. Its topic was open loo and UNICEF was its donor. There are a large number of people in rural areas who sit in open because they have no latrines. There were many other hygiene issues related to it like washing hands. It is such a topic on which one hesitates to talk about and street performances are very helpful in it. It helps to convince those people who are illiterate and do not have much awareness about health issues related to it.

What is the feedback which you get after your performances?

Whenever we perform, we aim to entertain people maximum because it is the only way to grip the attention of the people. Secondly, a good play is discussed among the people for many days, which is mouth publicity and our message spreads indirectly. As far as feedback is concerned, according to UNICEF open theatre gives more awareness than their six months of campaign about anything. So these performances are very much affective.

What are your future projects?

There are many projects which are in the pipeline. I will talk about them once our deals are final with the donor organisations.

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