Live theatre is an excellent way to bring information to isolated areas of Afghanistan. Bond Street Theatre has been working with theatre companies throughout Afghanistan to promote theatre as a means to carry specific news about women's rights, civic issues, health and other issues to areas with high illiteracy (90% for women, 63% for men, UN Report). The company leaves this week to continue its mission to revitalize the theatrical arts and especially, to train more women to take the stage so they can reach all-female audiences.
On September 3, two Bond Street actor-educators begin working with the Kandahar Theatre in the fourth phase of its its Theatre for Social Development project. The two-year project, supported by the US Embassy in Afghanistan and the United States Institute for Peace, involves month-long training sessions with four select theatre groups in Herat, Kabul, Jalalabad and Kandahar in theatre methods and business skills. The goal is to build the capacity of local theatre organizations to provide ongoing educational services to their communities, with a special focus on women and youth.
The Kandahar group will be bringing female actors into their company for the first time. Due to security concerns, the actors and actresses will travel to Jalalabad to work with Bond Street artists.
Theatre in Afghanistan was all but decimated after decades of war and Taliban rule. The gap in access to information is particularly acute in poor and rural communities. Kandahar, on the border with Pakistan's tribal area, is rife with inter-ethnic and political violence. Most people are not familiar with theatre. But when a theatre group brings an entertaining performance with interesting new ideas, audiences are delighted. The process is both educational and healing.
BST Artistic Director Joanna Sherman says, "If you want to get information to areas of high illiteracy, you can't just hand out a flyer. We are bringing crucial information to life."
The Kandahar Theatre Company, like many companies in conservative areas, has no women in their group; rather, men dress up as women to play female parts. Bond Street Theatre will initiate an all-women's component to the theatre company, allowing the company to perform in locations only open to women, such as the women's prison, shelters, and women's shuras in the villages.
Similarly, the men's team will perform in locations where the presence of women on stage would be inappropriate, such as for the Afghan military police and other all-male audiences.
Women in many areas are unaware of the rights granted them by the Afghan Constitution and are subject to a range of harmful traditions that legitimize violence or marriage for girls far too young. Women have few outlets to engage with each other outside the home.
Bond Street Theatre will introduce new styles of theatre and methods of educational theatre for youth to the Kandahar company, and create original performances with an accent on viable solutions.
A girl volunteers to come on stage during a post-show session at a school in Kabul.
The two companies will work together in Jalalabad, a calm and relatively safe city in Nangarhar province, to create two topical performances - one just for women, one for men. The Kandahar actors will bring the shows back to their province to present for local police, legal aid centers, prisons, correctional centers for youth, shelters, schools, and other key locations. The performances are followed by an interactive session inviting the audience to engage with the characters and issues presented in the plays.
The Theatre for Social Development project also creates partnerships between theatre groups and aid organizations in need of their services to ensure sustainability. To date, Bond Street Theatre has conducted this model project with White Star Company in Kabul, Simorgh Theatre in Herat, and Nangarhar Provincial Theatre in Jalalabad.
Integral to the project, Bond Street Theatre is creating a Training Manual that will give artists and aid organizations a wide range of theatre-based methods applicable to development programs.
The program is funded by the US Embassy in Afghanistan and the United States Institute for Peace. Active in Afghanistan since 2003, Bond Street Theatre stands out as committed cultural ambassadors.
Following September 11th, Bond Street Theatre headed to the Afghan refugee areas in Pakistan to work with children affected by the conflicts. There, they met Exile Theatre and began an 8-year relationship that led to their acclaimed production, Beyond the Mirror, depicting Afghan life in wartime as told through first-hand stories. The performance toured in Japan, Afghanistan and the USA (2005 and 2009).