Rangashankara's 14th Theatre Festival on "Plays That Almost Weren't" A Reflection On Censorship & Dissent in the Arts

Nitya Andrew

The Bangalore-based Rangashankara's annual theatre festival is in its 14th year. The theme this year of "Plays that Almost Weren't" dives into texts, experiences and performances that were silenced at certain points in our theatre history. A nine-day long festival with one play premiering each day, this edition marks the first time the festival has invited applications for participation, in a move towards furthering inclusion in its theatre space.

Rangashankara's founder, Arundathi Nag, opens the festival

The festival, which began on 27th October 2018, features more than just plays in a warm, brightly lit space that is buzzing with activity. Festival Director Vivek Madan says that one of the things that the festival intends to do this year is to create multiple touch-points for theatregoers to engage with theatre. So not only does the festival showcase one play a day that has made it to the curatorial shortlist, it also features a series of events on each of the nine days of the festival. This includes a lecture series, debates, film screenings, installations, and rehearsed readings.

Theatre Spaces as Platforms of Engagement

The transformation of the space to accommodate the festival is evident. The foyer is staged to host installations with audio support. These installations broadly address the central premise of the play that's to be staged on that day through lenses of different representation. The intent of this is to perhaps to urge the audience to think outwards from the boundaries of the performance itself, and to broaden the discourse and conversations around it.

A theatre-goer listens to the audio guide of an art installation at the festival

Rangashankara's rooftop is hosting debates, lectures and film screenings for the duration of the festival, which are open to all, further extending the scope of the exchange and conversation beyond the stage. This interesting use of spaces within the theatre empowers the audience's experience from spectatorship to active engagement with the ideas and context behind every performance. That theatre works in unison with the other arts and acts in ‘collaboration', is in the DNA of the festival this year.

The Curatorial Process

Along the same vein the plays that made the shortlist were a collaborative result of a panel of theatre-makers. It was important that the direction and vision for the festival be shaped by theatre-makers from varied verticals, says Madan. He explains how the plays were chosen on the strength of their ideas, and of how differently they'd be performed from the original text.

The 2018 edition is a line-up of adaptations that were once censored or are performative responses to censorship. This is a topic that not only resonates with theatre-makers and watchers alike, but is also a topic that needs to be particularly addressed in our times.

A still from the play CHANDALA IMPURE

The nine shortlisted works cover a gamut of ways by which censorship muffles expression and dissent.

The Performances

One of the things that the festival's curating panel was keen on, were performances that didn't exactly replicate a script, but contextualised it differently, explains Madan. The resulting choices that made the shortlist keenly reflect this. The festival's opening performance, AHALYA B.D is an adaptation of Henrik Ibsen's HEDDA GABLER with a nod to the Ramayana. CHANDALA IMPURE that has just finished a run in France, is a re-imagining of ROMEO & JULIET in India, ruled by a classist demon while George Orwell's allegorical novella ‘Animal Farm' is dramatised as a commentary on the current political and social systems.

Purely in form and technique, the variety is delectable.

AMMI JAAN is a monologue adapted from Une Madre by Dario Fo and France Rame. RAJENDRA LAXMI is a Kathak dance drama and I AM NOT HERE is a devised performance, styled as an 8-step guide to censoring women's writing.

The genres are far-reaching and clashes textual genre with creative performance liberties in interesting ways. RAKSHAS is a metaphorical, fantastical fable adapted from Yevgeny Schwartz's satire, THE DRAGON, while MAHISH is a mythological rendition of Eugene Ionesco's post-war avant-garde drama, RHINOCEROS

In terms of content alone, DOHRI ZINDAGI'S treatment of gender has been forced to be censored, and uses various Indian art forms like Kawad, Nautanki and more in its performance.

The languages range from English, Kannada and Hindi to Dakhini Urdu, Tamil, Marwadi and Nepali.

With a varied repository of thematic performance line-ups, the festival showcases socially-relevant storytelling through a motley of techniques rooted in tradition.

The schedule of the plays screening at the Rangashakara festival this year:

Know more here!

*Nitya Andrew is a Fashion Marketing Editor from Bangalore, pursuing a doctoral degree in performance anthropology

Mumbai Theatre Guide takes no responsibility for change in schedule.

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