The sun had set while I went looking for the majestic building of NAPA. When I finally reached the place, I saw the little lawn in front of the auditorium milling with people.
Students from three schools in Karachi underwent seven-day training and presented the adaptation of British poet laureate Ted Hughes’ novel The Iron Man. While the original story is based in London, they adapted it to Karachi and used famous places like Khaadi to infuse local flavor. And using Nayyara Noor’s ghazal Ae Jazba-e-Dil in the end increased the emotional quotient of the play.
The event was organized by the joint efforts of Graeae, British Council, and NAPA. Graeae provided their expertise and trained students. British Council collaborated with schools – Ida Rieu School & College for the Deaf and Blind, JS Academy for the Deaf, and Deaf Reach School – and handed students that were interested in performing arts to director Graeae Daryl Beeton , designer Sofie Layton, and Judy. NAPA provided the infrastructure and made sure the auditorium was made accessible for disabled people.
Graeae is a disabled-led theatre company in the UK with a strong track record of working with deaf and disabled children, and young people.
Daryl Beeton who directed the play and hoped that this would be start of something new in Pakistan. He said,
“We’ve been here for eight days and it was amazing working with these young artists; an absolute pleasure to work with them. I really hope this is the start of something. We at Graeae try to support from a distance.”
The event was special because the actors and the crew behind the project had different disabilities, but that didn’t stop them from giving their best on stage. Their energy was infectious, but the truly heartwarming moment was when, at the end of the play, audience mid-way through the applause, raised their hands and started waving. At first I was confused, and then I saw our disabled artists answering with similar gesture. This was their way of clapping.
After the play, there was a little session where Training and Learning Coordinator Jodi-Alissa Bickerton from Graeae, Director Arts British Council Sumbul, and Artistic Director of NAPA Zain Ahmed explained what this effort was all about and also answered a few questions. Sumbul moderated the talk.
Bickerton and her team from Graeae came here last year to do reccee and they noticed that before training children, they need to first train artists (teachers) and share their tools with them. She said,
“It was a bit difficult to first translate English into Urdu and then Pakistani sign language, but we managed to find a way. We used sign language, audio descriptions to devise a way so that we were all on the same page.”
Graeae, Bickerton revealed, plans to launch a program (six-month training) where they can train the teachers who can then further train their students. Bickerton said,
“If this is what these kids can pull off after a seven-day training, you can imagine what they’ll do after a six-month one.”
She further added,
“The Paralympics held in London in 2012 we saw the government supporting us, making the city accessible for disabled people because suddenly there were so many disabled artists on the move. The promised funds and infrastructure, but once Paralympics was over, the funds underwent a cut and the movement came to standstill.”
Bickerton also requested one of the schools to take care of their Iron Man because much effort and creativity had gone into making it.
NAPA’s representative Zain Ahmed, promised that they would make NAPA more accessible, “We are in talks with an architect, and we have made a temporary ramp but more solid changes will happen soon.”
He also highlighted what other jobs disabled artists can take up apart from acting. “They say actors have difficult lives, so if you want a more stable occupation then you can opt to become a set designer, technician and a gazillion other jobs that are being done backstage.”
They spoke of ‘inclusiveness’ with great enthusiasm. Inclusiveness isn’t just a term; it’s a thought process, a way of living which they want the world to adopt.
These institutes (especially Graeae and British council) want disabled people to be included in the performing arts and in other fields. British Council promises to help and guide schools that wish to adapt inclusiveness in their structure and they were not only referring to special schools; they also called out to mainstream schools.
The floor was then opened for questions.
One gentleman, who had cerebral palsy, questioned if performing arts was restricted to the hearing impaired or those who didn’t have the power of speech. What about those suffering from physical disability like cerebral palsy?
To this Bickerton replied, “As it happens, we’ve just launched an ensemble program where we have around six to eight artists and each person in that group has different disability. So, no performing arts isn’t restricted to certain disabled artists.”
Even in the adaptation we saw, the iron man was being handled by an artist on a wheel chair and the music and singing was done by visually impaired artists.
British council has introduced a project called Artabled to promote inclusiveness in the arts and develop opportunities and professional training for Deaf and disabled people, artists and educators.