Sunil Pokharel

Ashoka Fellow
Illustration of a person's face depicting a fellow
Nepal
Fellow since 1988
Aarohan
This description of Sunil Pokharel's work was prepared when Sunil Pokharel was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1988 .

Introduction

Sunil Pokharel, one of Nepal's only professional trained directors, is trying to bring theater to the service of social ends in Nepal.

The New Idea

Sunil has gathered together a core troupe of a dozen professional but, in effect, volunteer actors. They have demonstrated that they can go to the different regions of Nepal and help local people with an interest master the use of live theater, a mastery they try to focus on social issues. He may well be able to use the medium to help bring family planning, environmental safety, and other messages to rural Nepal, in the process developing a financial base for his work since many of the agencies, both public and private, working in these areas have found other forms of communications disappointing ineffective.Sunil's approach is simple and quick. He travels to the area and gets a sense of both local concerns and whatever local music or dramatic traditions exists. Since most areas don't have stages or electricity, he writes a play around these concerns, incorporating the area's artistic traditions, that can be staged easily in an open courtyard or on a street.

The Problem

Nepal, especially outside the Kathmandu Valley, is often hard to reach physically and intellectually. Only 70,000 receive television in the whole country, and newspaper circulation is also tiny. Theater is a powerful medium with strong, if withering, cultural roots.The traditional traveling troupes have lost their economic attractiveness and there has been little to encourage let along help train people for an alternative amateur capacity.The many social agencies trying to bring social change have found getting public education messages across to the public chronically difficult.

The Strategy

Play in hand, he and several of his core team return and hold a workshop with 20-30 local people interested both in theatre and social issues that typically lasts 10 days. Every evening the workshop stages its play in a different village or part of town. All the while the workshop is writing its own new play, which it performs on the last day of the workshop. The local actors commit to perform this play in 7-10 neighborhoods over the following few weeks -- thus launching a working local theatre group that, incorporating local artistic traditions, articulates local issues.Sunil also plans to follow-up and continue to encourage these local groups.Further, he plans to explore adapting his approach to carry major social issues to the country through the theater. His Ashoka colleague Agate Thapa is working with him to see what can be done in the education field.

The Person

Sunil was born in Khotang but as a boy moved to the Terrai Plains region just north of India. He became fascinated by the power of theater and, over the last ten years, has honed his skills as an actor and director after studying psychology at Nepal's Tribhuvan University through 1979. From 1984-1987 he studied at New Delhi's National School of Drama.In addition to starting his program of bringing social drama to the grassroots level, he's currently producing a series of plays for a discussion group of leading intellectuals, journalists, and professionals he has pulled together in Kathmandu. This series is being televised.