Festival & Street Theatre

A little documented and professionally researched and filmed area, festival and street theatre is a very important part of the performing arts heritage of Nepal. Nepali theatre uses folk traditions (for example rituals, oral tales, performance elements of local regional and national cultural festivals) and increasingly presents these in modern dramatic forms.

‘Festivals signify Nepali identity. Nepali festivals are a set of everything – rituals, culture, history, politics and even theater. Without a close understanding of Nepali festivals, the history of Nepali theater is incomplete. Rulers of Nepal have always been patrons of arts. They were not only spectators but also playwrights. Most of the dance-dramas performed during Nepali festivals were composed by the kings during different times in history. The roots of our performative culture lie in the folk tales, myths, legends and rituals …  Indra Jatra, Kartik Nach, Lakhe Nach and Gaijatra are some of the Nepali festivals which actually are theatrical performances. The jatras are not just festivals of a recreational and religious nature but are also the performative culture of Nepal. Theatre is deeply etched in Nepali culture. We cannot segregate our community life from theatre.’ Read More.

Source: gorkhapatraonline.com website

Excerpt from ‘Nepali Monitor‘ Interview with Sunil Pokharel:

‘How popular is street theatre in Nepal? What’s been its impact?
It’s popular in rural areas of the country. But it’s very difficult to evaluate the impact of street theatre, or of any other theatre. One needs to evaluate the change in peoples’ behavior to see the impact. And I think nobody has done any study on this. After the drama ends, people generally say (if asked): “Oh, the play was fantastic!” They can even recall all the messages of the drama. There are very few people in the country who don’t get the intended message. The problem is that they don’t bring changes in their behavior based on that message. And our concern is: To what extent we can change them?

It works well in some places where there is a good follow-up. For example, a leprosy hospital in Lalgad in the Terai used to remain open only 2 days a week, I think. A few years ago, they started a massive awareness campaign by means of a street drama on leprosy. Residents in the region were told that leprosy was a curable disease and there was the hospital near them to heal them. People started coming to the hospital and now it opens seven days a week.

Talking about our students, they play different roles just as in every-day life. They have to act, deal with people and go to schools to play kachahari about domestic servants. We give many and different responsibilities to a student. It’s because we have seen that artists usually forget who they actually are, as human beings. They forget their roots. They become egoistic. They keep living in a separate world – an artistic world where they have no contact with people. And gradually their ego grows and grows. For example, some cinema artists always sound egoistic in their interviews. We don’t want our students to be like that. We are looking for a different kind of impact. Another is social impact. We work with our many partners.

Has the concept of street theatre come totally from outside?
Drama is a kind of form which is supported by the community. It was shown in the dabalis and in the open. And that was the ancient form. Different cultural groups speaking different languages have their own traditions. Many of these indigenous communities perform in the open. Later such performances took the form of street dramas. Street theatre was already born in India when we started it in Nepal in the early 1980s.There they called it “Nukkad Natak.” Nukkad means “a corner of the street” and “natak” means drama. Safdar Hashmi in India initiated the tradition of putting the audience in a circle. He was murdered in 1989 while he was performing in a street play.

Evidence suggests street dramas were performed in Nepal as early as 2036 BS. Such dramas, translated into Nepali from Hindi, were performed by visiting pravashi [expatriate] Nepalis from India. And it has been acknowledged that Sarbanaam performed the first original Nepali street theatre in 1983. Today, there are many groups outside Kathmandu Valley that perform street dramas. The concept is not our own, though we might have later developed original style.

Have you been influenced by Augusto Boal ‘s concept?
Boal has acknowledged in his later books that he began Kachahari or Forum (Theatre of the Oppressed) to teach the oppressed people– how they could make strategies to free themselves from oppressions. Later, we in Nepal also realized that Kachahari can be used in three ways. First, it is helpful to the oppressed to make strategies, to come out of the oppression. Second, Kachahari can, by promoting logic and understanding, help mediate two sides in a conflict. We have experimented this in some places. Third, we can use Kachahari sometimes for therapy. Boal’s book “Rainbow of Desire: The Boal Method of Theatre and Therapy” also relates to this concept.

We took this concept and technique but Kachahari theatre is more Nepali one.

How does street theatre in Nepal and in India or Europe differ?
It is not called ‘street theatre’ because it is shown in the streets. Here, the word ‘street’ does not mean a place. It actually means a kind of style. The main thing is, artists go to the people directly, to address some of the issues that matter to them. Audience do not come to watch the show, the show itself goes to the people. The intention is more people could watch it. The audience is placed in a circle. And gradually it became the style of street theatre. In western countries, they don’t have this kind of form. Here, in Nepal, street theatre is connected with some mission. For example, we don’t have street theatre for entertainment. Here, it goes with some issues – current issues or political issues.

In Africa, they have a lot of street theatres. They arrange tall wooden frames of beds together and make a stage-like structure on top of where they perform. Africa’s street theatre is concerned with awareness. In America, “performance artists” raise the issues of public concerns from time to time, and mostly personal concerns, through street theatre. But unlike in Asia or Africa, there is no issue-oriented street theatre in the West. We borrowed Kachahari from Latin America, particularly from Brazil. But we started without receiving any formal training on this. We made a lot of mistakes. Unknowingly, we mixed Augusto Boal’s two techniques— “simultaneous dramaturgy” and “forum.” In the first, drama is shown by going directly to a short scene of oppression. Then the audience gives suggestions to change the outcome. In “forum,” the protagonist oppresses someone. The play is repeated. The audience is then asked to act out a role to create a different ending.

We in Nepal mix up both: We stop the play in crisis and we first take suggestions from the audiences. Then we repeat the play.

Source: Nepalmonitor.com website

Other articles links:

Street Theatre Spreads HIV/AIDS Awareness article link