Sunil Shanker in conversation with Tracy Holsinger

By Dimithri Wijesinghe 

This week, Tracy Holsinger of Mind Adventures Theatre Company interviewed Sunil Shanker, all the way from Karachi, Pakistan.

Shanker is an actor, theatremaker, and filmmaker who graduated from the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in 2009. He is known for his movement work in theatre and has performed and directed productions such as Equus, Court Martial, Mantorama, Qasoorwaar, Metaphysical Karachi, and Chup. He also won Best Director at the 2013 Express Tribune Awards and in 2015 he formed his own theatre company called SYNA Productions.

In 2018, Shanker was described by journalist Rafay Mahmood in The Tribune as a man with a mission; “by constructively diverging from directorial clichés, he has played an imperative role in rekindling contemporary theatre in the country”.

Shanker has had an interesting career, especially considering how he was someone who was introduced to the world of theatre rather late in life, as he shared how his first degree was in commerce with an MBA in Management. He had a full-blown career before he decided that it is not making him happy, and so to pursue a career in theatre.

“I never regretted the decision. I think the decision that I took was the very best decision in my life. I am very happy, more than happy,” he said.

He spoke of his nine years in banking, sharing: “There was no honesty in banking.” He said that it was monotonous and he “hated it”. He added that there are times when you start exploring yourself and what you are doing, and get to the point where you think “what is my purpose?”. It was in this phase that Shanker decided to make the change.

About his remarkable switch to the arts he said: “I saw this beautiful building and asked my friend about it. He said it is a theatre and that they teach acting. I asked him ‘who teaches acting?’. Then I heard and learnt about the greats in theatre whom I have since worked with and got admission.”

In addition to his theatre work, directing, and filming, Shanker has also intensively worked with the Lyari community for the project “Lyari stars” where he trains youngsters who have limited access to learning the arts.

Shanker spoke about the process of teaching during the pandemic and how it has been a difficult transition for him. “It’s a bit frustrating at the moment. I like to have one-on-one contact with my actors. It is important to see what is happening with my actors and with this medium, it is difficult,” he said.
On how Shanker has managed to carry on, he said he has made some adjustments. “It is difficult to do group exercises because everyone is isolated, and I can’t tell people to observe the actor, so what I am doing right now are the monologues and individual exercises.”

However, he did say that it is interesting and that there is a positive side to this period where you learn to work in a very different and novel space. Nevertheless, he does believe that performing art is meant for “performance”; you have to do it. “I cannot just give you a text and get the expected result,” Shanker explained.

The hour-long conversation with Holsinger continued as they discussed Shanker’s continued work in theatre productions, his teaching, and also his involvement with “world home theatre”, which is a concept initiated by Calcutta theatre practitioner Simrati to explore what digital theatre might become, where the project brings together 12 artists from different countries to perform.

Theatre in the apocalypse is a weekly series conducted by Mind Adventure Theatre Company and you can tune in each week to listen in on a conversation between theatre practitioners of various backgrounds, discussing their experiences during the pandemic and how they have continued to further hone their craft.

Photos: Sunil Shanker