Tales of a Thespian

Your career evolved from actor to writer, from stage organizer to director. What are the things you hold on to throughout the change of paths? Do you have any regrets?
I would not call that a change; they are part of the same profession. Long before I joined Aranyak Nattyadal, I used to write. My affiliation with writing goes back to my school days. Drama is a combination of different segments that requires text, music, direction, and craftsmanship. Once you get involved with the platform (drama), you start learning each skill set. Our school taught us everything from writing scripts to the small but integral parts of the art. One by one, I began to master each role I was required to perform.

In theatre, each segment (acting, writing, directing) is interconnected and often treated as an aggregate skill, My orientation in this profession began with writing so, therefore, it is a segment I am most comfortable with. I have written numerous television dramas and serials, besides stage dramas. I even authored storybooks that are available in the market.
There are no regrets in general, any unfulfilled ambition is self-imposed. I don’t blame anyone for something I have failed to achieve, and I have no complaints against anyone. It’s more of a personal dilemma and has nothing to do with anyone.

Can theatre be a medium of resistance?
Theatre is something that interacts with a live audience, and it has always represented the contemporary struggles of society. The core values of theatre are deeply entwined with that. Theatre seldom goes beyond the temporary socio-economic events. In Bangladesh, the theatre started on the backdrop of our independence; it is a significant symbol of an independent Bangladesh.

What is the significance behind the name “Prachyanat”?
We are of oriental origin; the idea of preserving the culture and essence is reflected in the name.

Is there a shadow of British rule in our theatre culture?
Theatre is a very vibrant place; it is a platform that can adhere to multiple ideologies. It includes western and other influences. Bangladeshi theatre has adopted positive doctrines from everywhere besides fostering our local folk culture. Just like local culture, we have taken positive ethos from around the world for the betterment of theatre.

How is “Prachyanat” contributing to our society?
The impacts of theatre are widespread. It is like planting a seed, we cannot expect to see its fruits in the morning. Theatre can have a wide-ranging impact because it requires a multi-dimensional skill set. Its result is reflected in multiple segments of the society including inducing a positive thought process and creating order in the community as well as provoking better taste among the general population. But it doesn’t happen overnight, these changes take shape over time.

How is the rise of social media impacting theatre?
It is a double-edged sword; its impact can be ambiguous. In the case of information technology, enormous opportunities are being created. We can either exploit these chances or be exploited. There is no collision between theatre and social media; each of them belongs in a separate dimension. Theatre is something fundamental, and it will be like that while virtual reality will evolve and get more complicated.

Does epic theatre movement influence you?
I am not influenced by any specific movement. My theatre decides the content and forms for me. I don’t spend any time contemplating on the form.

Many senior theatre artists are now facing severe financial crises. Is there any organization/union of theatre professionals that might come forward and help? Does the lack of financial prospects deter the youth from theatre?
Every profession has its advantages and quirks. The struggles of an aspiring actor are different from an engineer. An acting career has a longer lifespan compared to others. An actor can continue working beyond the average retirement age. Every actor needs to realize that and expand their career as long as they are physically capable and be aware of their financial state and prospects.

Besides, the government can play a vital role as a stakeholder. Accountability of government arises because artists serve society throughout their lives. They are providing a service to their country. If an artist cannot afford treatment, the pain has to be shared by the government for their inability to provide support to a servant of the nation. They must have a plan to help theatre artists.

I have been working in theatre for more than three decades. From my experience, I have seen that the average earning of a regular actor in Bangladesh per day is probably around 100 taka. As a co-founder and theatre activist, during this time, I had to invest time, energy, and money from my pocket. Therefore, the nation has a responsibility to look after artists working in certain segments of our culture.

New artists should be aware of the financial insecurity in the profession and try to convince the government to provide support. There is also a matter of adaptability of lifestyle according to your income. I have seen a lot of theatre artists who live like film stars, it is just not sustainable considering their field of work. They will go broke as soon as there is a shortage of work in the market which happens frequently. So, there needs to be long term planning to ensure a stable future. For those who are insecure about their future in theatre, have something alternative to fall back to as long as the nation doesn’t take our responsibility.

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Asif Tarafdar

Asif Siddique Tarafdar is the Staff Writer of Ice Today& Ice Business Times. He has completed BSS in Economics from BRAC University and vocal about disability rights and inclusion. Currently, studying MDS at Jahangirnagar University he is also a former Flight Cadet of the Bangladesh Air Force.