Heidi Hoffer, a professor in OSU's Department of Theatre, spent time in Islamabad, Pakistan, with Theatre Wallay learning the ways of the Pakastani theatre and assisting them in bringing technology to the theatre in the form of design expertise and lighting systems. Hoffer recently returned from her trip and answered a few questions about her experience:
First off, how has Theatre Wallay remained so successful over the years?
Theatre Wallay is comprised of a group of passionate and resilient theatre artists. In their early days, they worked with support from the French Cultural Center in Islamabad and then became part of U.S. Embassy funded projects called “Voices of Partition” and “On Common Ground.” As their sources of funding changed with the world events around them, the nature of their theatrical events also changed to support and reflect upon it. Currently, they are renting a farm just outside of Islamabad, offering not only theatre but educational classes for grade school and middle school students, karaoke nights, poetry readings, music performances, workshops, playwriting and very good food.
How did you find this theatre group and what drew you to work with them?
Professional American theatre artists Linda Alper, David Studwell and Professor Kathleen Mulligan (Ithaca College), were recently in Islamabad working on “On Common Ground,” and facilitating the group’s tour performance to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in the United States. Theatre Wallay’s next phase of the project included aligning design and technology into their performances, bringing their American experiences back to Pakistan and rewriting the content to reflect a more poignant theme for Pakistan, suitable for touring to schools as well as venues in Lahore and Karachi. I knew David Studewell from our work at PCPA Theaterfest in California, and I knew about the work of Linda Alper and Kathleen Mulligan. I became a Fulbright Specialist Candidate shortly after my Fulbright Scholar Award for work in South Africa. It seemed like the perfect fit.
What does your work consist of there?
My U.S. Fulbright Specialist Award was focused on bringing the technology to the Theatre Wallay theatre company in the form of design expertise and a lighting system. I provided an introduction to theatre design lecture, American musical theatre lecture, lighting design workshops, scene design workshops, theatrical scene painting and foam carving workshops and so on. My goal was to support the advances in theatre design and technology the group wished to include in their performances. Their new lighting equipment includes 6 ETC Colorsource PARs, cables, lenses and accessories. They run the system on a versatile program called Qlab 4 Professional, which also handles the sound and projections. It has been wonderful getting the lighting system up and running, and getting Theatre Wallay members trained in design theory and lighting technology.
I know you spoke of other events they put on, how does that impact the Islamabad community?
In the district where the Theatre Wallay is located, there is not much theatre available to the general public. In fact, Theatre Wallay is currently the only consistently operational theatre in Islamabad other than the big performing arts center with its road shows. The “farm” Theatre Wallay rents is located about 30 minutes outside of Islamabad, and the events are scheduled in the early evenings so that driving home late at night is not an issue. The farm is a renovated poultry farm, with a multi-purpose classroom space, two venues, (one outdoors, and one under a roofed shelter), office and a professional kitchen.
What collaboration exists between Oklahoma State and Theatre Wallay?
It was eye opening to skype with OSU Theatre Professor Lee Brasuell’s advanced stage technology class. His students were able to learn about the passion and events that drive Theatre Wallay, and the fact that Theatre Wallay strives to be all-inclusive in their work, often using four different languages in one event. They also learned that many of the Theatre Wallay members are teachers, and that this is all volunteer work for them. Theatre Wallay got to see a university proscenium theatre, its lights and construction spaces as Professor Brasuell took them on a virtual tour. Professor Brasuell’s students showed their beginning AutoCAD draftings of their automation project, and we talked about Theatre Wallay’s recent performances in Oregon. It was a useful experience in terms of making the world of theatre seem friendly and smaller than it was before.
We also skyped with Professor Dave Nofsinger’s portfolio preparation class at Western Michigan University’s Department of Theatre, with similar results. Both American schools learned that the study of theatre design and technology is a nascent or completely missing field in Pakistani universities. They also learned that learning a second language, any language, will help in making their theatre goals more global and powerful. Theatre Wallay feels strongly about the role of communication in their theatre artistry.
How has your experience been with this group?
Theatre Wallay is an energetic group of passionate theatre practitioners. Their artistic director, Fizza Hasan, rarely lets a day go by without the company working on writing a new script or exploring better media marketing. Hasan has imparted a global vision to the company, and my experience with them has been appreciative and exciting. As I present workshops from a distinctly American point of view, I am always aware of terms and policies that will just not work in Pakistan, and actively work to adapt and tailor presentations to the company’s culture, immediate and future needs. For example, in the American musical theatre lecture, I stopped the lecture for the brief prayer time in the evening. A few minutes later, I got a signal to continue, and the rest of the lecture proceeded as planned.
Other examples include the processes learned in the scene painting and foam carving workshops, where the skills of the participants ranged from someone already an architect to a young person creating costumes and accessories for cos-play. Everyone understood the necessity to slow down and take the new methods step by step, even though most people already knew how to wash a paintbrush! In most cases, I provided two sets of art materials for each person, so that a desire to begin anew was not thwarted. We celebrated everyone’s accomplishments and ended with a congenial cup of Pakistani tea. My goal is to facilitate these new methods, and encourage trial and error for the sake of learning. These workshops are meant to provide a sample of alternative and new methods for creating theatre design and applying theatre technology.