Passionately Smashing Expectations: Broadway Bridges Goes to Pakistan Broadway is too good to keep to ourselves. This unique American genre has international appeal, and American Voices’ project Broadway Bridges harnesses that excitement to boost mutual understanding between the two nations as well as support the upcoming generation of musical theater talent. This November , St. Louis-based arts diplomacy, youth engagement, and exchange organization, American Voices, is bringing Broadway to Pakistan, where 7 aspiring Pakistani performers will hone their “triple threat” by perfecting pieces from Hamilton, Rent, and other recent hits with a team of two Broadway performers from New York City, Rhyn McLemore Saver and Peter Thoresen.
“The level of interest in Musical Theater in Pakistan is surprisingly strong. You might assume there to be a negative perception of American genres. The opposite is true,” says director John
Ferguson. “American Voices has witnessed huge audiences for an array of genres ranging from Bluegrass and Jazz to Hip Hop and Broadway over our 12 years of engagement in Pakistan.” Ferguson also notes that this project builds on existing interest and capacity. There is a strong legacy of English language theater in the country, and several amateur and professional companies producing musicals in Karachi and Islamabad. There have even been several original Pakistani-themed musicals written in recent years. American Voices auditioned over 50 talents nationwide before selecting a brilliant cast of 7 young singers, actors, and dancers for this revue: Broadway Bridges Pakistan-USA. These performers range from lifelong theater fanatics to established young pop singers, from TV directors to one of the first generation of improv comedians in Pakistan. The variety of experience and youthful enthusiasm promises to put a new spin on the hit songs selected. The revue cast will rehearse intensively for one week before hitting the road in early November. Then the revue will tour Pakistan’s largest cities, Islamabad, Karachi, and Lahore.
“There is a stunning amount of talent in Pakistan,” reflects Ferguson. “Such diplomatic engagement initiatives are often referred to as ‘soft power’ or ‘cultural diplomacy’ and allow all
participants to focus on the shared values and artistic traditions that unite us and demonstrate our shared humanity.”
“I first experienced the Broadway Bridges program in Islamabad in 2010. This first contact between our young professional theater company and experienced professionals from New York gave us the shot-in-the-arm we needed to move forward with a production of ‘The Producers’ that same year,” explains Karachi-based singer-songwriter Natasha Ejaz. “I have since attended several Broadway Bridges trainings in Thailand and they have been essential to the development of my musical theater skills.”
About Broadway Bridges
The concept of the ‘triple threat’, a performer equally skilled in acting, singing and dance, is unique to the U.S. and Broadway Bridges offers training in these three fields to aspiring young performers who usually only have training in one art form. Through training in singing, acting and dance, young professionals, learn solo and ensembles selections from musical favorites
such as Rent, West Side Story, Grease, Wicked and Footloose and knit these diverse selections into a cohesive Revue. The Broadway Bridges program is celebrating is 16th year with an illustrious history of bringing the first Broadway performances to nations such as Vietnam, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Jordan and Kurdistan (Iraq). This is the second program in Pakistan, the first being a tour of the country in 2010 with excerpts from Footloose and Hairspray. As part of the American Voices theater training program, students learn the technical aspects of
putting on a show, such as sound, lighting, scenery and costume.In addition, American Voices provides courses on teacher training in adult and children’s theater.
Natasha Humera Ejaz
Infusing folk, jazz and electronica, Pakistani singer-songwriter, Natasha Humera Ejaz, tailor’s music that tell the tales of her life. Known widely for her unique singing tone and eclectic approach to songwriting, she has indulged in both solo and collaborative projects over her career. Moonlighting as a thespian – her recent interpretations of Mary inThe Bald Soprano (2014) and Rizzo in Grease Pakistan (2016), thrusted Natasha into mainstream prominence. Nida Ameen ofInstep says, “The real star of the show (…) is Ejaz (…) She is unabashedly feisty, a relatable rebel and offers the most compelling solo of the entire production.”
Hailing from Islamabad, Zainab Qaiserani is a powerhouse performer. Zainab caught “the bug” early on in life and spent her teens through to her twenties being cast by major production houses in Pakistan as an actor and singer for Urdu and English plays alike, showcasing a diverse range including the Disney musical ‘Beauty and the Beast’, 19thcentury period thriller ‘The Good Doctor’, Bollywood musical ‘Superstar Avatar’, and Pakistani Urdu comedy play ‘Aangan Terrha’ to name a few. A lawyer with a keen interest in social issues and human rights activism from a very young age, Zainab used the theater and musical concerts for change as an artist and child/youth activist; advocating for peace, tolerance, gender equality and freedom of expression and dialogue through arts. Zainab has also previously collaborated as an artist with the US Embassy in Islamabad on performing arts projects such as the local production of ‘Seven’, a documentary theater performance on the lives of seven activist women from around the world, fighting for peace, gender equality and women’s rights, as well as ‘Broadway Bridges’, the last workshop organized locally in partnership with the NGO ‘American Voices’.
Iman Shahid has been avidly involved in the music and arts scene since the past 7 years. A self trained singer and actress, iman kicked off her career professionally with Grease the musical: Live. Since then she has performed at several gigs with different musicians including touring the States as a vocalist for Sounds of Kolachi under the program Centerstage. A lover of all genres, iman has meddled in theatrical singing, jazz, metal, Grunge, folk and now Eastern classical. She also has over 8 years of field training in photography and filmmaking and has worked with USAID, World Bank and European Union. Iman has also done voiceovers for Pepsi and Loreal, and modeling for Sunsilk. She was also part of the core team that started Patari, Pakistans first online music streaming service.
My name is Akbar Shahzad, and I am a writer, actor, longform improviser and standup comedian. I’ve been doing straight and improvised theater for over six years in Pakistan, as well as training and performances in the United States, particularly in Chicago at the iO Theater. Drama has been an integral part of my life since childhood, from Shakespeare to musicals to commedia dell’arte. I have been singing for about three years, beginning with improvised musicals, and have a passion for blues, jazz, country, rock and roll and hip-hop. “Hamilton” is a revelation, one I have been poring over obsessively for two years, both as writer and performer.
Hamza Tariq Jamil
At 23 years of age Hamzah has already explored all forms of the performing arts ranging from singing and dancing Live in licensed productions such as ‘Grease -The Musical’, to performing as lead vocalist for his jazz band, and acting for theatre in productions like ‘The Great Gatsby’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire.’ Now a seasoned artist, Hamzah’s talent and passion continue to drive him through his artistic journey on stage and screen alike.
Having a great passion for performing arts, Amtul Baweja has actively been contributing to the cause from an early age. While she was studying at LUMS, she directed and acted in multiple plays and continued doing so even after graduation.
In the last two years, she acted in four major plays performed at Karachi Arts Council, out of which one is an award-winning play, ‘Baraf Paani’ that got a chance to be performed in Islamabad as well. Others included Sarwat Gillani’s ‘Kis Ki Topi Kis Ke Sar’, an original play called ‘Haseen’, and Nida Butt’s ‘Grease – the Musical’.
Amtul’s talent took her to camera as well where she acted in a few short films, web series, and other digital commercial content. One of the short films she acted in was ‘Rang Raaz’ which got screened not only in Pakistan but also in India and Canada.
She also has experience of working behind the camera, being a core member of CityLights Productions where she is involved in production and supports direction as well.
Her other skills include improvised comedy. she is currently part of Pakistan’s first all-female comedy troupe ‘The Khawatoons’ where she has performed in more than four cities across Pakistan. She is also a soft skills trainer having worked with more than ten thousand young people directly and indirectly in the last three years.
Amtul is an experienced theater artist who has had the opportunity to perform internationally in Malaysia and twice in Germany as well as travel to Kenya as part of a global effort to promote local theater and offer related workshops.
Her recent projects include acting in an independent short film and directing British Overseas School’s annual theater play.
I am Saad Sheikh I did an undergrad in Film and Tv with direction and script writing being my majors along with a four-year theatre diploma from the same college.
I have been performing on stage from a very young age and later realized it’s something I want to pursue as a career. I started with my own dance company called ‘Sway dance Project’ we do flash mobs, choreograph theatre and music videos and a lot of corporate events. Currently, we are working on our music and original dance based short films with a narrative.
Apart from that I work as a production designer for Pakistani TV I have done a lot of fashion shoots, number of Tv commercials and just wrapped up my first Tv show last month.
Under sway dance projects banner I have directed 2 musical shows.
-Adam’s Eve (a love story)
-Begum Gul Bakoli (a story of an Indian woman separated from her family during Partition in 1947)
-Begum Gul Bakoli
-Umrao Jaan modern day adaptation (story of a courtesan falling madly in love) Chali Kahaani translated as The story continues (a phizophrenic girl playing chess and her characters coming to life) -Kolachi (A jazz club in Karachi shuts down after the Islamization of the country in late 60s) and produced 1. -Kolachi also did the production design of it.