Saturday, 16 August 2014

Spoken Word in Pakistan - The workshop and event


Yesterday Spoken Stage conducted a brief introductory workshop on Spoken Word and Performance in Karachi Pakistan at The Second Floor. It was in collaboration with another great organization I  work with called Open Letters.

The workshop was well attended by a mix bag of people such as students, people from the army, designers. Therefore conducting this workshop seemed to be more rewarding than expected, it's always exciting to have different schools of thought come together.

The Workshop was divided into 2 categories.

1. On writing
2. Performance

1. On writing

We did some basic warm up exercises to loosen everyone up. We did stretches, breathing exercises done by actors and then we passed around a ball and played the 'continue the story' game, and followed it with brief introductions around the circle that we sat in. (Because circle seating is the best way to sit)

We played another common free writing game where we choose 10 words and everyone has to write a free write incorporating those 10 words. An effective way to let your thoughts loose but also give it some shape.

Thanks to the blessing that is Mindy Nettifee's book - 'Glitter in your Blood' I was able to pan out an interesting 2 hour interactive workshop that covered inspiration, metaphors and editing. We played one of the most effective games that Mindy mentioned in her book about metaphors and wordplay.

She introduced it as a regular in Rachel Mckibbens' workshop, Where we make three columns - Concrete Object, Animal and Behaviours and aspects.* Then once this is all made, we dismiss the middle column and write sentences and phrases using the concrete object and the behaviours and aspects of the animal, but not using the animal!

Once again I must thank Mindy Nettifee for writing such a wonderful book and giving me permission to use it to conduct the workshop! it is available from Write Bloody Publishing and it's a lovely source material.

2. On performance

Part 2 covered  a bit about voice, tone and emotion. As performers, especially as performance poets who start out it gets harder for us to shake off our inspiration enough to make it seem original and believable, and most of it has to do with delivery. We tend to feel like a particular style of emotion garnered applause thus it is our duty to follow those exact footsteps even if it is not who we are and especially if it is not what the poem or story is asking for. (and I say we because of course I also was a victim of it)

However, that is exactly where we are going wrong, we are trying to emulate and repeat someone else's personality on stage, and that is where the performance tends to fall flat even if the words are amazing.

So to evoke natural emotions, I practiced a common acting warm up exercise that I learnt.

Everyone walks around in random directions, When I clap, everyone freezes in their position and I shout out a random emotion. This is highly effective which is why I love it.

It gives very little time for everyone to think before they do their emotion, what their natural reaction is comes out as part of their personality and thus everyones' reactions are natural and pleasant to look at. It allows them to get in touch with their emotions and thus express original expression while reciting, performing or reading out their story.

Finally, I showed the attendees a collection of some videos that had varying emotions. Rafeef Ziadah's pain and anger in her poem 'Shades of Anger' Sarah Kay's hope and happiness in the 'B: If I should have a daughter' and Shane Koyczan's poignant display of a roller coaster of emotions in The To This Day Project. A perfect way to end the workshop don't you think? Fine, maybe I am a bit biased because he is one of my favourite poets out there, and probably one of the most innovative.

The best part about spreading spoken word in Pakistan is, that barely anyone is aware of this genre. So it leaves the ground wide open for innovation. Next up: The Event.

Sunday, 20 July 2014


March 15th was the event. Karachi Pakistan.

It went quite well if I do say so myself. At least I had fun, and I guess that's the point of any work or development of a passion project, to work as hard as you can at it, enjoy the process and go with the flow from there.

The audience was enthusiastic and intently listening and enjoyed the work,  the issues explored were relatable and everyone needed a good laugh and escape with stories and tales that were just written out of pure joy and creative expression.

The young poets and storytellers were very energetic and had a lot of passion dripping from their fingertips as they performed, flailing their hands about and raising their voice every now and then when they reached the climax of their poem.

Some had a lot of pent up frustration that was channeled through their spoken word pieces. Like one girl who wrote a piece about Patriarchy in this society (of which there is still quite a lot) and how she is expected to cook and clean mostly.

I performed my piece about freedom, education and rights. I won the Judge's Pick on and I thought of doing a live performance with it.

Here's a link to the indi video. Click on the link to see it!

Mariam Paracha - For Sarah (Performance Storytelling) 

OH! and please do not judge me on the thumbnail, I have no idea how to change it and my lips are doing something really odd.

This event was organised in collaboration with The Second Floor (the non profit organization that I mentioned in my previous post) and Open Letters' a society that I have been working with for a year and spreading poetry through it at their writers meetups.

Best part about Spoken Stage sprouting right now is that there are wuite a few societies that are supporting the arts nowadays especially writing and performance and thus it helps to work together and also it creates a platform for us to stand on rather than having only rubble under our feet. 

Here are some pictures from the event in March! Keep following for more to come!

Friday, 18 July 2014

Thesis to the Real World

From the Thesis to the real world, it has been a long journey, but I must say, all the intense research, teacher/student critiques and existential questionings - it paid off. I feel more prepared to jump into the real world with my dream project, sharing stories and poetry and connecting people through these stories. 

After all the running around to as many schools as I could possibly get into without them thinking I'm some fresh out of college crazy lady, my next step was to have a 'Spoken Stage' event, one of the first with around twelve performers who would grace the stage by performing their original spoken word performance pieces.

Now Spoken Word in Karachi, Pakistan is a very obscure and 'hipster' trend. Of course I feel it is generally considered a hipster trend, but in Pakistan where the landscape for this art form is like a tumbleweed dance floor, it is at a whole new level of being hipster. So encouraging people to come and support this wonderful reading is a tough job. Especially if it has to be done alone, phew. 

However we got quite lucky, Karachi has a great space called 'The Second Floor' or T2f that has a cafe and a space downstairs where events, readings, open mics etc take place. It is a gallery as well as a stage and the administration and owners and some of the most supportive people I have had a chance to be acquainted with. Therefore the space situation is sorted out of course. In the past T2f has also supported British performer and poet Lemn Sissay, so they were quite familiar and enthusiastic about the Spoken Stage's endeavour. 

Step 1
Spread the word - so I personally went to schools and tried to spread the word. haha. 

Step 2
Find a good group of people who will support you and find a reliable space. 

Step 3
Find people who are writers and performers and are generally interested in spreading the word and telling stories. 

Step 4
Pick a date and organize!!!

Poster for the event that took place in March designed by me :)

The kid is a 14 year old writer and performer that I met via suggestions and I also happened to do a presentation at his school. (He's really good) and these kind of things are what keep me going. It's the summer now of course so going to schools might be tough, but I hope to continue next semester.***

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Portable Booth goes to schools!

Ever since the launch of my project - where I spread spoken word and performance storytelling in Pakistan I have so far covered around three private schools! 

My aim is to go to government schools as well so I can start sharing their work across instagram (@spokenstage) and twitter (@spoken_stage) to build a unified platform and bridge the gap of education that seems to be creating a cleft in society. 

Main issue is:

Private Education is in English so yes they end up getting all the really cool jobs and opportunities. 

So therefore, I have kept Spoken Stage as an Open Source platform, I want to encourage people to utilize this platform to the fullest and encourage free speech in their own communities. (Eventually) ahhh wishful thinking. 

Furthermore due to my passion for writing and performing I want to somehow create some sort of an audience and sow the seed of performance art and poetry in Pakistan to encourage this art form to flourish. 

So this is Step No. 1 in my journey. 

So what exactly do I do when I go to these schools? 

I do a small presentation about performance storytelling and poetry as well as a small performance of a piece I like to call 'The Spoken Stage Slogan' 
(YES! a three word alliteration)

The presentation that I do includes videos from spoken word artists around the globe, as well as videos by - a digital humanities platform that puts up videos of poetry from South Asia with translations (and I happen to work with them!) And lastly I show them videos of poetry and performance that has been interpreted in different ways, with music, animation stage shows etc. Basically, to show the broad spectrum of innovation that performance storytelling and poetry has to offer. 

This is the piece I perform at the beginning of each presentation.

'Write to Ignite'

Don’t seal away your freedom of expression
With the arrival of your wisdom teeth
Don’t lead your life without asking questions
and telling stories and poking at society
And as for
‘log kya kahein gay’ (what will people think)
take this clumsy arrangement of words
and burn it from your memory
Let your eyes wander and find their own path
Try looking through the cracks
that we created when we rattled the earth
we let the dust from our stories rise above us,
like trapped spirits they are set free when we  
When we counteract gravity,
that might pull you back to sanity
Because, it’s okay to let go
Of what you’re told you should know
Your words are more than
a blinking cursor on a screen
More than the strings of letters
that you make dance through your vocabulary.
You might get lost in translation sometimes,
And your thoughts and intentions might get lost
between the crevices of what is and what should be
But there is no right way to write.
So just write to ignite
Light this life up with torches
That glow with your illumination.
And when you wave the light
into the deep down and dark,   
Take a hook and chase down your thoughts,
fish closer to the sea bed.
You’ll find stories, feelings and thoughts,
that you didn’t even think existed

We all have something to say,
We all have bones
that can make our own music
when they are rubbed the right way
so make fire with the friction
between your spine and your mind
And just speak.

I guess the point of opening my presentation with this piece is to encourage the kids to realize that it doesn't matter how and what you right as long as it's coming from within, and as long as it's lighting a fire from inside yourself. 

Here are some pictures of the schools in Pakistan that I visited and tried to spread the joy of storytelling and performance art!

Kids hold up what they wrote! They took the cards from the booth and just wrote whatever came to mind.

Intently listening to the presentation 

Her card says ' I wish to be the first Pakistani woman to reach the moon'
Love Dreamers!. #dreamsdocometrue

Another talented young lady from 9th Grade shares her piece on the Spoken Stage platform!

Kids line up to share their thoughts and and then perform what they have written!

Amazing imagination!

Now last but not least is a lovely little girl Ameera from 7th grade who performed her piece for us when I visited her school!

Click on this link to watch her amazing performance!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Spreading the Word

My passion for spoken word poetry seeped into my design thesis.

As it manages to encapsulate all my favourite things - theatre, performance, writing and visual arts, I realised there is so much potential to explore this particular craft, especially in a richly diverse country like Pakistan with an immense amount of indigenous ingredients to choose from and concoct our very own version of Spoken Word Poetry. 

As part of my Design Thesis, I created this portable booth that goes from one school to the next promoting freedom of expression.

1. The booth is foldable and hence portable, relatively light weight and can fit into a big car, like a van

2. There are writing prompts in the form of photographs available on the booth that can make some creative juice to start flowing

3. Since I wanted it to be interactive communicative and mostly focused on a younger audience due to the booth travelling to different schools, there is a lot of social media being explored.

4. There is an area in the middle where one's phone can be kept and you can either;
a. take a picture of what you wrote on the prompt card
b. record yourself performing or reciting what you wrote on your prompt card

5. This can then be shared on the instagram page @spokenstage or uploaded on facebook!


so this is how the folding happens:
The two doors shut like a closet 
and it's time to take it to another place. 

Oh! and in case it wasn't showing in the images,
the table in the center panel also folds down 
to allow the two doors on the side to close in.