The Peerzada sisters are taking charge by carrying on a family legacy and paving the way for a brighter future for the arts

Yameena’s performing experience is as broad as it is impressive. The first woman to stage a one-woman play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in August, 2008, she has also performed in various music videos and TV serials such as Rangeel Pur, Roag and Roshni Andhera Roshni, for which she bagged the award for Best Actress (Terrestrial) at the 13th Lux Style Awards in 2014. She is now spearheading the creative conception and management of the performing arts segments of the Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop and fulfilling her dream of a career immersed in puppetry, and theatre acting.

Aleena’s efforts in the promotion of the arts from a tender age are undeniably laudatory. She heads Pakistan’s largest artist management agency, Peer Artist Management with the aim to shed some much needed light on the lesser known cultural and artistic powerhouses of the country. She’s a whizz planner, having experience almost unparalleled under her belt in the managing, planning and conception of countless festivals, concerts, corporate events and most recently, private events that she heads singularly and with indie artistic gusto.

Tell us about the most recent series of festivals Rafi Peer has conducted.

Aleena: This year we had four festivals, all in the span of a month from mid-November to mid-December. The first festival this season of Rafi Peer was the Youth Performing Arts Festival (YPAF), the week after the Folk Puppet Festival, the week after that we had the Mystic Music Sufi Festival and finally we closed the month with the International Film Festival.

How does The Youth Performing Arts Festival (YPAF) come together and what aim do you wish to achieve by it?

Aleena: Last year saw Rafi Peer’s 15th edition of the annual festival series. There are schools and colleges that regularly prepare each year to participate in the YPAF. We have new institutions applying every year. Additionally, we reach out to schools nationwide to participate and that is how we get a sizeable festival together.

The YPAF itself is a competitive festival and it’s an extremely rigorous process for Yameena and the other judges who examine the participants and also give workshops on theatre, dance, puppetry, etc. to the youngsters. They take something back with them when they come to perform at this festival and that is our goal mainly, to generate interest and enthusiasm amongst the youth for the arts.

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I never wanted to get into the party and wedding planning circle and I cringed at the prospect of it. But when I did my cousin’s wedding 4 years ago, I got a lot of buzz in the city about it. I started doing only exclusive weddings and still don’t consider myself part of the rat race of wedding planners as that’s not my primary focus at all. I’m 99.9% busy with Rafi Peer and its corresponding events

Aleena, you also do private events, tell us about that?

Aleena: Our company Peer Events has been planning and managing events such as nationwide brand activations for multinational companies for quite a long time. Even now, most of my work with Rafi Peer is involving just that, managing events as part of PAM and for the various festivals that we initiate every year.

I never wanted to get into the party and wedding planning circle and I cringed at the prospect of it. But when I did my cousin’s wedding 4 years ago, I got a lot of buzz in the city about it. I started doing only exclusive weddings and still don’t consider myself part of the rat race of wedding planners as that’s not my primary focus at all. I’m 99.9% busy with Rafi Peer and its corresponding events. For me to enjoy planning weddings and parties, I need to know the clients really well and even then, I’d probably only really do a couple of shaadis a year simply for fun. When it becomes a larger venture, then it can be just exhausting especially since it’s not the only thing that I do with my time.

What’re your favourite Rafi Peer initiatives?

Yameena: I think performing arts and puppetry come the closest to being my favourites.  I’m specifically concerned with Rafi Peer’s theatre company and performing arts and have been performing in India, Turkey, Italy, Scotland, France, Norway, Denmark and United Kingdom with the company since I was very young. The work involves going on tour, putting up puppet theatre plays, attending puppet and drama festivals. I’ve been doing this since I can remember. I manage the Youth Performing Arts and the International Film Festivals at Rafi Peer. I’ve trained as a puppeteer under my father Saadaan Peerzada and his twin brother, my uncle Faizaan Peerzada, who first set up Rafi Peer initially as a puppet company. It was later that it branched out to encompass other arts like film and dance. I’m the only one from our cousins now who is a puppeteer also.

What types of materials and mediums do you like to work with?

Yameena: We most commonly work with muppets, rod puppets and table top puppets, so a lot of my work is using papier-mâché. We especially like to use puppets with live actors and that’s something that I’ve particularly been involved in a lot. It’s a mix of performance with sections of tabletop puppets on stage. This way you mix in live music, live actors and a portion of the story can be told through people. This is the more contemporary direction of puppetry in which Rafi Peer has most recently branched out into. I staged and conceived The Border (two person theatre play) at the April Fest (the largest children’s festival in the world) in Denmark 2013-2014, featuring some parts where I acted myself and some on stage voice acting as a puppet.

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We most commonly work with muppets, rod puppets and table top puppets, so a lot of my work is using papier-mâché. We especially like to use puppets with live actors and that’s something that I’ve particularly been involved in a lot. It’s a mix of performance with sections of tabletop puppets on stage. This way you mix in live music, live actors and a portion of the story can be told through people. This is the more contemporary direction of puppetry in which Rafi Peer has most recently branched out into

You’ve also done some work as an actress on television. Tell us about that. 

Yameena: I’d always wanted to act ever since I was 5 years old. After my Masters at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London in Acting for Screen, when I came back to Pakistan, I started concentrating more on theatre, mainly because of the dearth of good scripts for television serials. I did a few serials, but it was frustrating at times. A lot of other actors start out at first as DJs or models and later realising that there’s more money in acting, only then give it a try. I literally had to take a step back and enjoy doing theatre until I got TV serial scripts that excited me. Television is different from theatre, but I enjoy both, acting on screen and on stage because at the end of the day, they both involve performing, which is what I am passionate about doing.

What’s your favourite thing about working as part of the Peerzada clan?

Aleena: People ask how we work as a family because as you know we all work together. I really don’t know any other way of working, since I’ve been working with my family my entire career. There’s this lingo between the family where we don’t say anything, but communicate silently. Those bonds and how you can work without having to say much I think does stem from being family and I think that’s extremely precious.

Yameena: I agree with Aleena where she says that we don’t know any other way of working. Every one of us speaks the same language. If someone’s not an actor, they’re a puppeteer, a writer or a painter or a sculptor. We get a lot of advice from each other and a lot of exposure. Some things that I didn’t learn in schools or institutes, I pick up just by conversing with and learning from my family; I get such invaluable advice and feedback. We grew up in this way and we’ve all always been inclined towards the arts and being born into a family like that definitely has a big role to play in our lives and careers.

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How do your work and the cultural centre and hub of creativity that is Peeru’s help generate interest in art among the youth of our country?

Yameena: It all started with the Faizaan Peerzada International Museum of Puppetry, the largest museum of puppetry in Asia with its four floors of puppets complete with a puppetry workshop. From there, we built a theatre nearby and then a cafe that was initially designed to cater to the museum and theatre goers. Now it’s a whole cultural centre where all types of art related festivals are, workshops and classes are held and artistic fervour is omnipresent.

Aleena: I believe that the best way to propagate the arts is by making art. We started the festival at a time when no one even knew what a festival was. But by doing something and providing a platform and standing by it and sustaining it consistently, it gains traction. Just look at the amount of festivals going on each year and how open Lahoris are to patronising them whereas no one even knew what festivals comprised of when we staged the first many years ago. Similarly, having a cultural centre with purpose built spaces and infrastructure for people to regularly visit and engage will soon help to make art a more regular part of an increasing number of people’s lives and careers. Unfortunately, at the moment, this phenomenon is touching people few and far in between. Stand alone initiatives can generate hype  but an organisation and a venue that is consistently generating artistic content and hosting events and workshops to engage in artistic discourse and the creation of art requires funding and real devotion.

AN OVERVIEW OF A HANDFUL OF THE RAFI PEER THEATRE WORKSHOP’S VARIOUS INITATIVES:

Mystic Music Sufi Festival

The two-day festival is the 13th annual edition of perhaps the largest amalgamation of mystic Sufi music today from across Pakistan, Syria and Iran. It brings together household names, such as Abida Parveen, the Niazi brothers and Goonga Sain every year in addition to over 25 Sufi singers from all over Pakistan making for a splendid musical line-up. The festival comes together to propagate age old Sufi poetry and traditions of music and dance to showcase an alternate view of Islam as a religion of peace and tolerance.

Folk Puppet Festival

Running for the 10th year, the Folk Puppet Festival has addressed the vital need for reviving this indigenous craft by sourcing participants, artisans and craftsmen, from around the country and conducting workshops providing instruction on traditional puppetry techniques.

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The Youth Performing Arts Festival

The 14th Youth Performing Arts Festival (YPAF) 2015 saw much talent, entertainment and fun with awe-inspiring performances by Pakistan’s bright young things. Spanning mediums, like dance, music, puppetry, theatre and film, this festival is a great chance to excel in the pursuit of the arts through some healthy competition. Workshops conducted by the judges enable the participants to take some precious knowledge and practical advice back with them.

International Film Festival

Showing over 70 films from 38 countries, the festival is a hot bed of inspiration, encouragement and creative discourse. Talk sessions with renowned film industry staples, such as Om Puri, Vikas Bahl, Salman Shahid and Sarmad Khoosat amongst others, generate much needed conversation about social and cultural issues and the challenges facing the up and coming Pakistani film industry. The festival allows for the viewing of films from different genres for film buffs and brings a taste of world cinema to us here.

Peer Artist’s Management (PAM)

Launched by Rafi Peer Theatre Workshop’s co-founder Faizaan Peerzada, Peer Artist Management (PAM) is instrumental in amalgamating the country’s best yet least represented musical diamonds in the rough. It provides access for avid listeners, locally and abroad, to un-recorded and unreleased musical maestros from the farthest reaches of the country. Not only that, this initiative promises a brighter future for the sustainability of the arts by providing these unrepresented artists with large platforms and opportunities for promotion and income generation internationally.

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