Their world's a stage. Nepal's first theatre school has started teaching students acting, directing, writing, improvising and creating on stage. They are taught that life is theatre and to act is not to play a part but to live.
Sunil Pokharel got a few enthusiasts together in 1982 and started out at the Alliance Francaise teaching young Nepalis drama. But the group soon expanded and in 2002 set up Gurukul, a residential drama centre.
In the three years Gurukul has produced brilliant actors and technicians, and its productions are already recognised as the best in Nepali theatre. "It is intense. We learn the basics, techniques and things we never knew," says student Ghanashyam Mishra of Janakpur. The course goes beyond just drama, students learn yoga, martial arts, dance, painting and personal growth skills. Plans to affiliate with Kathmandu University for an academic degree in the next two years is underway.
Experimenting new techniques and adapting plays for the Nepali audience is a Gurukul specialty. Putali Ko Ghar, the Nepali adapted version of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House was a hit even in Norway's Ibsen Festival last year. "The number of people that turned up was amazing," recalls Pokharel of the Norway tour. "Even here, high school students came in droves because it was in their course of study."
Because it relies mostly on word-of-mouth, Gurukul is leading a hand-to-mouth existence. There are plays where hardly anyone turns up, even though that is becoming rarer these days as word of the quality of its productions spreads. "We'll perform even if only two people show up," says Pokharel. Gurukul members seem too busy trying to stage the productions to spread the word.
Students and teachers of Tribhuban University have taken it upon themselves to form a Friends of Gurukul fraternity of theatre aficionados. Popular demand has time and again resurrected Agni Ko Katha, a poignant play written by Abhi Subedi condemning the destruction of places of learning.
Kachahari Natak or Theatre of the Oppressed has gained a platform here. Like street plays, Kachahari Natak can be performed anywhere but unlike street plays, it does not advocate a solution and asks the audience to offer theirs instead. Gurukul teaches Kachahari to community theatre groups. "The people know the issues they face better than we do, we can never tell for sure what the solution is. Through interaction and improvisation, we help the audience explore and find it," says Pokharel. Gurukul is using this technique to help school students deal with their problems.
This year, Gurukul has also invited a Norwegian director to direct a Nepali play through its exchange program, members will participate in the lights and sets workshop at Delhi's National School of Drama this summer and there is Satya Mohan Joshi's Bagh Bhairab to be rehearsed for the coming season. But for now, Gurukul is busy staging Jat Sodhnu Jogi Ko at the Sama Theatre every evening (see box).
"It's going to be a busy year," says Pokharel, "a lot of work but that is just the way we want it."