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instep interview
Entertainment 360: pivoting around Islamabad's young artists
Five friends get together to give the youth of Islamabad a platform for artistic expression, be it in the shape of theatre, concerts or more...

By Maria Tirmizi

In April 2006, a company called Entertainment360 was formed in Islamabad. Its foremost mission, quite evident from the name, to provide the best possible form of entertainment to the general public here and thereby lift the city's slow-paced social profile.
With this task in hand, CEO of the company, Usama Qazi, with the help of his E360 team, Atif Siddique, Director Theatrics, Shehrezade Mian, Creative Manager, Salman Mehmood, Production Associate and Humza Rasool, Director Music Events brought forward a concert and a number of plays to the capital.
Dally in the Dark, a joint venture with Centre Stage Production was put out in September last year, a rock concert called G-3 also around the same time, It Runs in the Family in December 2006 and Bombay Dreams, joint venture with Centre Stage Production in April 2007. The company also provided its production services to an upcoming television show Meet Your Stars in June 2007.
Having just started with no plans of slowing down, E360 is currently working on a play, The Addams Family, which will be onstage from August 20 to September 2 in the Islamabad Club Auditorium. The company will direct and produce three plays for Comsats University in early September, training the students in the art of acting, directing and production. It also has plans to move on to a television production in the next six months.
So who is this E360 team that wants to take on Islamabad's entertainment scene with a vengeance? Usama, the CEO, is 24-years-old with a BS in Computer Science degree in hand. Atif Siddique, 25, has done his BBA in Information Technology. Shehrezade Mian, only 17, has recently completed her A-levels as has Humza Rasool, who is 18-years-old, and Salman Mehmood, age 22, has a degree in BBA-Information Technology.

Instep caught up with Usama, Atif and Shehrezade while they were rehearsing for The Addam's Family at the Higher Education Commission auditorium to find out more…
Instep: How did you guys meet one another?
Usama Qazi: Atif and I worked together in a play called Four Rooms. Atif was acting in it and I was the Assistant Producer. We sort of clicked then. Later we worked together in Dally in the Dark. He was playing the role of Brindsley Miller in the play…he joined E360 soon after that. I met Shehrezade in 2005. She was in Dally in the Dark as well and she joined the company after the play. Salman has been my friend for the last 4 years and was actually the first member of E360. Humza was introduced to me through a friend. He conducted the G-3 concert.
Instep: How did you get into theatre considering most of you have computer science degrees?
Usama Qazi: I was always interested in theatre even during my studies. Theatre has always had a thrill for me. But I never wanted to give up studies so I concentrated on earning my degree. Later I was working with a couple of people and decided to form my own company. Right now I'm just focusing on entertainment keeping aside the computer degree.

Shehrezade Mian: I've written and acted in many plays during my school years and also had theatre-related subjects in my O levels so I do have that background in theatre.
Instep: So what is the scope of Entertainment 360?
Atif Siddique: Initially we were focusing on theatre and event management, but we feel event management doesn't have a scope in Islamabad. So we decided to specifically focus on things that we enjoy…like plays and concerts.

Usama: We are inclined towards cinema as well. We will always keep doing theatre but eventually we want to move towards films and television productions.

Instep: What do you feel about the fact that Islamabad has long been known for being a slow-paced city dominated by bureaucrats?

Shehrezade: Islamabad does have that typical bureaucratic vibe to it but it has a lot of creativity as well. And there has to be that balance because the public here craves for entertainment. I don't feel Islamabad lacks talent. The only thing missing here is a platform for young artists.
Instep: Your new play, The Addam's Family, is an adaptation. Why do we see more of adaptations than originals?

Atif: Well, look at Phantom of the Opera. It totally changed the theatre scene in Islamabad and really captured the public's interest because people could recognize it. When you introduce something new, you have to introduce it big, something that will have an impact on people. We're still in our experimenting phase and eventually we do plan to move on to originals. Because we can't deny the fact that people don't really relate to adaptations that much…adaptations reflect a western lifestyle. Eventually, we also want to do bilingual plays because they reflect our society more as compared to the 'angraiz' type characters we see in adaptations.

Usama: Our first solo production, It Runs in the Family, was a Ray Cooney British Farce. I faced a lot of hurdles in the production phase, but nonetheless it was a great learning experience. For such plays we use the script in its original form and pay a certain royalty for it. But with The Addam's Family, though the concept is taken from the famous 1960s black and white sitcom, the plot and script are very much original. The plot was conceived by me, Atif and Shehrezade, with the script written by Atif. Shehrezade was a huge asset to the company with her philosophical input.

We watched numerous episodes of the sitcom, saw the two movies and cartoons and went through 400 plots of the play. Eventually, in a month's time we had our own plot and script ready. The Addam's Family hasn't been reproduced on stage anywhere yet. It'll be on Broadway next year for the first time.
Instep: So you beat Broadway to it.

Yeah (all three laugh out)
Instep: Why did you choose this particular play?

Usama: We feel that considering the situation these days and the heat of the month of August, it is a good time to give some comic relief to the city. The play is a comedy but not a musical. It doesn't have more than 2 or 3 dance sequences. It is especially targeted towards families since we also have children actors and we have a strict no-profanity rule. So it is for everyone to come and enjoy.
Instep: How has the situation in the city affected you?

Usama: The situation does affect business and logistics… There are problems getting NOCs for halls. People feel uneasy because of the uncertainty. But for our play we're going to provide complete security with metal detectors etc so people should come with a relaxed mind.
Instep: How do you view the theatre community of the city, as a fraternity or competition?
Atif: More of a fraternity, I would say.

Usama: It's a bit of both because we like competition. It's healthy and positive. It makes us want to do better. But we also support one another a lot. You'll find us buying tickets for Osman Butt's plays and he would buy tickets for ours even though we're friends from the same community. Other people, on the other hand, don't want to pay for a ticket. It's all about getting the maximum number of passes.

Another thing I'd like to mention is that Entertainment360 is taking an initiative to bring the theatre community of the city together and form a purely Islamabad-based theatre society so that our needs can be addressed through one solid platform and our resources can be coordinated to support one another.
Instep: Normally we observe that people are hesitant to audition for acting roles. Did you face any problems finding actors for The Addam's Family?

Usama: For this play, we decided to introduce a new idea of registering for auditions. And we were truly surprised to see 212 registrations for acting roles alone. Normally, auditions for acting roles don't find more than 20 people. They opt more for behind-the-scene roles. This time it was very encouraging to see so many people deciding to audition for acting instead. It became difficult to choose from so many but at the end, we found a really good cast that we're happy with.

One of our main issue was to have actors who look like the characters. Shehrezade is also playing the role of Morticia Addams and you can see that she has the same kind of eyes as the character. Other leads that we chose include Hamza Ali Abbasi as Gomez Addams, Yasir Romi as Adolf Schluttenhagen (a new character we introduced) and Salma Dilawar Mir as Grandmamma. Atif Siddique is the director. He's doing a really good job. He knows how to program any cast member into his or her role. I am also co-directing with him.

Instep: What are some of the difficulties you face putting up a play like this?
Usama: Well, our first concern is always finding one big sponsor. PTCL has agreed to be our sponsor so we're happy in that aspect. But getting a hall where we can rehearse for free is a big issue. Thanks to Doctor Sohail Naqvi, executive director of Higher Education Commission, we got this auditorium to rehearse for free.

Hassan Naeem of Planet X is also very helpful in this regard because he gives a free place for rehearsals. And CDA Chairman Kamran Lashari has always been very supportive. CDA pays the Islamabad Club auditorium rent anytime a play is put on stage there.

Atif: Mr Kamran Lashari is a real angel when it comes to these things.
Usama: But I really want to point out that the Pakistan National Council of Arts auditorium, a perfectly functional auditorium and one of the best in this country, is sadly not being used at all, which is really strange. Why can't we use it for free when its original purpose, according to the Culture Ministry, was to promote artistic expression? For semi-amateur artists like us, these things are very essential.

We also gave a proposal to the PNCA once. A long term vision for 3-5 years which would have evolved the performing arts scene here into a whole new ball-game but that couldn't work out as well because of some reason. This is a request to the Culture Ministry and the government to support artists and theatre groups by facilitating them properly if they want art and culture to grow.

Instep: Do you think the audience is more responsive to comedy than tragedy?
Atif: People are ready for tragedy but artists don't take the risk with it since comedy has the bigger market.

Shehrezade: Tragedy, if well-executed, has more soul in it than comedy and it requires something extra out of the actor.

Instep: Any final words?
Usama: Being the owner of Entertainment 360, I'm always looking forward to work with new people, be it in acting, or in the production team. I'm constantly looking for new talent and theatre is a great learning experience for everyone. We have a very family-like atmosphere and we always keep our ethical values in mind so people should contact us and we'll be more than happy to have them – Photographs by
Hanif Khattak