Nepali Theatre in 2019

From MeToo allegations to growing theatre spaces, the year in the theatre was equal parts divisive and collaborative. Collaborative efforts amongst several theatre troupes and #MeToo allegations took centre stage in 2019 for Nepali theatre scene. With multiple women coming out to allege three theatre veterans and the first edition of Nepal International Theatre Festival taking place, the year opened up to new avenues.  

Besides, a new proscenium came into operation, a number of workshops were conducted to enhance the skills in various aspects of theatre, and a number of innovative plays—both from amateurs and professionals—were produced and performed. Here are some of the events that defined Kathmandu’s theatre scene in 2019.

#MeToo

In April, the theatre scene was thrown into the spotlight as the part of global #MeToo movement, many women accused three theatre veterans—Sunil Pokharel, Rajan Khatiwada and Rajkumar Pudasaini—for sexually harassing their female colleagues.

“It initiated a debate encouraging several female actors to speak up, but the movement failed to gain the solidarity of theatre fraternity,” says Akanchha Karki, founder-director of Katha Ghera. Pudasaini of One World Theatre and Khatiwada of Mandala—apologised and released remorseful statements.

But Pokharel, the venerable founder of the now-defunct Gurukul Theatre, remained silent, despite also being accused of impropriety. Mandala and One World Theatre went a step ahead and suspended Pudasaini and Khatiwada from several of its projects for a year.

Despite backlash and being publicly held accountable by their own institutions, all three of the accused have already found space and stage. Both Pudaisaini and Pokharel were seen in Mimamsha just a few months after the allegations. Pokharel again played the lead and even co-directed Marx Pharke. Khatiwada was also seen on stage for Anup Baral directorial Mahabhoj.

Nepal International Theatre Festival

Seven independent theatre groups—Katha Ghera, Actors’ Studio, Theatre Village, Shilpee Theatre, Theatre Mall, One World Theatre and Mandala Theatre, as well as a number of freelance theatre artistes came together to organise Nepal International Theatre Festival (NITFest).

The eight-day long festival showcased 30 performances at six theatre halls in Kathmandu. Similarly, three other cities outside the Valley, Pokhara, Janakpur and Biratnagar, also hosted parallel theatre festivals, showcasing seminal performances from NITFest. “It served a diverse taste to Nepali theatre enthusiasts,” said Anup Baral, artistic director at Actor’s Studio and one of the mentors of NITFest. “It brought most of the active theatre groups and individuals together; mutually working for a common cause.”

Karki of Katha Ghera says that NITFest was one of the highlights for the Nepali theatre scene, and also exemplified the solidarity among diverse theatre groups in Kathmandu. But she also pointed out that it was sad the same unanimity was absent when MeToo allegations came a few months after the festival was successfully organised.

New proscenium in the town

In Kathmandu, the major theatre spaces are hosted by Mandala, Sarwanam, Shilpee, and Katha Ghera. Two new theatres have been added to this mix in 2019.

Theatre Mall, after almost two years since its closure in 2017, was revived this year. Previously located at Kathmandu Mall, the theatre has now relocated in Kirtipur. A new space in Ratopul has also been an addition to the growing theatre spaces in the Valley. Shailee Theatre’s proscenium was inaugurated on December 1 with the first performance of Bhusko Aago.

Representing Nepal abroad

In February 2019, two productions from Nepal—Actors’ Studio’s The Conference of the Birds and One World Theatre’s Three Sisters—participated in Bharat Rang Mahotsav, the largest theatre festival in Asia, organised by National School of Drama in New Delhi, India.

Similarly, Mandala’s Mahabhoj and Sushila Arts Academy’s Kumari and the Beast were selected for 21st Bharat Rang Mahotsav, scheduled to be held in February 2020.

By Jeebesh Rayamajhi

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