LAHORE: Azad Theatre, a parallel theatre group from Lahore, will stage a play on Bali Jatti, a noted folk singer of her times, while it is also producing a street play to create awareness about the importance of vote casting in view of the upcoming local polls, to be performed all over Punjab.

Azad Theatre Executive Director Malik Aslam told Dawn that Bali Jatti had been a popular name in Punjab’s folk singing from the 50s to early 70s, pairing with renowned folk singer Alam Lohar. The play is aimed to highlight her achievements as a folk singer, he says.

“Based on the research conducted by Dr Fuazia Saeed, we are producing the stage play on the life and works of that great figure from the history of folk music,” he says.

Mr Aslam says it will be a single-act play of around two-hour duration, for which rehearsals are under way, adding that the dates of performances will soon bee announced. The premier of the play will be held in Lahore and later it will also be staged in other cities, he adds.

Mr Aslam says the group is also working on another play -- Borderline -- on the theme of the Partition of Indian sub-continent, to be staged in August this year as a part of Pakistan’s 75th Independence Day celebrations.

To a question about the group’s street theatre performances, Mr Aslam says the genre used to be relatively popular in early 90s, however, he says Azad Theatre is still keeping this form alive.

“Our group is the only one staging street theatre for the last one decade and in these ten years we performed over 2,000 such plays all over Punjab and also in Balochistan,” Mr Aslam claims.

“We are working on such a play to create awareness on vote casting in view of upcoming local government elections, and will stage it all over Punjab,” he says.

About selecting actors for the group’s performances, Mr Aslam says Azad Theatre holds theatrical workshops every year in June-July and during the last 11 years discovered many new performers through these annual workshops.

About the decline in storytelling events or theatrical storytelling, Aslam says it was an age-old tradition of Punjab, especially in its rural areas, where in moonlit nights storytellers used to narrate folk tales woven into the rich tradition of Punjab’s landscape. People still sit together when light goes out because of power loadshedding in small towns and villages, but they just gossip, he regrets. Azad Theatre wants to revive the tradition and is working on storytelling projects, he adds.

Though established as an organisation in 2011, he says Azad Theatre consists of a dynamic team having over 22 years of experience. He says the group’s main objective is to create innovative theatre, using folk and modern techniques of stagecraft, to help change the prevalent attitudes, and strive for a society free of prejudices and discrimination.

“We try to highlight social ills, by combining folk and modern theatre techniques to create a more relevant, more accessible contemporary theatre,” the director says.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2022

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