Choiti Ghosh Interview
Choiti Ghosh is an object theatre practitioner, puppeteer, actor, singer, writer and director. Born into a family of five generations of theatre-makers, she was initiated early onto the stage. Her first performance was at the age of three. In 1998, at the age of 18, she started her professional career in theatre with her home company ANANT which specialized in children's theatre, as a performer, facilitator, and manager. From 1999 – 2003, she worked simultaneously in the field of alternative education with the well-known educationist Prof. A.K. Jalaluddin.

In 2004, Choiti was initiated into puppetry with Anurupa Roy's Katkatha Puppet Arts Trust. She continues to be part of the group as a puppeteer, writer, and singer. In 2010 she trained in object theatre under the well-known Belgian object theatre artiste Agnes Limbos at the Institut International de la Marionnette in Charleville Mezieres, France.

 By Parul Rana

In 2011 she started Tram Theatre with like-minded colleagues with the vision to specialize in object theatre in India. Choiti has been a researcher-in-residence at the Deutsches Forum fur Figurentheater und Puppenspielkunst (DFP) in Bochum, Germany in 2012 and at the Institut Internationale de la Marionnette, Charleville Mezieres, France (2015).

What is object theatre and how is it different from puppetry?
In very simple words, object theatre is a kind of theatre that uses the agency of ordinary objects to communicate ideas and to tell stories on stage. The fundamental difference of object theatre from puppetry is that, when I say agency of the objects, it means object theatre gives value to the object as it is. It doesn't change the identity of the object. In puppetry, you take any dead material and bring it to life. It makes the dead material do what human beings do --walk, talk, breathe which is not the fundamental identity of the material, or the object itself. Whereas, object theatre gives value to the identity of the object as it is. You use the object symbolically, than as a walking talking piece. That is the fundamental difference between object theatre and puppetry. Even though object theatre did branch out from puppetry, this was a fundamental diversion because we as human actors also use objects in the theatre as props where the object itself is not important but the human actor is important and the props support human actors in building a situation. For example: If you are using a walking stick and eyeglasses for your character, the walking stick and glasses don't have any role to play by themselves except to communicate to the audience that this is an old person. The old person himself is of importance here. In puppetry, the walking stick and glasses may start to walk, may start to fly by themselves, breathe, talk, but here we are using the objects to represent human qualities. In object theatre, the stick will be used as it is, maybe for its materiality, its color, or its functionality. These very qualities of the objects are being used to communicate larger ideas without changing their own identities.

How did you get introduced to theatre and when did you realize that object theatre is your calling?
I was born in a theatre family. My family has done theatre for five generations but they didn't do it professionally. Everyone had a day job and whatever they would earn from the job, they would pour into the theatre. By the time I was born and started to do theatre, the time had come for our generation to do theatre professionally. Also, in a sense, it was quite inevitable that I would come to the theatre because it was a family thing. Initially, I was doing theatre, films, Ads, doing research work for other people's films, and translation work. The point was I was doing all sorts of jobs trying to find out what works for me. Around 2003, I started doing puppetry in Delhi with Anurupa Roy. I started gravitating more and more towards puppetry and while doing it I felt like this is the most towards what I wanted to do but not exactly it. While searching in the dark in the initial years, I found out about object theatre and that's when I took theatre seriously and I realized this is it. When you are practicing puppet theatre, you do hear about object theatre. In Europe it's a new kid on the block, so you do hear about it a lot. A master class opened up in a theatre school in France for mid-career artists. When that information came to me, I applied for it and got in through a scholarship. It was a month-long course; I did that and came back and that was that. Sanjna Kapoor booked a slot for me in the Prithvi carnival and that's how my first play was created.

Tell us about the recent international object theatre festival presented by CSMVS Children's Museum and Tram Arts Trust. What was the objective of the festival and how did the idea of conducting the festival emerge?
Last year we had a tiny national festival, where all young artistes who were also first-time object theatre practitioners attended our workshops. We then mentored their plays for over a period of three months. So, the Fairy Tales Retold festival which was conducted last year on a small scale including three plays and six performances was very well received by the audience and by the participants too. We were then approached by CSMVS (Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya), which is Mumbai's first-ever children's museum and creative center, to attempt an international festival. CSMVS is an interesting museum because they don't look at museums or the world of objects with a narrow vision. Their understanding of the world of objects or the role they play as a museum is very wide. They see the connection between the museum as a repository of objects and object theatre which is a certain way of looking at objects. Tram trust has been working with CSMVS for a few years now and this was one of the big projects we worked on together. They are very committed to outreach, education, and getting viewers to see objects as a sort of 360-degree point of view because objects are not just museum objects but they themselves have a lot of physics, chemistry, memories, history, design, cultural and personal association. There are so many windows that objects open and CSMVS sees that. Hence, object theatre made sense to their understanding of the world but that's my sense of why they were interested in doing the international theatre festival -- 'Thing a magic'. Tram Arts Trust's objective is very simple. Everything we do is connected to presenting the theatre to Indian audiences and Indian artists, opening the diversity that exists within the art form and opening up the potential of the art form. We also aim to find the different spaces where the object theatre needs to exist within our society and to find the different spaces where those needs are fulfilled.

In terms of the structure of the festival, we had six plays, two workshops, and a talk. The six plays catered to different age groups. The plays were represented by artistes from Italy, India, Israel, Germany, the Czech Republic, Russia, Brazil, Iran, and Belgium. We were trying to reach out to artists in every continent because we wanted a wide representation. This art form is wide and every artiste in every country has their own purpose, their own style even though the underlying philosophy is the same for everyone.

Any of your plays, performances, or workshops that one can look forward to?
We are recovering from the madness of the festival which has just ended, post this we will dive into the preparation for KHIDKIYAAN, our next play which will be ready around the end of January 2022.

Last year, we created three micro-grants for three regional puppeteers. These micro-grants were given to artists who have been out of work due to the pandemic. Two of them have premiered, the third one hopefully will premiere by the end of December. So, these two productions are something that we are definitely looking forward to amongst our other productions which as of now are at very initial stages.

*Parul Rana is a theatre enthusiast and movie buff.

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