“Wait, when I asked you for emails, why didn’t you tell me the actors are some decades by juniors?”
“I mean I tried!” she told me, and I was mildly amused. But still, I couldn’t wait to see the kids put on a display for a daunting topic such as environmental conservatism– and their performances on stage. We waited to be seated, and found the ambience to be extremely comfortable– a projector depicted the title of the play, “Mission Hope” and music that perfectly fit into the ambience in a way that the 15 minutes we sat, legs folded beneath us on the floor that gave us the perfect home-like environment and looked at the lights fade, turn, bright and neon, it felt as if we were transported into the future, looking into a time that was eons ahead. Plus, the musical track was incredibly immersive and had an almost lucid quality. I chatted with the other visitors, mostly parents, and older siblings, hoping to see their loved ones put on the performance of their lives. It was soon after that the play began, with a voice telling us to stay seated and put our phones on silent as the play was about to commence. I was very excited to see the fruit of Olomopolo’s endeavors at educating children and creating an environment where they could at ease, express themselves.
We are shown the human world in the year 2173, grappling with the effects of deforestation that have forced a team of young children to leave Earth on a spaceship named Starship Hope to an alternate earth and plan to extract NovaChi, a seed that they hope and believe will bring back Earth to its initial state, rather than the ruins the adults have left it in because of their own greed.
If I am to review the play, I would have to delve into the dialogues, the music, and the choice of topic– how such a hard-hitting topic was handled in a manner that allowed for it to be taken seriously by the adults involved, in an immersive experience, rather than reducing it to a futile attempt at addressing serious concerns in the current sociopolitical climate. We are shown the human world in the year 2173, grappling with the effects of deforestation that have forced a team of young children to leave Earth on a spaceship named Starship Hope to an alternate earth and plan to extract NovaChi, a seed that they hope and believe will bring back Earth to its initial state, rather than the ruins the adults have left it in because of their own greed.
What I really appreciated about the play was the story writing— I think what most plays lack is the ability to translate words in a setting where they seem natural in conversation. This seemed natural, and I really was in awe of how the author, Farjad Nabi, managed to convey the narrative in the words of the children, and how children would speak. And still, you’re getting a storyline that discusses serious subjects such as the human affinity towards violence, how we have our capitalist economies inherently dependent on travelling to far-off places and seizing their resources (colonialism, neocolonialism and neoliberalism), the idea of children being held responsible for the decades of damage adults have inflicted on the world.
None of the dialogues were wordy— brevity is the soul of the wit, per se. But the play, being short itself, captured the essence and the characters very well! I liked the pacing. How the characters weren’t caricatures, they are children, yes, but children are individuals who will grow into adults and in this age, they begin to show their own quirks and personalities, which was captured wonderfully. I enjoyed the humor a lot. I really loved how it wasn’t juvenile, but tongue-in-cheek and witty and captured the essence of kids being super truthful to the extent that it stings. The expectations placed upon the youth come from the ignorance of viewing them not as their own individual people, but as fixers of society.
Despite these children bearing the brunt of fixing a collapsing society, and being supposed advocates of nature, they are quintessentially the same as their forefathers, they retain the same qualities. The cycle of exploitation doesn't end once the decision to make right or wrong comes into play; it addresses the pervasive quality of generational upbringing and how cruelty and destruction cannot be eradicated through a naïve outlook. The kids at one point shout in glee at the idea of bombing alternate earth and its inhabitants; while hilarious in retrospect, it also makes one wonder about the legacy we are leaving behind for our younger generation– the dissonance between their words and their actions amplify the gravity of what is being conveyed to the audience.
When it comes to direction, I really enjoyed the juxtaposition of otherworldly lighting, that creates an ambience away from the bounds of the current era– bright neon, flashing blues, warm pinks; you feel as if you are suspended in time. The switching between scenes is natural; not at all a task that feels jarring. Add to that an immersive sequence where a set of robots played by the actors trotted on screen and asked the audience questions about the environment– it was heartwarming and immersive, with everyone raising their hands to declare their answers. The allegories to serious social issues are further enunciated through the use of music and spoken lyrics– most of the interns and all of the cast came on stage to sing a beautiful song at the start and at the end of the play, so wonderfully penned and composed that everyone in the audience found themselves clapping along to it. It focuses on the earth and its inherent beauty, and how we for our personal gain, have ruined it.
The employment of subtle dark humour, futuristic music, and lighting that encapsulates the viewer, all come together to emphasize– to celebrate union and coexistence and the primary emphasis on education rather than awareness.
I had the opportunity to talk to Vicky and Kanwal after the show. I wanted to know them as people, their aspirations, and how these metamorphosized into what is currently Olomopolo media. Vicky started off, by telling me that she would introduce herself as a “multidisciplinary storyteller.” At the same time, Kanwal aptly put herself as not only a very sensitive artist that selfishly wanted to defy the odds and represent what she wants to but also an entrepreneur. Vicky and Kanwal talked about their journey with Olomopolo media– they sat one day, brainstorming about a play and reached the conclusion that they would love to go on an artistic venture that included the most vulnerable and oft-ignored members of our society–children.
Kanwal went on to add that she always wants the subject of the play to be “politically relevant and socially relevant,” rather than regurgitating the same old classics you see in traditional theatre environments.
Vicky mentioned, almost nostalgically, how she kept in mind the experiences she had at Sunday school – a plethora of arts and craft activities, and singing. At the beginning of their venture, Sania Saeed was included in the project as well, and was often involved in telling children stories in a cosy environment– as they sat huddled around her, awed by the magic of storytelling. Vicky went on to say: “And then within that… in January of 2014 we thought let's do something in the summers. How about we do a multidisciplinary summer camp? We did that for the first time within five weeks and we decided that we wanted to do a play at the end of it.” From then onwards, the play became a yearly tradition.
Kanwal went on to add that she always wants the subject of the play to be “politically relevant and socially relevant,” rather than regurgitating the same old classics you see in traditional theatre environments. I was, however, curious about the challenges they had faced along the way on this venture that was a step above many other educational ventures for children, stepping out of the cookie-cutter mold. “What challenges have you experienced that you might, you know, want to share with anybody who hopes to go on the same journey?” I asked, and it made them both ponder for a moment before Kanwal responded. “I would term it as a learning experience, rather than a challenge, but there have been many along this journey.” She told me about her experience putting up a Punjabi production at the end of a summer camp and how the responses from the guardians of the children ranged from surprise to mild distaste – “we look at our own language in this manner,” she went on to explain.
However, these amusing observations lead to the culmination of their hard work. Once they presented the play, everyone was absolutely enamored and many wanted them to try doing a Punjabi play the next year as well. She also talked about the monetary and economic aspects of things. “I guess the other thing is, which is let's say quite understandable by all is that we like to, you know, charge not an exorbitant amount for our summer camp.” They try to give discounts as often as possible, and attempt their best to make it an affordable experience for all. However, they also promise a production for which all the equipment and the vendors as well as the costumes and the sets have to be taken out from that fee.
The directors also explained how they aim their efforts at nurturing creativity and diverse skill sets in a cohesive manner– one that commits to diversity and inclusivity, and showcases opportunities for different children, from different age ranges and backgrounds.
This often disadvantages the production, and poses challenges such as not being able to put on a display in professional places such as Alhamra, “We thought that you know, standing on an elevated stage has to be the culmination of a theatre production,” Kanwal explained. However, they did not let this fact undermine their efforts at creating an immersive story-telling experience – they tried stories which could be done in a smaller space like their studio and accomplished that excellently. They hire the best of artists and trainers they can to provide the ultimate learning experience, such as providing a three-day diction course for Punjabi despite the financial management becoming a concern. “We try not to compromise on the eventual outcome and especially the experience of summer camp for any of the kids who enroll.”
The directors also explained how they aim their efforts at nurturing creativity and diverse skill sets in a cohesive manner– one that commits to diversity and inclusivity, and showcases opportunities for different children, from different age ranges and backgrounds. The act of performing a play is much more than presenting a story– for Kanwal, it includes the process of how to break down a story into various characters, their body language, the intentions and then manifesting it in front of the audience.
The technical aspects such as lights and sounds are something the adults and mentors handle, but apart from that, children are equally involved in all endeavors. Kanwal told me about the event when they directed a play based on the story of Umro Ayyar, but instead of playing by the rules, made it relevant to the current age. “So we made sure that, you know, it would be the Shahzada who would get kidnapped. And it could be a girl who could go on to save him. If you also recall many of the fables and many of the classical tales are written in a fashion where getting married is mostly the reward for the protagonists. You know, those are the incentives with which the children do not relate.”
Kanwal went on to explain that they would do stories which would be devised with the current sociopolitical era in mind, so that the participants can relate to them and it pertains to their lives. Also, the goal is to make children from all age groups mingle with each other rather than enforcing the rigid grade system places in schools– all children, from age 6 to 14 collaborate and experience socialization outside of those prevalent structures which are exercised in educational institutes. No matter how young and old, children get an equal chance at exercising their skills– “You would not think that 6-year-old children would be taught filmmaking, but we even tried that too.”
I asked them about a message they would give to potential writers, playwrights and entrepreneurs. She firstly thanked Farjad; “He writes so frequently, and he writes really well also, so we only thank him for coming on board every year. And he also enjoys you know, working with children and writing for children. So yeah, for playwrights, do become one.” Writing for children, she commented was an acquired skill and very technical, but one that should be honed. As for entrepreneurship, she commented that while it is a financially viable decision, it is one that enriches you as a person and giving back to society as a creative entrepreneur is an aspiration one should hope to achieve, no matter what industry they are in. “Giving back to society is the most rewarding of the transactions,” Vicky and Kanwal concluded.
For me, it was inspiring to see an environment where everyone was on an equal footing in the attempt to educate and enrich the lived experiences of young children, holistically approaching the idea of educating them. It is an absolute necessity to invest in and support future initiatives that nurture young talent and help them hone their skill sets, fostering creativity in a manner that benefits the art community and society as a whole.