Interview
 
Sophia Stepf Interview With Deepa Punjani
Flinn Works (Berlin/Kassel) led by artistic director Sophia Stepf, has independently produced and presented more than 20 productions in a wide range of different venues and festivals. Always engaging with current social and political issues, the company devises its work in collaboration with professional artistes and performers from around the world. Through investigation of questions that resonate globally, performance, music and text are created with artistes who work in different art forms and locations. The style of each Flinn Works’ production varies, as determined by the key artistes and performers and their specific skills and experiences – like in the award-winning play C SHARP C BLUNT.Teaming up with Banglore-based singer and actress MD Pallavi with live sound by Nikhil Nagaraj, the spirited performance cleverly underscores patriarchy and sexism in a technologically enabled Indian society that is nevertheless steeped in its orthodoxies and prejudices.


 By MTG editorial

Deepa Punjani: C SHARP C BLUNT returns to Mumbai at Prithvi Theatre. It’s been quite a journey. How do you feel about it?

Sophia Stepf: Prithvi is one of the best theatre spaces in the country, with one of the most knowledgeable audiences, so I am very happy that we can perform there again. It’s also a great space - the thrust stage and the intimate audience seating are really helpful for the interactive parts.

Deepa Punjani: Your three special occasions since the play began its journey…

Sophia Stepf: Very early we had a show in Singapore at the Esplanade, with a really international, mixed crowd in the audience. We received a note from a woman, who apparently was one of the funders of the event. It read: ’ Pallavi, Sophia, we all need more plays like this’. The note is still on the wall above my desk. A year later we performed three shows in Aarau/Switzerland, a small town with 20,000 inhabitants. Not a place I would have expected this play to work, but it magically did. We had anticipated the complicated word the Swiss audience might give Pallavi in one interactive part, and they really gave this one word every day: Chuchichäschtli, which means 'kitchen cupboard'. The most unbelievable moment for me was when we won the META (Mahindra Excellence In Theatre Awards) awards in 2014. I was walking in a forest in Germany and the news came in live on my phone. I shouted at the trees and was just unconditionally overjoyed.

Winner of three META Awards (Mahindra Excellency in Theatre Awards) 2014 in Delhi for Best Original Script, Best Actress in a Leading Role and Best Innovative Sound/Music Design

Deepa Punjani: You choose to work hands-on with your actors and your other collaborators. Tell us a little about your practice.

Sophia Stepf: I work on a chosen theme, which I find politically relevant and urgent and then I work from and with the performers and their talents. I work with people who have something to say and together we find a way of expressing the issue. I like to think of myself as a “frameworker”, rather than a director. I don’t like the hierarchy and genius cult that evolves around directors. I believe in collective creativity. It is always a long and intense process because we have to find a common aesthetic language. Humor is an essential tool. Music as well. Using communication forms that technology has created - like apps and websites but with live performers. I want to create surprising dramaturgies; I am always breaking the fourth wall. I like to involve audiences in a gentle (and sometimes not so gentle) way to make them aware that they are seen from the stage, and the issue at hand is something that concerns all of us. I think a lot about my audiences. My goal is to involve them emotionally and intellectually and initiate discourse and debate.

Deepa Punjani: You have had a long connection with India. What brought you here first?

Sophia Stepf: I had a great professor at the university in Leipzig where I studied Dramaturgy. He was old and wise and he lectured about theatre in the world, talked about the Natya Shastra and Kathakali. I realised how Eurocentric the rest of my course - my whole education- to that point had been. So I came to India on a research trip to find out what theatre was like in a country that had the Natya Shastra. And since then I have been coming back.

Deepa Punjani: How was your experience at the National School of Drama (NSD) in which India’s Constitution was the focus?

Sophia Stepf: The play was called ALIENATION and it’s a long story. I am proud of the students and how they found their voice. It was hard work for all of us. We were 22 people. Collective creativity becomes quite an exercise with so many people, their emotions, talents, political leanings, creative aspirations. It was not easy for the NSD to have such a play happening in the current political climate. Our nerves were raw. There was a lot of fear around in Delhi at the time. We made a daring play, which had six house-full shows and is now gone and buried in the archives. But the process and everything that happened around it will stay with me forever.

*Deepa Punjani is the editor of this website.







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