'Let Me In' - Now Playing at the PNCA Auditorium, Islamabad

'Let Me In' - Now Playing at the PNCA Auditorium, Islamabad
Click on the image to visit the play's official Facebook group.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Thus ends the 'Let Me In' saga...

Thank you, everyone, for your praise, feedback and critique. We're extremely proud to have been the first team to have attempted horror as a genre onstage, and through your feedback, we tried to improve each day. =) Your support for this project [all of you who paid for tickets] has ensured that we have managed to collect more than Rs. 100,000 in donation for the flood-afflicted.

To my team: thank you for your faith and your perseverance. And for believing in this project and diving headfirst into it while knowing the risks. Let Me In is as much your triumph as it is mine.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

'Greater Than Just Horror.' - Instep Today

Excellent review by Asfandyar Khan in Instep Today (The News)!

For many denizens of Islamabad, the city's theatre scene is one of the few grander creative outlets on show. Though largely relegated to comedies, there is the occasional attempt at something more cerebral (Freedom Bound, The Good Doctor, The Pillowman). Yet, after being starved of worthwhile entertainment, it's hardly surprising that Islamabad fails to warm up - intellectually and financially - to something other than instant gratification in the form of slapstick comedy.

Let Me In, produced by the Living Picture Productions (at whose helm is veteran thespian, director and writer Osman Khalid Butt), then, is Osman's second swipe at trying to bring more graft and culture to Islamabad. Broadly advertised as a horror spectacle, there is nevertheless enough social commentary underpinning the writing to keep everyone interested.

Horror as a genre is incredibly convoluted as it is - trying to exercise it on stage must make it considerably difficult. Yet, Let Me In started off on the right foot, as an ominous rendition of 'Twinkle Little Star' pervaded the hall. Throughout the play, that general vibe of something macabre peeking at you from just around the corner was present. A vital component of any play that intends to disarm and distress is that onerous, macabre vibe - Let Me In had that vibe down to a tee and in droves. Regardless of how many characters were shuffling on stage (on a few occasions it did seem to go overboard), there was always a greater sense of foreboding present in the acting, the lighting and the sound. On quite a few occasions, the humour too seemed suitably strained; if you're afraid of an all-enveloping mist, you're hardly going to be Bill Hicks incarnate.

Conversely, on the opening night, it seemed as if the director could have gone for a few effective, if cheap, scares. In one instance - which surprisingly still managed to alarm the audience - one of the characters alerts everyone to a potential scare, thus perhaps defeating the purpose of that little movement as there was no surprise. However, such issues have largely been rectified as the shows have progressed.

Yet if there were any deficiencies in the writing, the rest of the aspects of the production more than made up for it. The acting often bordered on the sublime, with everyone paying their dues and then some. On quite a few occasions one was left stunned after the realization dawned that most of the cast and crew of this production were, and are, amateurs. Khawaja Eesa Salim's stoic performance as David Drayton provided the consistency around which the ensemble cast weaved their craft. Rubya Chaudhry's (Stephanie Drayton) cameo was exquisite, as her sinister nature meandered around the stage. Ahmed Ali (Wayne O'Shea) and Sundus Jamil (Sally Jean Hayes) had wonderful chemistry and provided a worthwhile contextual humanization of a play aimed at dealing with the inhumane. Mustafa Ali Khan (Ollie) & Waqas Sheikh (Bud) played their characters wonderfully and were a welcome detachment from the somber nature of the play in general. Introductory cameos from Alina Khan (the woman), Uzair Jaswal (Norm), Azam Ali Noon and Qazi Jabbar Naeem were all wonderfully executed as neither of them overstayed their welcome. Their acting was succinct , never deviating from their roles as secondary characters. However, it was Sofia Wanchoo Mir (Mrs Carmody) who undoubtedly stole the show. A demagogue and fundo, she was the one who kept the play's socio-political underpinnings intact, while simultaneously providing enough of a lesson in acting to have the audience shuddering with every twist of her expression. Her character might not have been granted a prosthetic face, but the mask she donned and used successfully was just as frightening as any creature from any vision of hell.

But it's not just the actors who make a play work. Despite a few missteps (the gun sounds were rather emasculatory) the sound was spot on and helped accentuate the play's suspense. The lighting was invariably going to be vital for a play of this nature - and Aashir Irfan's control over the board helped ensure that the atmosphere was perfectly set for every scene. The set too was brilliant (constructed by Romain and visualized by Michelle Tania Butt) and provided the relevant claustrophobia for the play. A good set can really make a play, and the seven-eleven setting helped ensure the director's vision of creating that little bit of terrified chaos. Noted in Islamabad's circles, Osman Khalid Butt is often sought after as an actor or a director, leaving little time for him to focus on his own vision. In Let Me In, it seems as if his desire to pay homage to Stephen King comes full circle, as he successfully manages to coerce wonderful performances out of his actors while keeping true to his script. Last but not least, considerable credit must go to the use of prosthetic makeup for the creatures. It's not often that prosthetics are used in Pakistan at all (for film or theatre), and it was a bold step (financially and creatively) to employ them in Let Me In. However, undoubtedly, the risk reaped considerable rewards as the prosthetic clad actors (Haris Shahbaz, Junaid Khan & Zainab Zaman Khan Afridi) received rapturous applause (or gasps) whenever they appeared on stage. Crawling and crouching, hissing and swiping, they added a whole new level of unease into the play.

Horror is a hard trick to pull - in that there is often nothing more to it than cheap scares and gore. True horror is often psychological with enough reality holding it down. Osman Khalid Butt's writing and his cast and crew realize that, which is why despite the preponderance of the supernatural, the greatest scares came from a very human character. To call Let Me In horror would in essence be a disservice; it is greater than just horror.

That alone makes the play worth a watch. Yet, if you feel you aren't in the mood for anything cerebral, Let Me In provides a plethora of scares and hilarity (sometimes unintended!) which will ensure that your 110 minutes aren't a waste. It is, regardless of its ambition, still an entertaining piece of theatre. If that isn't enough, a significant part of the play's profits go to flood relief.

Let Me In runs till October 28, and you genuinely couldn't do better than grabbing yourself a seat at the PNCA to take in this exceedingly wonderful play - regardless of where your affinities lie.

Monday, October 25, 2010

'Let Me In' Reviewed on Danka

Nayha Jehangir Khan has written a brilliant review of Let Me In for Danka Pakistan, the online cultural event guide!

Everyday characters, small town archetypes the characters of Let Me In are regular no-bodies faced with traumatic interconnected relationships and tough decisions in order to survive. Each character has an introductory build up, leading to their character progression, ultimately transforming them to a nuclear moment.
The stage direction is naturalistic for the space might be tightly casted but is constantly moving and had an intrinsic rhythm through out the duration of the play. The characters shop, gossip, romance, preach and eventually have their fates decided all in that same setting. Arming a familiar location such as a grocery store with story telling, grand narratives, folklore and an insight into the human condition is an unconventional theatrical stance for the Islamabad theater scene. Apart from the scene changes where regular blackouts are used the play incorporates moments of pause, the stage literally blinks creating a different pace, these transitory elements not only allow for a psychological insight into the characters but contrasts the aggressive gruesome out bursts with a breath of serenity. Stage-ques merging with one another allowed fight scenes to match the sounds created by the crashing and throwing of each other on set. The set was presented as another central character among the cast. It is evident that the pre-production and designing of lights, sound, music and over all stage direction work was an integral part of Let Me In. The characters are inseparable, erratic and yet balanced with all of these elements of the play.

As a child and now having been trained in Lighting design, I shiver with excitement for radioactive coloured lighting, usually found on the covers of “make your own ending” horror story books. Let Me In makes use of such familiar horror iconography to ground itself in an age long legacy of such story telling. For me the nuclear moment of the play had to be Butt’s closing scene, his stage presence showed not only Butt in his true element but was reminiscent of the quintessential grand evil we sink our horror hungry teeth into.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Guess Who Paid Us a 'Call'...

... And naturally, we 'let him in'. =D (I'm sorry, I'm trigger-happy with corny puns.)

Junaid Khan, lead vocalist of Call, came to see Let Me In and had some great things to say about the production!

"I have to give credit to Islamabad for keeping theater alive. I myself love seeing interesting concepts being executed onstage. And from what I have seen, this play has been one of the best in terms of direction and not to mention acting as well. There was perfection in every department. Especially the lighting and the music - so beautifully placed that I felt as though I was watching a thriller at a cinema. Great going, team. Our country needs people like you to revive the focus on entertainment in this country. Good luck."

Thank you so much for coming to watch, Junaid. And for that truly uplifting message! =)

Friday, October 22, 2010

Tulin Khalid-Azim's Review of 'Let Me In'

Veteran Islamabad theatre director and actress, Tulin Khalid-Azim, has written a wonderful review of Let Me In on her Facebook page. We've pasted an excerpt of the review below, but you can read the whole thing here.

A number of people like myself, who run a mile at the word "horror", went to see the play and enjoyed it thoroughly (Bushra Hassan for example, refer to her blog for her review). For those who like effects, fight scenes and gore, it was there. For those who don't, there was plenty of psychological suspense to make you sit on the edge of your seat. I enjoyed that the most - the questions going through my mind, almost not wanting to know what was going on because the torture of guessing at it was kind of fun. What exactly was the mist? Who was out there? Even though you saw it in front of your eyes, what was it?

The writing was very tight, and the timing and combination of light, comedic moments with the suspense and tension made the experience an emotional roller-coaster. The length was just perfect, a neat 1 hour 40 minutes, with no lagging or time for your mind to wander once the suspense was in motion.

With all the conspiracy theories that exist in the world today, and the talk of reptilians, extraterrestrials, "good vs. evil" (if you saw "The Arrivals", you'll know what I mean), the play felt very current to me. I felt it hit a nerve in today's society which many in the younger generation are aware of and can appreciate. Also, it hit a very sore socio-political nerve which exists in Pakistan today. For audience members like myself, who enjoy double-meanings, I loved the debates regarding dualities in religion. The tension between Mrs. Carmody and Sally was thoroughly entertaining. When things cannot be said upfront, the best kind of theater is the one that shines a very subversive mirror on something right in front of our faces without overtly pointing it out. If you, too, as a Pakistani feel that your nation is being taken over by a blinding and dangerous mist, you will no doubt enjoy the double-entendres in the play.

Another ground-breaking aspect of this production was the make-up used, the prosthetic make-up to be specific. My hat's off to Jibran Khan for pulling off such intricate and difficult make-up. The creatures were fantastic, and I did not find them comedic at all. If I came across that face to face, the last thing I'd do is laugh! Even up-close, when I went to meet Zainab Zaman after the play (whom I didn't recognize at all at first, and then was wondering "Is it her? Or isn't it?" throughout the play), the prosthetics were beyond impressive and creepy as can be. (Little-known fact: the prosthetics you see are only about half of what were meant to be used, and these too were recovered with great difficulty. The other half are probably sitting in some customs officer's house at the moment, God only knows to what end. Now you know what the joys of production are all about!)

The set was just the right side of minimalist, highly functional with attention to detail with the products on display - nothing too distracting. The soundtrack was chilling (and thanks, Osman, I can never sing "Twinkle Little Star" to my daughter again...sigh). The lighting was very clever, and I enjoyed the use of sectioned lighting to accent different parts of the action and highlight characters when necessary. The lightning was my favorite part, and I congratulate Aashir Irfan on spot-on execution of both concept and cues.

And, of course, the ACTING. This was ensemble acting at its very best. When they shone, they really shone. They connected with each other, supported one another, and worked as a team. No upstaging, no egos. For the first time, there were no "weak links", which is extremely difficult to achieve. I enjoyed everyone's acting immensely, especially in the core group. The usual suspects were their usual fantastic best - Saud, Ahmed, Sundus, Rubya, Mustafa, Waqas, Zainab, Eesa, Uzair, and of course, Osman. I'd like to, however, make special note of two newcomers (so-to-speak) who absolutely rocked it for me - Sofia Wanchoo Mir as Bible-toting zealot with Joan of Arc complex Mrs. Carmody, and Fareeha Raza as young Elizabeth (Fareeha herself is barely a teenager!). Kudos to you, ladies, for not only standing your own with a sophomore cast, but making your own mark. Bravo.

All in all, "Let Me In" is the perfect precursor to Halloween, and a very entertaining way to spend a hundred minutes. If you love horror, this will be a rare treat to witness live on stage in Pakistan. If you know, for a fact, that you cannot, under any circumstances stomach any kind of gore or emotional stress, then do the actors and yourself a favor, stay home, wear your coziest jammies, and watch reruns on Star World. And if you don't like horror, but enjoy a good play, and are feeling adventurous, do NOT give this one a miss. These guys will win you over, if you let them in.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

"A treat for horror buffs!" - The News

Here's a review of Let Me In in today's issue of The News. =)

(Just to correct a small factual error in the article: Let Me In is not in fact Osman's first script - he wrote the scripts for Some Like It Hot and The Good Doctor [both adaptations], and Superstar Avatar was his own original work.)

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Morning After: The First Reviews of 'Let Me In'

Just thought we'd quickly share these with you:

Dawn has printed a review of Let Me In in today's issue, on the Metropolitan page. You can read it online here.

Meanwhile, blogger Bushra Hassan has also reviewed the play. Here is the link!

See you tonight!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

'Twas the Night Before Curtain...

Well, tomorrow is opening night. Tomorrow at eight o'clock in the evening, the curtain will rise, and for the first time, an audience outside the Living Picture camp will view Let Me In, and the penning of reviews will begin.

Naturally, I should be running round in circles going wild with panic. What the hell am I doing here, then? I guess I'm just basically taking a breather - going round and round in circles requires energy, you know. And I'm also giving myself a moment to reflect on the months of madness and mayhem that have led up to this point.

It's been a long road.

This project actually began in October 2008. Well, it wasn't exactly born then. Perhaps not even conceived, exactly. At this point, it was more just a glint in my eye. It was a three-play idea; I wanted to adapt three Stephen King stories for the stage. I hadn't decided which stories - that was an extremely tough decision process - but I was considering Misery, Salem’s Lot and perhaps The Mist. A three-day performance. The project couldn’t materialize then, but it was always at the back of my mind. Funny story: I was inspired to take it up again this year after watching back-to-back seasons of Supernatural and The X-Files. This time, though, I was less foolhardy: I spent around a month finalizing which novel to adapt, and it was a monologue from one of the characters (which I obviously won’t reveal) that did it for me. Many people will watch this play and find some of the characters to be clever references to very real, local elements.

I am happy to report that my creative voice went stark raving while writing the script. =D I may have been writing an adaptation, certainly, but I always love messing with the original text, making it more 'my own'. I believe the play's greatest strength will be its plot and character development, mostly because it's not just your average shocker with thrills galore; it's got all the supernatural elements and it makes a rather apt commentary on real-life things. The play also leaves you with a 'What if this happened to me? How would I have reacted? What would I have done?' feeling, which I'm proud of. You're left wondering by the end of it, asking yourself a lot of questions. Of course, for the more traditional horror lover, there are plenty of surprises in store. I'm hoping audiences will be on the edge of their seats, struck by both the swift action and the dialogue.

Interesting fact: the ending I originally wrote for the play was deemed too controversial to stage, so I changed it just two weeks before the play was scheduled to begin. Mad times, but then, don’t we all thrive on pressure and stress?

Meanwhile, the set design was the mother of all challenges – not that Islamabad hasn’t seen ‘interior’ sets before, but perhaps never one quite like this one. There were a lot of technical difficulties, a lot of sleepless nights before we decided on something that would be pleasing to the eye, cool, and yet technically efficient as well. This is the first play I’m doing where there are so many characters onstage throughout the play, and with so much action happening onstage; sometimes simultaneously.

Which reminds me: far as length goes, this is my shortest play so far.

Casting was that five-lettered cuss word; most of the ‘regulars’ I’ve worked with in my previous plays had either shifted cities or countries or had lost their passion for theatre. So, barring a couple of old ’uns, I was treading unknown territory. But at the same time, it felt so good to be back in the casting chair – took me back three years. I was nervous, afraid I’d lost my touch, but ask any actor now and they’ll go: he’s still the same slave-driving bitch. (Whoops.)

To my immense delight, the new lot I’ve worked with are just as passionate about the stage as actors used to be four years ago, when theatre was this bright and beautiful thing. Now, with plays being churned out left, right, and centre, I was afraid because of all the saturation, it might have diluted the energy and drive of actors. I was proven wrong, and for that I am both grateful and proud. It’s been a journey fraught with much emotion, and I’m sure my cast has a bitch-letter of two they’d like to post in anonymously, but it’s been worth it. And fun, despite the rather grim & gruesome theme. A play is only as good as its weakest actor, and I’m proud to say that judging by that standard, we have a hit on our hands.

What I’m most proud of, though, is that this team dove headfirst into this project with the same fearlessness as I did. They knew the risks: this is no musical-slash-farce and is of course, not going to be everyone’s cup of tea. But they chose this project nonetheless; they trusted in me. That, in itself, no matter what the fate of the play, is reason enough to celebrate.

Anyway, I'll close this rambling blog-post here and get back to work. You know, I've been maintaining an average of three hours' sleep since the play really took off. They tell you directing a play is a lot of mayhem, heartache, tensions aplenty, disappointment, blind rage - and they're right.

But what they often forget to add is that it's always worth it.

The Making of the 'Let Me In' Teaser Trailer

Hey all,

We've put up some photos from the shooting of the official trailer for Let Me In - which, by the way, has been getting great reviews, yay! (In just under 24 hours, the trailer has been 'shared' by almost 500 people on Facebook!)

Scroll down to see all the photos from the shoot. =)

Trailer director Yasir Jaswal getting a few shots of cast member Sofia Mir.

Members of the Let Me In cast. L-R: Junaid Khan, Uzair Jaswal, Alina Khan, Sofia Wanchoo Mir,
Zainab Qaiserani, a blurry Ahmed Ali, and Qazi Jabbar Naeem

Trailer director Yasir Jaswal getting some shots of cast member Uzair Jaswal

L-R: Ahmed Ali (Cast), Aashir Irfan (Assistant Director), Fareeha Raza (Cast), Quratulain Jahangir (Production Manager)

Trailer director Yasir Jaswal at work

Assistant Director Aashir Irfan strikes a pose with Production Manager Quratulain Jahangir

Members of the Let Me In cast. L-R: Sundus Jamil, Ismail Kayani, Ahmed Ali, Haris Shahbaz,
Khawaja Eesa Salim, and Sofia Wanchoo Mir

Director Osman Khalid Butt

Friday, October 15, 2010

Out Now! The Official Trailer for 'Let Me In'!

We believe if Frankenstein had created his monster in the 21st century, he would have immortalized the moment of its birth with the words: "It's online! It's online!"

And those are our sentiments exactly!

Tonight, we are very excited to present the official teaser trailer for Let Me In! Watch it here now! (For best viewing, watch in HD.)

The trailer was directed by Yasir M. Jaswal, vocalist and lyricist of Irtaash. (Thank you, Yasir!) We will shortly be posting some "making-of" photos from the shooting of the trailer, which we think everyone will enjoy. =)

Just - gasp! - two days till curtain! The excitement here is reaching fever-pitch - let the games begin!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Have You Ever Gotten the Feeling You're Being Watched?

Behold: the official poster for Let Me In, finally revealed! We think M. Bilal Abdullah, who has been the Living Picture's resident graphic designer from the start, has truly outdone himself with this one.

In other news, we're currently busy settling into the PNCA Auditorium, which will be our home for the next two weeks or so. The set is almost ready - photos of that coming up soon. =) And we're just so excited. Just five days to go till showtime!

We've also got a teaser video lined up for you, and will be releasing that very soon - so watch this space!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Cast & Crew Discusses What’s In Store For You With ‘Let Me In’

Why, hello there. We’ve got the cast and crew of Let Me In talking about the play and why no theatre-loving Islooite should miss it. Here's what they have to say:

Khawaja Eesa: “It's the first of its kind to be staged here in Islamabad – a contemporary horror/thriller. Lots of shocks and twists!”

Rubya Chaudhry: “The intensity of it. It’s a challenge to execute something of this nature. If I were an audience member, I would be on the edge of my seat, heart beating really, really fast. It's a kick!”

Fareeha Raza:
“It’s a thriller/horror so it’s something different for Islamabad’s theatergoers to see. Every human being has an animal inside, that makes them want to do crazy things...”

Ahmed Ali:
“Given the very natural and everyday-life setting of the play, it's going to be a very up-close-and-personal experience for the audience. After all, we fear each other more than anything else.”

Sundus Jamil:
“It is *intense*. Our director always ends the day on a lighter note – and honestly, after such an intense play, you need to have a laugh (or two).”

Sofia Wanchoo Mir:
“It’s a piece of art, in my opinion. The intensity is its biggest thrill; it is left echoing within you – goosebumps galore. Once you allow yourself to dwell within it, it becomes a labyrinth and the experience just heightens. What human beings really fear is fear itself.”

Waqas Sheikh: “The script. The actors. The director. Michelle Api!”

Mustafa Ali Khan:
“The strengths of Let Me In are its tight and engrossing script, its very experienced ensemble cast, the uncompromising director and production team – and of course, the fact that like all Living Picture productions this too pushes the envelope. This experience has been challenging for me personally because the play demands more from me as an actor than I have ever performed before - it has, for the first time, made me question my abilities. And that in itself makes me want to prove myself.”

Uzair Jaswal:
“I think the only reason I’m doing this play is because I really like the whole concept and the script, and I thought it was something really unusual. And I knew that doing this, for the actors, and watching it, for audiences, both would be a great experience.”

Saudumar Khan:
“The horror elements are very gripping and will keep the audiences in awe. Another thing that really works for the play is the chemistry between different characters throughout its duration. There is nothing darker about human nature than the art of manipulation.”

Zainab Qaiserani: “Aside from The Good Doctor (which was more macabre than outright horror), there hasn’t been a single attempt at putting on a true horror/thriller show. Let Me In will be the first of its kind (as all of LPPs plays have been so far), and I believe there is a huge market for it (Islamabad is FULL of hard core horror buffs). The fact that it’s in capable hands for every aspect of it (script, direction, costumes, production, acting) is a HUGE reason it’ll work; this is a hard genre to pull off effectively, but Osman is THE person to succeed (being a huge horror buff himself). And not to sound smug, but we have an AMAZING team. Every single one.”

Alina Khan:
“There isn't a single actor who doesn’t do justice to their role. There's a lot of suspense. It’s very well written. Every audience member can relate to at least one of the characters. Thus I feel their interest will linger a little longer than it does for most plays.”

Ismail Kayani:
“A powerful script. This is *actually* something different.”

Zainab Zaman Khan Afridi:
“It hasn’t happened before, the concept, so this should be a breath of fresh air for Islamabad’s theatregoers - or rotten in a pleasurable sick way? Great cast and crew as always. It brings back the artistic touch in theater.”

Haris Shahbaz: “A story that is not just thrilling, but actually very scary!”

Qazi Jabbar Naeem: “The play tests the true nature of morality and will surely pop quite a few questions in the audience's minds. The gradual progression from the first scene to the final one is very enthralling. And let's not forget - this play is the first of its kind on the Islamabad theatre scene. The excitement of being part of it is more than overwhelming, and everyone's doing their bit to make it truly memorable.”

Azam Noon:
“Humans if left without checks and balances will resort to their primitive selves - that is the theme Let Me In explores. How with a little motivation and encouragement individuals will manifest their very basic selves.”

Aashir Irfan: “I take pride in working for the Living Picture Productions, knowing that at the end of the day no matter what Osman does, it'll be a work of art. Not only is he a genius when it comes to storytelling and execution, he gives importance to every little detail and doesn't compromise on anything. This play is so fast-paced, our audiences won't know what hit 'em.”

Quratulain Jahangir: “Direction is an art that calls for a strictly clear sense of the final product, and Osman is one such example from the rare community of fine directors who not only know the exact intensity of the aura they tend to create but also know the best way to work around it. To me, he knows how to bring life out of a script. Only very few have the same recognition and constant reputation for excellence, so when you’re at a theatre and you know you’re watching Obi’s play, you know you’re going to watch the best play ever.”

Sabah Nawaz: “This play is beyond anything that has been staged yet, mainly because of its plot and its cast. Everyone's done a fantastic job bringing it to life; eerily enough to life.”

Fahad Saeed: “It is very different from most plays we see nowadays. It’s a thriller and only a director like Osman can pull it off with perfection.”

(All photographs by Omar Khalid Butt.)

Thursday, October 7, 2010

So THIS Is the Play? We Must Be Stark Raving Mad!

Well, now that the name has been announced, the ominous Facebook statuses have been shared, and we’ve revealed that the roots of the play are in the works of Stephen King, I suspect you must now be very well aware what kind of play this is going to be. (The blood on the teaser posters must have provided a tiny bit of an inkling too.)

So, there are those who ask: after two years of silence, why this particular play? I guess I’d have to say that first and foremost, because it’s a tremendous challenge. The thriller and horror genre is hard enough to pull off in film (think insipid video-game adaptations that pass off as ‘horror’ these days – I was more terrified after watching Johnny Depp in Alice in Wonderland) – doing it onstage; people would call it madness.

But then, I am a little mad.

Not to mention, a horror-movie buff. I mean, I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street when I was 7. Alone. In Sargodha, of all places. Then when I was perhaps 9 or 10, my siblings dragged me to Nafdec cinema, where the sequel was playing. (Yes, Nafdec was that cool.) I’ve never been more horror-struck, but since then, I’ve had this peculiar penchant for the macabre. When I was 18, and writing fervently like poet-on-crack, my twist on the beloved Disney classic The Little Mermaid turned into a mother’s confession about drowning her daughter in a bathtub – a daughter who’d pretend she was Ariel. Go figure.

Today, when someone asks me to recite a nursery rhyme, this alt-rhyme from A Nightmare on Elm Street comes to mind:

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you.
Three, four, better lock your door.
Five, six, grab a crucifix.
Seven, eight, gonna wake up late.
Nine, ten. Never sleep again.

Yes. Apparently I’m not going to win any Father of the Year awards.

As I wrote in my previous blog-post, this is my second tribute after Superstar Avatar – and not just to Stephen King, though it is his work that I have adapted for this play and therefore his mind is undoubtedly its primary creative undercurrent. This play is a tribute to King, to Edgar Allan Poe, to my childhood favourite Christopher Pike (before you scoff, have you read some of his darker stuff?), to the cinematic and literary masters of horror, and their creations – Freddy Krueger, Hannibal Lector, Pennywise the Clown, Samara (The Ring), Annie Wilkes, all the usual suspects.

Not to say that this play is just about things that go bump in the night – hardly. I love horror, but I like my horror with a little slice of intelligence as well. Not taking anything away from The Evil Dead, but I’m more an Exorcist kind of guy. I believe that for horror to work, you have to connect with the characters, both villains and virginal heroines. That’s one of the reasons The Descent succeeded. That’s why, apart from the authors mentioned earlier, Dean Koontz and Roald Dahl are both demigods of horror fiction.

So this is a play about human nature. The darkest aspect of it. It’s horror of the most naked, most brutal kind: psychological. When I began adapting the script, I had one thought in my mind – to showcase that man really shouldn’t fear the supernatural; ghosts, ghouls, nightmare-men, djinns and the like. Man should fear himself.

And it’s also a very character-driven play. Each character symbolizes something; yet at the same time, I haven’t drawn sides – this isn’t a battle of good versus evil. Instead, all characters are shown with shades of gray; their fears, weaknesses, intentions et al lie exposed. Because of one action, these seemingly ordinary people are thrust into an extraordinary circumstance, and the layer of superficiality; of polite hellos, exchanged glances and pleasantries, suddenly takes a swift turn down South. Again, don’t want to reveal too much, but a phrase (with all its sinister connotations) from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows comes to mind: ‘For the greater good.’ The theme is very Lord of the Flies-esque, only with a much faster-pace, a couple of twists that few will see coming, and more...‘action’? Come to think of it, it’s the most action-packed play I’ve done yet.

Like I said before, I’m excited about this one. It’s different. It’ll be more an experience than merely a spectacle. A spine-tingling experience – we’re taking theatre in Islamabad to an uncharted realm. And now, before I start feeling too much like Captain Kirk gazing off into a distant galaxy, and you start questioning my sanity even more, I think I'll just close here for now.

More soon!


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

And We've Let It Out - The Official Name and Dates for the LP's Latest Play!

We're announcing the official title of the play that was almost called Redrum! Our new play, ladies and gentlemen, is called Let Me In and will insha Allah be coming to the PNCA Auditorium on October 17, 2010!

And that's not all we're releasing today - here's the second teaser poster for the play!

Hope you like it! Keep checking back, we've got lots more updates coming up! You can also keep track of the play on Facebook, and 'Like' the Living Picture's official Facebook page!

Tableau Vivant - The Vision Behind The Living Picture

We were just taking a walk down memory lane and thought it would be cool to repost our original 'mission statement'! Man, this makes us nostalgic.

Established in 2006 by Osman Khalid Butt, The Living Picture® exists for the sole purpose of nurturing and advancing the performing arts in Pakistan - be it in the form of theatre, television or film. The Living Picture® aims to create and perform works that not only entertain, but also enrich our society and assist the progressive evolution of culture.

Theatre is the cradle of artistic civilization. It is therefore in this sphere of the performing arts that The Living Picture® has taken wing, beginning with its first stage production, Some Like It Hot.

Our plans for theatre are not limited to commercial plays: soon we hope to extend our reach to theatre workshops and drama festivals in schools and colleges. For future musical productions, the company intends to encourage live musicians to offer their participation, especially if they would like to present their own original compositions. Furthermore, in collaboration with other production companies and theatre groups in Islamabad, we would like to actively advocate the construction of a theatre house in our great capital, so that this prospering new discipline can be given a rightful home.

The Living Picture® is always keen to welcome new blood into the fold. Creative individuals who possess a genuine passion for the performing arts are encouraged to join in and contribute to our projects in whatever capacity they have to offer. If you have any idea you'd like to share, or are looking at a possible collaboration, please email us at livingpictureproductions@gmail.com.

With our hard work and dedication, and your support and encouragement, we hope to achieve our goals and give you the theatre you so richly deserve. High our aims may be, and rather ambitious, but as they say: 'The theatre is no place for small dreams.'

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Man Behind the Living Picture's Latest Play

Hello again!

So I said I wanted to talk about the play and reveal a little something as to what it’s about. First clue: I
already gave you a hint about this project in my first ever post on this blog (meaning it’s been in the pipeline for the past two years). Second clue: the play is a homage to one of the great literary geniuses of our time. If you deciphered the first clue, you know who I’m talking about. If not, well - do you know this man?

He calls himself “the literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries” but that’s just a clever disguise. In reality, he’s the best thing that happened to horror fiction since Edgar Allan Poe.

Meet Stephen King. Now, those who are acquainted with me know that, to me, the man is… well, not a man at all but a god. God of the macabre. I am his Constant Reader, his number one fan... Is it very Norman Bates of me to be honoured that It was released the same year as my birth?

When you think ‘nightmare on paper’ you think Stephen King. The characters that he has created; the terror that he instills in you without the convenience of sound-effects, without relying on the aid of visuals – it’s phenomenal. My sister Michelle Apa
was the one who hooked me on to his writing – I remember reading The Shining and being unable to sleep for weeks. I’ve been infatuated with the word ‘redrum’ (flip the word, voila!) ever since; it was almost the title of my new play. I could read Misery, Salem’s Lot, It, Needful Things – hell, his whole collection countless times and yet find something I missed in the previous read. A phrase, a line, a description. His is a dark and powerful mind. (My favourite Stephen King novel, by the way, has got to be The Long Walk, which was one of the books he wrote under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Regulators, The Shining and It are second favourites. Yes, tied.)

So if you are, like me, a fan of the venerable Mr. Bachman, I can promise you this: you do not want to miss this play. Naturally, nothing I write is ever going to do his work justice. But for my part, I’m trying my best to stay true to the spirit of his work. Can’t comment on how it’s all turned out, non-objective eye and all, but fingers, toes, everything crossed. I'd like to fantasize about how, in an ideal world, Stephen King would hear of the play, attend one of the performances, find it brilliant – and then I'd disappear the next day and emerge as a new character in his (possible) upcoming novel,
Doctor Sleep (intended to be a sequel to The Shining).

Whether he would do that, or just lump me with Stephenie Meyer, come and see for yourself!

Even if you are not yet familiar with King’s works (what're you waiting for?!) - but you fancy a good scare, or are fascinated by things dark and supernatural, come see the play! It promises to be quite a ride, I can tell you that. We’re about two weeks to showtime, and as is usual at this stage, I’m going insane – but I’m also really excited about this one.
The Good Doctor was a ghoulish, macabre play as well, but this one is something altogether new. Something I’ve never done before. Something Islamabad hasn’t seen before. So it’s going to be exciting to see how it goes.

Wish me luck! Will write more soon!


P.S. Although Stephen King has my undying love and loyalty – dare I say it? – I
liked ‘Twilight’! I read all the books in one go. =D

After a two-year hiatus – Ta-dah! I’m back!

And with a new play!

Where did I go, you ask? Well, I guess you could say I was trying to get my groove back. Great - now I sound like the Terry McMillan novel. But no, I didn’t realize at the time, but I had invested so much into Superstar Avatar – the script, trying to make it a perfect ode to Bollywood – that I needed a break. Or at least, something to take me back to the roots, back to what made theatre raw and exciting and perhaps without the burden of expectation.

Fortunately, an opportunity to direct an LGS play (The Nit Wits, 2009) came a-knocking, and that was perhaps just what the doctor ordered. Working with students, practically none of them having previous ‘exposure’ to theatre (and all of its trappings – the good, the bad, the ugly), feeding off their enthusiasm; it was a challenge of a different kind, and one that helped me rediscover why I loved doing theatre in the first place.

The cast and crew of the Nit Wits - wonderful, talented students from LGS (Photo by Omar Khalid Butt)

Later in the year came an opportunity to be part of a short film called The Silent Verse by UK-based BAFTA-nominated director Hammad Khan - and that was just the prelude to an ever bigger opportunity: Slackistan. I loved the concept - it was a coming-of-age film, and yet so undeniably 'Islamabad'; I was glad the city finally got a voice. Plus, the character was challenging; had to tone down on the 'theatricality' that's much-required onstage and what's sort of become my trademark. Plus, how many actors get to boast they've done two Islamabad-based films within a span of three years? The experience was wonderful; Hammad is an excellent director, he allows you to interpret the character all the while keeping in mind his original vision.

Late last year, I acted in two plays as well [felt good to revert back to the days of yore; all the bitching, none of the ‘directorial’ pressure]. One role was that of a cook, in a bilingual play called Flight 420, directed by Shafqat Khan. The second, perhaps one of my most cherished roles after (or alongside) Edward from Freedom Bound and Jerry from Some Like It Hot, was that of a mentally disabled character (‘Michal’) in The Pillowman, directed by Junaid Malik. The second role in particular, to repeat a phrase, helped me rediscover myself as an actor.

Flight 420 (Photo by Omar Khalid Butt)

The Pillowman (Photo by Omar Khalid Butt)

This year saw me back to the director’s chair with LGS and back in all my pop-culture-referencing glory with Lights Out!, and working with the youngest cast I’ve ever had. (The average age was 15.) Another madcap adventure.

I also attended a ‘Broadway Bridges’ workshop in February, where I gave singing another shot since – 2005? (That was when I did Moulin Rouge & Beauty and the Beast.) I was incredibly nervous, because there were some really talented singers onboard for the workshop, but I have to say, Michael Masterson, (our choreographer and singing coach of ‘American Voices’) was such an inspirational mentor, I’ve been recording my voice on a webcam since and giving my best friend migraines as I make her listen to each track. (There’s a ‘Truly, Madly, Deeply’ cover in there. It’s not pretty.) Call it Glee-syndrome.

Lights Out! (Photo by Omar Khalid Butt)

Broadway Bridges (Photo by Omar Khalid Butt)

The Suicide (Photo by Omar Khalid Butt)

Next came The Suicide, directed (again) by Junaid Malik. That was a stressful but rewarding experience; took me the longest time to finally ‘grasp’ my character; a bourgeois, manipulative member of the intelligentsia.

Of course, I have also been steadily involved with ‘Insolent Knights’ (check out their Facebook page!) - have thus far performed at all their open-act nights, and it's been a delight!

But enough about me. Let’s talk about the play! It’s scheduled, insha Allah, for mid-October – that’s just a couple of weeks away, yikes! Rehearsals are well underway, and we’re all psyched here at the Living Picture. Naturally, it’s all rather hush-hush because I want you guys to be surprised. But of course, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t want to give you something to be excited about. *sly grin*

More on that in my next blog post, though! I will be updating this blog regularly now, insha Allah. So stay tuned!


Saturday, October 2, 2010

Ladies and Gentlemen, We'd Like to Make An Announcement...

This year, Halloween's coming a bit early.

We're officially announcing the Living Picture's fourth theatrical production today! We've released the first teaser poster for the play - really excited about it! Behold:

What d'you think? =)

The play will be staged in about two weeks, insha Allah. Our promotional campaign is in full swing. The cast and crew are having fun teasing people with ominous Facebook statuses that merely hint at what exactly audiences are going to be in for.

We'll be revealing much more (including the title of the play) in the days to come, but in the meantime, of one thing you can be sure:

Something moves within the night, that is not good and is not right.