The creative industry is always in flux. So much so that it is easy to be unaware of the passage of time. Which is why we decided to talk to prominent theatre-makers from India and abroad to get some of 2016’s biggest Theatre Moments down for you. Here you’ll find news, unmissable events, productions and collaborations that transpired in 2016.
Theatre Strikes the Hinterlands
Few organizations can claim to have singlehandedly galvanized the theatre scene in a city. Rangashakara is one of them. The Bangalore-based theatre organisation started 2016 with its new intense residential workshop, Making Theatre that ran for a month between May and June. This project brought together 20 handpicked theatre practitioners from different districts of Karnataka to be trained in all aspects of direction. The participants, post the workshop, directed a play with teams from their hometown and then staged it during December. Not only was that 20 new works for stage reaching new audiences, but 8 shortlisted productions will be showcased at the Shankar Nag Youth Festival in February 2017. Rangashankara director, Arundhati Nag believes, “Through Making Theatre Rangashankara was able to strike the hinterlands. And that’s what really matters, because theatre is ultimately for the people.”
The Continuing Romance of Epics and Theatre
An open air arena, fireworks in darkness, rains drenched in electric blue light, scent, soil and sky, life-size puppets, a music score of native and Arabic strings and percussion interwoven with the dramatic elements of Theyyam… These are the rich aesthetics of the play Khasakkinte Ithihasam (The Legends Of Khasak) that opened to spell-bound audiences in 2016. The play is based on O. V. Vijayan’s epic novel of the same name. The story explores human experiences – bliss, sorrow, loneliness, poverty, death, desire and religious fervour in lyrical prose. The setting is the fictional village of Khasak. Directed by Deepan Sivaram, this watermark in Malyalam literature, has now become a spectacular piece of theatre. Like Making Theatre, this three and a half hour production gives theatre back to the people. The cast is entirely composed of non-actors from Trikaripur and other villages of Kerala. The entire community participated in the play as an audience and come together to arrange props, sets, costumes, provide food and infrastructure. Veteran theatre actor and director Neelam Mansingh Chowdhury says that, “Sitting in the audience under a star-lit night, it (Khasak) gave you a feeling of being a grand people’s event.” The play has been performed in Kerala, Bangalore, Kochi, Goa and Mumbai in 2016.
To book tickets for Khasak‘s January shows in Mumbai, log on to bookmyshow now!
First Ever India-Palestine Theatre Collaboration: Freedom Jatha
2015-2016 saw the first ever India-Palestine theatre collaboration between Jan Natya Manch (JANAM) and Palestine’s Freedom Theatre. Delhi-based JANAM has always been at the forefront of protest theatre in India. It specializes in left-winged Hindi street-theatre while Freedom Theatre, based out of Jenin Refugee Camp in the West Bank has been using theatre to draw attention to the Occupation since 2002. The exchange started December 2015 , when students and artists from Freedom Theatre arrived in Delhi for training and rehearsals with JANAM. The play they created toured across 11 cities in India in the beginning of 2016, doing over 30 performances and events with local artists.
In April 2016, JANAM made the return visit to Palestine for joint performances in Jenin and other West Bank locations. In the words of JANAM actor-director Sudhanva Deshpande, “The most remarkable thing about this exchange was that it took place without any institutional funding. It was a pure people to people, artist to artist exchange that stood for international solidarity through art between two theatre groups.”
IAPAR International Theatre Festival
The International Association for Performing Arts and Research (IAPAR) is a network of artists and art professionals seeking to exchange ideas and increase opportunities within the arts. Based in Pune, IAPAR is the only Indian member institution of the UNESCO – UNITWIN Network for Higher Education in Performing Arts. The first IAPAR International Theatre Festival was organized from 18th to 22nd of November 2016. Artists from Austria, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Korea, Russia, Sri Lanka and India participated in this festival. Held at the Jyotsna Bhole Sabhagruha in Pune, the focus of the festival was- ‘Actor at the Centre’. An exclusive exhibition of paintings titled ‘Lighting the stage: Magic of Theatre’ by veteran artist Shri Shyam Bhutkar was also showcased at the festival. For IAPAR’s founder and director Vidyanidhee Prasad Vanarase, “The festival was an attempt to unveil new global artistic work in the field of theatre.” He also looks at it as a catalyst for the setting up of the Indian National Institute of International Theatre-UNESCO – a learning organization that theatre-makers in India can look forward to hearing more about in 2017.
Paying our Respects
Indian theatre lost 3 greatly-revered thespians this year-Heisnam Kanhailal, Sulbha Deshpande and Kavalam Narayana Panicker.
Sulabha Deshpande, veteran actor of Indian theatre and cinema passed away on the 4th of June last year. She started her career onstage in the 1960’s and founded Awishkar in 1971 with her husband Arvind Deshpande. Awishkar continues to be a vital platform for new writing and new thought in theatre even today. Dramatist and poet Padma Bhushan Kavalam Narayana Panicker passes away on 26th June. He penned more than 25 Malyalam plays. He is also credited with reviving the oldest theatre-dance form of India, Kudiyattam. Heisnam Kanhailal was the founder-director of Kalakshetra Manipur. He passed away on the 6th October in 2016. Kalakshetra Manipur celebrates silence and minimalism as source of creative strength. For Kanhailal this was always a medium to speak to the political, cultural and linguistic exclusion of the North-Eastern states. As we enter 2017, let us not forget how these individuals illuminated theatre through their work onstage and off it.
Women take over Shakespeare
In 2012, director Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female production of Julius Caesar placed the story of the Roman general in a women’s prison. In 2014, Llyod reunited with actor Harriet Walter for Henry IV, the second installment in what was then announced as the ‘Shakespeare Trilogy‘. The trilogy was completed in 2016 with the opening of the Tempest at the Kings Cross Theatre in London. On the Donmar Warehouse YouTube channel Llyod describes her revolutionary step towards completely handing over the masculine energies of the Bard’s plays to the female, as an act of “getting women out of the ‘romantic’ and ‘domestic’.” This is evident when in the same clip theatre stalwart Harriet Walter, who stars in all three productions, claims that the plays “allow women to tackle things that they normally don’t get to tackle – power, conflict and philosophy, the big ideas that Shakespeare practically doesn’t ever give to women.”
Actor-Chorus-Text: Reinventing Stagecraft
MOON FOOL – International Music And Theatre Exchange is currently in the process of making their third production in physical theatre called STORM. The performance will premiere at The Vaults, London in June 2017. What distinguishes STORM from other forms of experimental physical theatre is that its actors will be trained in ACT, devised by Anna-Helena Mclean, founder of MOON FOOL. ACT stands for Actor-Chorus-Text, an original approach to generating ensemble theatre productions that interweave music, movement and poetry in telling stories, while reinventing the use of space. The training is applied to an exploration of archetypes in stories from around the world, particularly those from classical texts such as Shakespeare and the Ancient Greeks to generate original ensemble works of theatre. Mclean has conducted several ACT workshops in India as well and it would do well for theatre-makers to keep an eye out for one in 2017.
Look out! Artists are watching
Few things have upset the liberal world as much as the recent American presidential elections. And artists, as custodians of that liberty, have chosen to answer the imbalance in various ways. On 19th November this year, the cast of Hamilton: An American Musical addressed Mike Pence – U.S.A.’s Vice President elect – who was attending a performance of the award-winning show that just happens to celebrates America’s founding father and it’s notion of liberty, equality and fraternity. Actor Victor Brandon Dixon who plays the character of Aaron Burr in the play made the address, during the curtain call. He said, “We, sir, we are the diverse America who are alarmed and anxious that your new administration will not protect us, our planet, our children, our parents, or defend us and uphold our inalienable rights, sir. But we truly hope this show has inspired you to uphold our American values and to work on behalf of us, all of us.” In a world increasingly threatened by regimes of indifference, 2016 could not have showcased the role of the artist in public discourse any better. Here’s the entire moment as caught by an audience member at the show.
So, as we race in 2017, as theatre-makers, artists, individuals, citizens of this world, let us not forget the year that we have been through and the responsibilities we carry with us into this brave, new world.
– Researched and written by Payal Mohta (Writer for The Drama School Mumbai)