With Ayesha Tariq serving as the Artistic Director of the group, The Platoon have performed a series of improvised acts at the MAD school, Karachi, such as ‘Reporting for Duty’ and the Halloween-themed performance of ‘A Murder of Dreams and Other Stories’. This past Sunday saw their first performance in collaboration with British improvisers, Jules Munns and Heather Urquhart. ‘Ten Thousand Million Love Stories’ is a series based on love and the effort it takes to keep the connection between two people alive. As part of this series, the two performers plan on singing and acting their way into people’s hearts by basing their acts on true stories from around the world, with Pakistan as their first stop.
As the audience began to file in on Sunday, the auditorium of the Pakistan American Cultural Centre (PACC) witnessed a mix of age groups assembling to witness the show. While some had come to enjoy the act with their friends, many were seen with their families. From the very start of the show, the audience was in for a little surprise in the form of an original song performed by Ali Hassan and Rachel Viccaji, the latter also being a member of The Platoon.
Jules and Heather were then welcomed on stage, and they explained the flow of the program. While the evening was to be divided into three categories, all situations were to be suggested solely by the spectators, and all acts to follow were completely spontaneous. An unorthodox ice-breaker was also initiated by the two performers: the viewers were asked to exchange names with strangers and then shout them out along with the phrase “I am so glad you’re here!” Jules and Heather seemed to be constantly amused by how much louder the Pakistani audience was as compared to the British.
The first act commenced with The Platoon acting out scenes based on words proposed by the audience, followed by Jules and Heather acting out real-life experiences of individuals in the crowd. Sohaib Ali Khan provided melodic piano music to suit every situation. Love stories of a couple who had met back in high school (and have now been happily married for 23 years), and a lady who confessed to have approached her crush in front of a group of people back in school – only to have him walk away – were beautifully acted out by the improvisers. Using different voice tones and postures to depict various characters, Jules and Heather played numerous roles spontaneously. The transition from one character to another and from one story to the next was so smooth that it almost looked rehearsed.
The third act was location-based, where The Platoon acted out everyday scenarios from Sunday Bazaar, as suggested by the audience, and in a showcase of spontaneity, went to the extent of momentarily adopting the role of insects! At the end of 90 minutes, the audience was in for another surprise performance in the form of an improvised song based on the word ‘freedom’.
Independent, innovative initiatives such as these provide hope that improvised theatre – and theatre in general – can thrive in Pakistan. Although a large part of the audience had never experienced live improvised theatre before, The Platoon and Ten Thousand Million Love Stories provided an excellent introduction to it and made sure no that individual left the auditorium feeling disengaged or uninterested, no matter what their age, gender, occupation, or level of interest in the performing arts.
All images have been provided by Ashhad Ali.
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