The development of modern Afghan theatre
During the late 1950s two leading theatre practitioners, Dr Farhan and Khai Zoda, went to Germany and the USA respectively to study theatre. They returned to teach a generation of artists privately as there was no theatre school at that time. In the years which followed a National Theatre Company was established and provincial theatre companies were also set up in Mazar, Herat, Jalalabad, Kunduz and Faryab to bring theatre to the provinces. However, the purpose of theatre was always seen to be the promotion of traditional folklore and slapstick entertainment rather than intellectual stimulation.
This period also witnessed the growth of small, private regional touring theatre groups known as sirkas, which featured acrobats and freak shows - more like a circus than a theatre. During the 1970s these groups also began to include music and singing by men and women, but still with social overtones intended to promote traditional values. At this time the National Theatre Company of Afghanistan staged plays by Shakespeare, Brecht and Chekhov. These and other foreign plays were usually ‘Afghanised’ to suit the tastes of local audiences, except on those occasions when foreign directors came to work with local theatre artists. Such plays met with mixed reviews and Benazir Hotaki in the Ministry of Culture and Youth Affairs remembers that audiences were often loud in their approval or disdain. However, the perceived link between theatre and the promotion of traditional culture led many to argue that Afghan plays should receive more support. By all accounts this was an exciting time for the genre. Toorpekai Osna from Kabul acted in films and then transferred to the National Theatre Company. She learned her craft from her fellow actors as there was no university course at that time. ‘Thirty years ago Afghanistan was progressive’ she says, ‘Now it is more difficult, especially for actresses.’