(Originally published in Blue Pages, the journal of The Society of British Theatre Designers)
Three years ago I had arrived in blazing sunshine to find a fledgling university department, just one year old, stretching its wings. It felt like an exciting time. My visit, backed by the Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD), was part of a programme of events run by the Department of Theatre of The National College of Arts, Pakistan’s much respected arts university. I had been invited by Claire Pamment, a theatre director and dramaturg I’d worked with in UK, who was now resident in Pakistan and leading the effort to establish the department. My specific remit was to head a week-long seminar leading to a showcase of visual theatre. Entitled Rang, an Urdu word meaning roughly ‘colour’, this ‘performance without actors’, ranged from a tiny puppet holding the attention of the audience to a massive projection of fire filmed live on stage. The seminar, on the other hand, focused on comparing approaches, looking at the boundaries of scenography and investigating what the purely visual can ‘say’ in its own right. Another more general aim of my visit was to raise the department’s profile, engage students in a range of projects and, crucially, to bring together a group of professional artists and designers to discuss how to establish and run what would be the first public funded BA theatre degree in the country.