Giving us a taste of their lives through theatre
We spoke to Saleh Sepas, founder of Parastoo Theatre Team on how his journey with the group started and their upcoming performance at Borak Arts Series 2017.
1) Please tell us more about yourself, and how did you start Parastoo Theatre Team?
I am actually a professional writer. I graduated from Kabul University in 2015 after studying theatre. I’ve written scripts for theatre, radio and television and even directed my own programmes.
One of the more prominent projects I’ve done is writing and directing a radio drama called “New Home of New Life” which aired for 25 years and was broadcasted to millions of listeners via BBC Radio. It has received countless international awards and has been recognized as an achievement in promoting freedom of expression, human rights, democracy and the importance of better education and economics.
I left my country for security reasons and settled in Malaysia. It has not been an easy journey and I’m still going through some challenges but I’ve decided to channel my energy into something more positive in arts, culture and society, which is how I came about forming Parastoo Theatre Team. Immigrants, like every other person, need some form of outlet to reflect their thoughts as well as entertainment. That’s what I’m trying to do with theatre, to minimize the frustration and depression in our lives, especially as immigrants.
2) How did you get the name Parastoo Theatre Group?
I decided to name the group Parastoo, which is a Persian word for the Swallow, because it is a beautiful bird that is always moving and doesn’t have a home, rather nomad-like. I feel that it is relatable and rather symbolic to us.
3) How did you choose the members of Parastoo Theatre Team?
When I decided to start Parastoo Theatre Team, 25 people came to audition, and I choose 6 of them. Everyone in the team has not had any training or experience in theatre, but I chose them based on their interest, creativity, ability to act and teamwork. For now, all members of Parastoo Theatre are Afghan immigrants but in the near future we will be welcoming members from other countries as well.
4) For this upcoming Borak Arts Series, your group will be performing a piece called “The Bitter Taste of History”. Can you share with us how you formed the story/script?
We brainstormed about our issues, problems and challenges. We chose “victims of war” since it was a mutual theme and got each team member to share memories of their past, that’s how we formed the play. We used the Augusto Boal methodology for all stages of the process and obtained good results.
“The Bitter Taste of History” was performed on 11th August 2017 at the Refugee Festival and was well received by the audience. This play is a narrative of the lives of victims of war in Afghanistan. The number of victims of war in Afghanistan is close to one million, most of them are deprived of education, basic facilities and government support.
5) What were the challenges that you and your team faced while rehearsing/creating the play?
It was difficult for us at the beginning since the actors had never worked on stage at all, but I guided them with methods to help boost their confidence and taught them some principles of theatre. It really wasn’t easy rehearsing as they would occasionally worry about their own life problems, which is understandable since the topic is quite triggering. On top of that, we still face the usual challenges of finding rehearsal venues and of course funding for the play.
6) Borak Arts Series audience consists of Festival Directors and Venue Programmers from different countries who are on the look out for new works with potential for performances to tour. Do you intend to bring Parastoo Theatre Team to perform outside of Malaysia?
To me art has no borders. When we performed in Dari language, even if the audience did not understand the words, we tried to convey the emotions and experience of the victims of war in Afghanistan. If the audience is affected by the feeling, to me, that is one step closer to spreading the awareness on war-torn situations in Afghanistan.
If I get the opportunity, I would be happy to bring Parastoo Theatre to other countries and share our stories with different audiences. I would even like to explore working with new teams which can hopefully form good cultural-artistic interaction and exchange in experiences.
8) What’s the next plan for Parastoo Theatre Team? Will there be future performances after Borak Arts Series 2017?
Our next play that we are working on is most probably a one-hour piece on an ugly social issue which has become a phenomenon in Afghanistan where under-aged girls are being sold for many different reasons. This play would be a shocking and sad story which narrates the lives of two young girls, and how one of them gets sold by her father to a middle-aged man who already has two other women. I hope to stage this play in December but I would need to fundraise for this piece as I need more actors and costumes.
9) What is the message that you want to send to your audiences?
I’d like to share with people that immigrants are a vulnerable people who are tired of war, displacement and poverty, but they are capable as any normal person, like you and me. Culture and arts could pave the way for them to lead better lives as art can be a tool for expression and act as a connecting bridge between communities. Leaving our own countries to survive, we need all the support we can get and are really thankful for opportunities that come our way.
10) How do people keep up with Parastoo Theatre Team?
I am working on creating a website for Parastoo Theatre Team but for now, anyone who is willing to collaborate, fund, volunteer or seeking any information may contact us via my email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Parastoo Theatre Team will be performing at Black Box, Publika as part of Borak Arts Series 2017. Get your tickets from borakarts.com.