Raising the Curtain on Theatre in Pakistan

Linda Alper is an actress, playwright, director, and all around theatre veteran from Portland, Oregon, who loves sharing her stagecraft with people outside the U.S.

Last October, Alper traveled to Pakistan as a Fulbright Specialist to work with a non-professional theatre group. She directed and taught writing and acting workshops in Islamabad and Lahore on a 20-day program that she says was just as enriching for her as it was for her students.

“Theatre is an ideal medium for cultural exchange,” observes Alper.

Alper was invited by Theatre Wallay, an 11-year old, non-professional theatre group based in Islamabad that produces work for the stage and strives to appeal to audiences across social, ethnic, and religious divides, and provides entertainment and growth opportunities to children and young people.

It was Alper’s second Fulbright award to teach drama overseas. In 2011–2012 she was a Fulbright Scholar to Taiwan, where she taught Shakespeare to English majors at Soochow University. Her students, many of whom had no prior acting experience, performed “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” creating the production from the ground up under her guidance.

Reflecting on her more recent Fulbright experience in Pakistan, Alper says, “It was a privilege to do this work in a Muslim country.” As a writer, she says “working with people who come from a different literary tradition is very stimulating.”

Her workshop participants varied in age and background. And although none of them were theatre professionals, Alper says she found them “generous with their stories and natural writers.”

Alper enjoyed an illustrious 23-year career as an actress with the renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a not-for-profit professional theatre founded in 1935 located in Ashland, Oregon, about 15 miles north of the California border.

At the end of November, she returned to Pakistan on a grant from the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to collaborate with fellow Fulbright Specialists David Studwell and Kathleen Mulligan, two theatre professionals with whom she worked at Theatre Wallay last year.

This time around, the three Americans and the Islamabad-based theatre company will bring to stage an original theatre piece called On Common Ground, a celebration and reclamation of public spaces — schools, squares, mosques and parks — as places for learning, leisure, and worship that have been targets of terror attacks.

“Artists aren’t supported here,” says Alper, explaining the importance of their work. “It’s not part of the culture. So there aren’t a lot of role models.”

The three Americans will work with eight Theatre Wallay actors and writers, two Pakistani musicians, a dancer and a stage manager to develop the performance. On Common Ground is scheduled to travel to the U.S. during the summer of 2017, where it will be performed the last week of June in Portland, Oregon at the Artists Repertory Theatre, where Alper is a resident artist, and the first week of July at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Reflecting on her Fulbright experience, the American actress says, “It taught me what the world looks like from another point of view. There are a lot of different ways that people live that are good.”

Alper adds, “I wish everyone could do this.”

The Fulbright Specialist Program was established in 2001 by the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to enable U.S. professionals and scholars to work on short-term projects overseas in conjunction with local host institutions.

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