Theatre boom in Oman

The world is a theatre, they say. And the world celebrates the World Theatre Day this week. The day is celebrated by the international theatre community on March 27 every year. According to veteran actor Dr Talib al Balushi, this is the best time for theatre in the country.
Oman saw a series of celebrations on March 27 and 28 at the Technical College in Al Khuwair and other educational institutions. There is also the Festival of Youth Theatre in which more than seven winning plays from Omani clubs are being staged from March 29 to April 4.
“Theatre is thriving right now. It is completely different to what it was when we started off. The World Theatre Day brings it in focus every year. It is the 70th anniversary of the International Theatre Institute. Every year there is a message. This year’s message was read at the celebrations here,” said Dr Talib.
According to International Theatre Institute (ITI), “To underline the cross-cultural and international aspect of theatre and of ITI, the Executive Council has selected five message authors to write a message — one from each of the five UNESCO Regions: Africa, the Americas, Arab Countries, Asia Pacific and Europe.”
It was in 1961 when the World Theatre Day was established by the ITI.
“When we started our theatre work in 1974, we were students. We were a group of 10 friends. We were writing and directing as well,” said Dr Talib.
He said in 1980, the Ministry of Information and Youth Affairs (later it became Ministry of Heritage and Youth Affairs) had launched the Youth Theatre. “I think it continued up to 1990 after which it was dissolved because there were many theatre groups throughout Oman. This was the official beginning, but even before this there were Al Ahli Club and Oman Club, where the members had started the theatre movement in the 60s.”
Dr Talib said the development of theatre was predominantly in schools. “Our opportunities were mainly during the end of the academic year celebrations. Most of our theme and subjects came from textbooks depicting culture and traditions. Students were exceptionally active in Muscat and Salalah.”
Today, there are private theatre groups, but there is an urge to revive the clubs to activate theatre movement because there are so many youngsters interested in the field.
Theatre received a boost from radio and television as well. “It was the days before serials became so strong. The recordings of the plays were aired on Sultanate of Oman Television and other GCC TV channels. This was the case especially in the 80s,” noted the actor.
In those days there were hardly any female artistes. “There was a time in Kuwait when male actors used to portray female characters. Today, Oman has established actresses like Fakhriya Khamis and Ameena AbdulRasool, and they have all left their mark on the Gulf theatre scene,” pointed out the veteran actor.
Maybe in the eighties and even in the nineties, families did not appreciate their young ones pursuing a career in theatre. “But look at the current scene. Parents are proud when their sons and daughters are in plays. There are good writers and they have eager audience as well.”
Most importantly, the story plots have taken a leap. “In our days, the focus was on national and historical stories. The youth today are handling subjects such as drug issues, road accidents, divorces and politics. They are reflecting on issues faced on a daily basis.”
Today, many theatre festivals are held in Oman, including the Dhank Festival, Rustaq Festival, Salalah Festival, Watan Festival as well as festivals in colleges. In addition, a festival is organised by the government every two years.