KARACHI -- An on-going String Puppets Festival in Karachi is motivating spectators -- ranging from children to adults -- to shun extremism, militancy and violence.
The Thespianz Theatre launched the multi-venue festival in October, and it's scheduled to run through December 2.
"The attendance of children, students, and the general public ... surpassed our expectations," Malik, artistic director of the theatre, told Pakistan Forward.
"We planned to educate about 20,000 people," he said. "But more than 30,000 people so far have seen our live performances."
By December 2, the theatre expects to have held 300 performances in 79 venues in Karachi.
"In October we launched this ... festival under the banner of the Karachi Youth Initiative," Malik said. "We were holding two or three puppet shows a day."
"Now we hold 8 to 10 live performances daily," he said, calling stepped-up pace necessary to meet the goal of 300 performances.
The festival includes "three different shows", Noman Mahmood, associate director of the theatre, told Pakistan Forward.
The puppet shows include one highlighting the folk dances of all four provinces, Sinbad (an Arab folk tale) and Lake Saiful-Malook (a Pakistani folk tale).
"Our live shows attract big crowds of children and the general public," Noman said. "We entertain them with multi-coloured puppets and convey a message of peace, harmony, national unity and a society free from militancy and violence."
Some NGOs are helping fund the performances so that admission is free to all, Noman said, noting that the NGOs back the Thespianz message against terrorism and violence.
As part of the anti-terrorism effort, Thespianz Theatre is holding street performances in low-income areas where despairing residents might be vulnerable to the extremist message, he said.
The high birth rate in Pakistan complicates the fight against terrorism, observers say.
"Youth and children comprise about 70% of the population," Mubasher Mir, the Karachi resident editor of the Urdu-language Daily Pakistan, told Pakistan Forward. "If this population segment is vulnerable, it becomes very difficult to handle."
In the past, the Taliban and other terrorist groups have regularly used youth to commit suicide bombings and other terrorism, he noted, adding that the country lacks even a single TV channel dedicated to children's issues.
Terrorists are eager to step into that messaging vacuum, he said.
The government and other NGOs should help the theatre launch activities to keep children and youth engaged in healthy pursuits, he said.
Meanwhile, Thespianz is busy establishing the largest privately owned arts auditorium in the city.
The grand opening of the Thespianz Theatre Art Centre on I. I. Chundrigar Road is expected on March 1, Malik said.
Workers are renovating one building on the site and building an auditorium and conference rooms, he said.
Once the centre is done, it will become the second largest privately owned art centre in Pakistan and the largest in Karachi. Rafi Peer Theatre in Lahore is the largest.
The centre will serve a number of purposes, Malik said, from being able to host performances and to enabling actors to train novices.
At a later stage, should the need arise, Thespianz could convert the centre into a performing-arts college, he said.