Choiti Ghosh
Choiti Ghosh is a theatre director, actor, puppeteer and object-theatre artist. The 36-year-old was born into a theatre family with parents Ashish and Ruma Ghosh involved in the art form. Ghosh has been associated with theatre since the age of four, and has worked in Habib Tanvir’s Naya Theatre, Anurupa Roy’s Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust and with Sunil Shanbag. In 2010, she went to the Institut International de la Marionnette in France for a 30-day course in object theatre and thus began her involvement with the form. She has done and collaborated on object theatre plays like A BIRD’S EYE VIEW and OBJECTS IN THE MIRROR ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR. She is the founder of TRAM theatre group, and has been awarded the Sangeet Natak Akademi Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar for puppetry this year.

TRAM theatre group is conducting an intensive skill-based workshop in Object theatre starting this month. In this interview, Ghosh tells us about the practice of object theatre, its origins, and the challenges she faced.

 By Nishtha Juneja

Nishtha Juneja (NJ): What does Object Theatre mean? What aspects make it special?

Choiti Ghosh (CG): Object theatre, very simply, means theatre done with objects. The depth arises in the discovery of 'what are objects'? Objects as they are. Without anthropomorphising them (as is done in puppet theatre) or without making them subservient to human actors (as is done when we 'prop-pify' them for actors' theatre).

What makes objects special, when they are neither puppets nor props? Since every object is different, it makes the discovery many-layered. Object theatre taps into the 'object-ness' of each object to use them as symbols, metaphors, or analogies for larger themes or stories.

For example, (and this is an analogy I often use to explain it) : if the 'objecteur' takes a potato, and helps the audience identify it as anything or anyone depending on the context of the story being told (a woman, a child, India, innocence...anything!). First the objecteur caresses the potato, kisses it, then takes out a peeler, peels it, chops it into little pieces, fries it and eats it! The implication of what has happened to the woman, child, India or innocence is huge! But this implication is imagined by the audience. The performer has simply peeled a potato, as we all do every day!

This is a very simple example of what objects in the theatre can do. There are, of course, many other ways and possibilities.

What makes object theatre special for me is the epic-ness within the ordinary; in their small, every day, mundane and very intimate way, objects unexpectedly speak of epic things. My favourite quote is by Christian Carrignon, the well-known French object theatre artiste, who said that, "Objects are memory boxes".

It is a theatre of the mind; a theatre of intimacy; a theatre of the unexpected; a theatre of epics; a theatre of participation and a theatre of egalitarianism.

NJ: When and how do we actually make the distinction between objects and what we more regularly understand as theatre property?

CG: As a prop, the object's job is to simply support and define the human actor. For example, an old man with spectacles; the role of the spectacles is to give us an idea that the old man is short-sighted, and that the old man is at the centre of the story. The role of the spectacles themselves is unidimensional. In object theatre, the role of the spectacles can be be explored in many dimensions - what I lovingly call the ‘multiple personality orders’ of the object. It may be just spectacles; or placed next to a pair of funky, young, pink shades, it may speak of old giving way to the new, or packed into a box crammed with many spectacles, it may speak of SV road during traffic hours! Or the handle may crack, and the old handle replaced with a funky new one. There are many possibilities to what may happen to the spectacles, and each possibility would speak of a million different things. Object theatre would explore as many dimensions of an object as possible, and go beyond the unidimensional role that actors' theatre assigns to an object.

Simply because in actors' theatre, the actor is at the centre and in object theatre, the object joins the actor centre-stage.

NJ: Object theatre is sometimes considered as a branch of puppetry. Can you tell us a little about that and the origins of object theatre?

CG: To quote Christian Carrignon once again, "object theatre is the rebellious first cousin of puppetry". There are many similarities between the two, given that both forms revolve around and attribute meanings to dead materials. But puppet theatre is the theatre of the living dead, in which you bring to life the dead material. Object theatre is the theatre of the totally dead, wherein the object is not made to walk, talk, breathe like a puppet, but is energised by its inherent symbolic power. Both forms live together like siblings in many practices.

However, object theare, in fact is a confluence of many styles and arts forms ~ cinema and animation, plastic arts, dadaism and surrealism, the alienation seen in traditional Indian theatre and formalised by Brecht, and puppetry of course.

I have been able to trace the evolution of object theatre in chunks. Being a new art form, accessible documentation is scanty.

Very naturally, most of the first generation of objectuers (in France, Germany, Belgium, Italy, Hungary, Denmark, Brazil) used to be puppeteers. At some point in the late 1970s, they decided to put down their puppets and pick up these completely dead objects to explore storytelling in another way. The name 'object theatre' or 'theatre d'objets' was given by Katy Deville (theatre de cuisine) in 1980.

But explorations with objects in the theatre and other arts had started long before. In 1917, we have the famous example of Marcel Duchamp's art work called The Fontain, which had him place a urinal signed R.Mutt in his exhibition. Alfred Jarry's work from the late 19th century is considered a huge contributing factor to the symbolist movement and his marionette play UBU ROI is said to be a forerunner for Dadaism.

Post the two world wars, Europe saw complete scarcity and then soon followed the consumer age, where the markets were flooded with millions of mass-produced, identical, shiny, disposable objects. The birth of object theatre as an independent art form was further propelled by these dialectics.

NJ: You said in an interview that object theatre has made you a “complete performer.” Can you explain?

CG: ‘The multiple personalities order’ that objects are endowed with in object theatre, also extends to its human performers. Typically I have found myself and seen in others' performances, actors playing multiple roles swiftly and interchangeably. At lightning speed moving between many different characters, the storyteller, the embodiment of the object itself, often even the landscape or sets itself, and the objecteur or the handler of the object ~ the human actor, like the object, plays many roles at the same time. That's one.

Secondly, object theatre has also forced me to train myself in the art of 'shift focus' or the 'the watch' or ‘the look’. To allow the audience to focus at the object and the human as required, the actor has to appear and disappear on stage at will.

NJ: What does your upcoming workshop entail? What will your participants learn?

CG: DIFY (Do It For Yourself) is not really a workshop as is commonly understood. Meaning, it it is not simply a skill-learning workshop; it is more a lab space, created as an immersive interface between mid-career professionals from different fields and object theatre. We have applications from dancers, theatre wallahs, educators, facilitators, film makers. And it is not for beginners, because the programme has the very clear objective of taking the explorations in object work further.

What happens when people of different backgrounds, with their established practices, meet object theatre? What is born out of this marriage?

Probably not the object theatre that we at TRAM have been performing. Being a nascent art form, object theatre has crazy kind of experimentations and explorations going on all over the world. This project continues that exploration forward. And to keep it very, very focussed we are selecting not more than 5 participants out of all the applications. Later, we would really like to stay in touch with all the participants to know how this lab informs their practice – to learn about the new off-springs being born.

NJ: Unlike puppetry in India, 'object theatre', as you mentioned, still is in its nascent form. What are your challenges?

CG: The obvious ones. I started out like Eklavya, learning by myself by watching from afar. Except that my gurus and peers were not hidden behind the next bush; they live on other continents. So self-training without a context, and having to discover and create that context - to discover and create a vocabulary of what Indian object theatre might be. Because it would be vastly different from the European contexts and realities that I have learned from. This is a life-long process I think. To discover and create a market for it. India is all about mass and volume with little space for intimacy and focus. The challenge that I enjoy the most is intervening within our largely narrative, culture with a non-verbal, visual, implied and inferred storytelling.

Now after 5 years I no longer feel so alone. A group of object lovers have come together to enable many thoughts and possibilities. You will meet some of them on our website I cherish them immensely. Object theatre came to India for a reason, at the right time. It is a society of tremendous tensions and change. Our open doors and flooded markets have put us in a similar situation to Europe in the 1970s and 80s.

DIFY is being conducted from 1st to 21st July in Andheri.

*Nishtha Juneja likes to act and write about theatre. Nishtha Juneja is passionate about dance and food and has completed a post-graduate diploma in Journalism from the Xavier Institute for Communication (XIC).

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