‘I believe that in a great city, or even in a small city or a village, a great theatre is the outward and visible sign of an inward and probable culture.”
—Laurence Olivier (English actor, producer and director, 1907-1989)
The objective behind organising the Kathmandu International Theatre Festival is very close to what Olivier said about theatre a long time ago. Art and culture has always been an insignia of a land. It not only speaks about the history of a place but also indicates its future.
The third edition of the festival, which started on Wednesday, is organised by the theatre school Aarohan Gurukul with a noble motive of promoting Kathmandu and its rich cultural heritage. The festival was inaugurated by staging the play Agniko Katha, a play reflecting Nepal’s rich Buddhist tradition by setting the story in a monastery at the foot of Mt. Everest. “We chose Agniko Katha by Abhi Subedi because it is more Nepali in its content and presentation than other Nepali plays,” says Sunil Pokharel, director of the play and also the head of Gurukul. More than 180 people from 16 different countries will attend and participate in the festival. They will not only understand the current state of Nepali theatre but also get a wider understanding of Nepali culture, language and the current state of Nepal. “We have also planned a city tour for our foreign guests,” adds Pokharel. Nepal Tourism Board, warming up for the Visit Nepal Year 2011, will distribute material to foreign attendants which will inform them about the city and its culture.
There are many challenges to organizing this gala event in Nepal. As usual, the
biggest challenge is in gathering the funds. Gurukul has been financially supported by the Norwegian Embassy, which donated Rs. 2.8 million for the festival.
Apart from a few social organisations, the private sector has also shown willingness to invest in this festival, with a few banks offering financial support. “Though our estimated budget is Rs. 5 million, the expenditure will certainly cross the limit and Gurukul will have to bear it,” Pokharel says.
The organizers believe there is a lot the government can do to support this kind of an international festival; yet, it has done very little. Apart from the Nepal Academy’s donation, the government hasn’t shown any interest in organizing “even a dinner” for foreign delegates. “The greatest help from the government is that the time the President gave us to inaugurate the festival. But if the state had realized the importance of the event, it would have shown interest in helping us arrange for living facilities for the guests,” Pokharel says.
Despite these difficulties, the experience of successfully organizing two such festivals earlier has pepped the spirit of the entire team of Gurukul. This edition of the festival has been a beautiful conglomeration of different ideas, styles, issues, and culture coming from 16 different societies. Theatre actors and directors from abroad look excited to express themselves and also to learn about Nepal and Nepalis through theatrical performances. “We are very happy that Sunil invited us to his beautiful country. We will be presenting a new play which we have not performed in any other place,” says Adam Darius, director and performer from Finland. Darius, along with his partner Kazimir Kolesnik, are presenting the play Death of a Scarecrow based on the Japanese poet Basho, known as the creator of Japanese poetry form Haiku. The play is a collection of nine different items where the character Basho will recite his Haikus. Darius, the author of 22 plays and 15 books, says, “Gurukul has reached the Mt. Everest of theatre.”
Like Darius and Kolesnik, there are many directors and performers who have come either to express their feelings about the conflict or to highlight the essence of peace in the world. A group from the UK has arrived at the festival to commemorate acclaimed black singer
Nina Simone, revered by the black community for her contribution to the US Civil
Rights Movement. The play, titled Messenger: A Tribute to the Life and Spirit of Nina Simone,
is directed by Hazel Roy. The black singer Annette Reis Dunne, who is also the co-author of the play, will sing Simone’s songs in the play. “There was a lot of racial segregation during Simone’s time and she struggled hard to get recognized. We want to remember her and express our feelings regarding Simone to Nepali audiences,” says Dunne.
When asked about what they expect from Nepali audiences, Roy, who has been visiting Nepal since the theatre festival’s first edition in 2004, says, “Each year, we meet new people and get acquainted with a wonderful mixture of styles and ideas that really energize us.”
The festival, despite difficulties, has been well received by the audiences. A huge event, comprising 25 different performances—each followed by an interaction or a workshop—will have the required impact on Nepali theatre. Pertaining to the festival’s significance, senior cultural expert Satya Mohan Joshi’s words during his inaugural speech fit the bill: “The festival strengthens cultural ties among different cultures of Nepal and other countries.”
Tickets to the different plays are available at Gurukul theatre in Old Baneshwor. Ticket prices range from Rs. 40 to Rs. 100.
Posted on: 2010-11-20 07:53