Unmuted: Brum-Lahor was the name of our project which involved a partnership between Open Theatre and MAAS Foundation in Lahore, Pakistan. The project involved creative online sessions with young people with learning disabilities which allowed them to express themselves creatively. It was funded by the Transforming Narratives programme led by Culture Central in association with the British Council  and Arts Council England.

When I was first introduced to the project I was a little bit sceptical on how it would all work out. Firstly, there was me, a drama practitioner who had never done or been involved in an online session before. Secondly, there was the factor of doing an online session with a group of people that I have never met who reside in a country that is across the world. It was my first time getting back in to the work after being furloughed for so long with the added challenge of having to adapt to the new way of working due to Covid-19.

My first session I would say was unusual for me. I was on Zoom with my colleagues who usually I would be facilitating sessions in person with, but also a group of new faces. There were participants and members of staff from the MAAS Foundation too who were all friendly and smiley. For the first few sessions we suffered with a few technical difficulties which got in the way of the time spent in the sessions but eventually they passed. As the weeks went by I became more comfortable with our weekly sessions and was asked to start leading activities. The group felt more relaxed and we started to learn more about each other.

One thing I enjoyed during the project was the fact that it involved the MAAS Foundation in Lahore, Pakistan. The majority of the work that I have done has been in Birmingham, Sandwell and Coventry. I have always had an interest in doing Open Theatre work in another country, so I am grateful that with today’s technology, we are able to connect and form great partnerships with people around the world. Especially in a time where we are all going through similar experiences in a global pandemic where the arts industry has been restricted. Witnessing the creativity from the young people both in and out of the sessions was a joy for me.

Not only was there great stuff going on during our session such as drama games and devising but weekly creative challenges were set for the group. My favourite creative challenge in particular was the ‘What’s in the Bag?’ videos. ‘What’s in the bag?’ is a non-verbal exercise that we like to do at Open Theatre. The exercise involves exploring the possibilities of what could be in an empty bag alongside music. The participants all came up with great ideas which displayed their non-verbal acting talents but also Musharaf’s impressive editing skills. We also spent some time devising scenes in small groups, which was fun. We would split into breakout rooms where we would explore the ideas that the young people came up with. Then come back together to share our scenes with each other. It was nice getting the opportunity to work in smaller groups as it gave us the chance to work more closely together.

Our last session made me realise how far we have come as group and the bond we have created together. We started the session with hearing from the participants which highlighted how much they got out of sessions. Although I was having loads of fun, I didn’t realise how much our time together had meant to the others.

“I loved this programme a lot. I learned a lot from you all and I hope we can continue to work like this together in the future.” Bilal

“The Zoom sessions were a friendly and welcoming environment. I loved the opportunity to meet new people from Pakistan and the Transforming Narratives group has been like a family to me.” Shakur

For the rest of the session we got in to small groups and devised a scene which involved Bilal and Shakur playing the role of a shopkeeper and a thief. One thing I have loved seeing throughout the weeks is that despite there being language barriers in the group, we have all managed to do great work together. We have formed a lovely group who enjoy creating theatre together and we hope to see each other face to face in the future. This is not the end of the Open Theatre and MAAS Foundation’s partnership!

By Jenara Miles