Monday, August 06, 2007

Evam Youth Forum Newsletter

Evam Youth Forum

14th Newsletter, August 2007

There is no play and no theatrical performance which does not in some way affect the dispositions and conceptions of the audience. Art is never without consequences.

- Bertolt Brecht

Raking Up the Issue

Driven, dramatic, arresting, over ambitious and over enthusiastic is probably what best gets the attention of the young go-getters the city’s university is currently buckling up for the real world. This thought was reinforced when, bursting with all of the above, Vivin Matthew Easo’s project - ‘Theatre for Change’ hit it off instantly with the student gathering at Wilson’s college, Mumbai on 14th July. The project aims to create awareness and impact change among the college-going youth of the city by using theatre as a means to bring forward contemporary social, ecological, political and economic concerns. Easo asserts that he envisions this endeavour as a sort of ‘catalyst’ that will hopefully urge and influence bigger, actual changes in the world outside.

Three short theatrical pieces were performed at Wilson’s college - Gary Richardson’s ‘Don’t Come Back to Matheran’, Vivin Matthew Easo’s ‘Midnight Special’ and Atul Kumar’s ‘Yoddha’ (excerpted from ‘Numbers In The Dark), dealing with the issues of deforestation, HIV/AIDS and communalism respectively. The project’s purpose and goal is admirable, as is the effort being put into it by Easo’s company, Theatre Watch - to provoke, to prod and to push; to use theatre as the channel to articulate certain crying needs of the day with the hope that it will trigger off some active participation of the young mind in the environment of today

However, the agenda is one thing and the act quite another. There seem to be some things quite problematic in the way the program is designed and in the manner in which theatre is employed in this venture.

Each 10 minute performance piece was followed by a discussion of about 10 minutes concerning the issue that the piece spoke about. But the time bound discussions only managed to rake up an issue and verbalize what a piece attempted to convey through the language of performance. Moreover, no sooner was a certain viewpoint expressed than Easo, who also played moderator zealously called for a counterpoint. Following the AIDS-centered piece a student questioned the validating tone the piece assumed towards an unfortunate, infuriated AIDS patient who sought retribution by cunningly spreading the virus to gullible members of the opposite sex. Evading the subject of justification, the query was responded to only in terms of a counter-query –Aren’t such acts of vengeance a common occurrence in the real world? And isn’t reality often unjust? A compelling foundation for this reality’s existence in the world of the play however, remained completely in the dark. By the end of it, most of the discussions remained in the realm of opinion versus opinion where the importance of ‘versus’ triumphed over that of ‘opinion’.

Living in the age of incessantly bombarded information, it is now common knowledge that an issue is not solely comprised of points and counter-points – every cause brings with it many different sides, different stories and different voices. But not a single issue was granted its complexities and grey areas. Atul Kumar’s ‘Yoddha’ is a piece which illustrates the fervour of a naïve modern day warrior who doesn’t even know the cause for his cause but still marches straight on to destroy the three domes he sees in the distance along with the mindless, raring warrior mob. He commits and bears violence like a soldier because he has a cause….or at least he has been told so. The piece thrusts upon its audience the question of the near impossibility of righteous judgment and condemnation even of an obvious wrong doer. But in the course of the discussion it was primarily examined in cut and dry terms of innocent v/s guilty and was transformed into something of a dramatized doctrine. Understanding an issue was not as important as meting out the moral – ‘Violence is not the answer’. Without doubt, to students at this level these morals are a given and a project like this needs to work towards taking it forward, building on it or challenging this given.

The stubborn absence of ambivalence that the discussion seemed to support was sadly also reinforced by some of the performance pieces. A particularly unsettling piece was Easo’s ‘Midnight Special’. The piece tells the angry tale of an AIDS patient, a ‘wronged’ woman who just wanted to be loved and now exacts her revenge on the rest of the world because she's been infected. She vents out her frustration and deals with her own helplessness by luring unsuspecting men into bed. Sensationalized, demonized and desensitized – AIDS is not a disease here but an atrocity. It induces violence and whether you’re a transgressor or an abider, it is a merciless blood-thirsty monster that can hunt you down. The piece failed to carry anything beyond its fear inducing banner – ‘AIDS will kill you so Use a condom, Use a condom, Use a condom’. Neither did the overload of conviction obscure the lack of investment in the piece.

And eventually there comes the question of the use of theatre itself as medium. Performance did not seem to be the vehicle of a message or even integral to it but was more of its façade. Its main purpose seemed to be the depiction of the ills and evils that plague our society with characters who were not more than paper cut outs and scripts that were not more than ‘infotaining’ sermons.

After the heavy dose of aggressive activism the final lingering thought is - if theatre needs to impact change then it had best find ways to vitalize and invigorate thought, not instruct it.

Written by Rachel D’souza

If we say that art is no longer relevant to our lives, we may at least risk the question "What has happened to our lives?" The usual question "What has happened to art?" is too easy an escape route.

- Jeanette Winterson

Around the Table

Using the opportunity of MIT Professor of Theatre Alan Brody’s visit to India, the round table discussion on the 23rd of July at Prithvi, entitled “The Arts as a Necessary Source of Consciousness” saw the rare and promising event of a gathering of luminaries from a diverse range of fields – several out of the purview of the humanities and arts, including scientists, businessmen and politicians, to discuss art. Organised by PEN-Prithvi the discussion was initiated by the keynote address by Brody and moderated by Ranjit Hoskote.

Alan Brody's lively address included a word of caution; gatherings such as these tend to fall into a common trap – of attempting to justify art, something that he wished to avoid. What he wished to endorse, instead, was collaboration between the arts and the sciences, a search for a point of merger between these worlds where they could flow into each other, enrich and illumine each other. Drawing from his experience as a Professor of Theatre at MIT, he asserted his suspicions of a potentially harmful, imbalanced growth and understanding of the world experienced by those educated rigidly in one field and of educating systems that created a relationship of either/or between the arts and sciences. He narrated an anecdote to illustrate this point of view - of MIT mathematics students elated after discovering the perfect solution for a bomb that would kill the maximum number of people. What perturbed him was that there wasn't a tinge of anxiety that accompanied the elation – in the world of science numbers are numbers, even if they are actually people. Brody then went on to elaborate on the myths that surrounded art, especially in a predominantly scientific, rational world – myths that held the arts to be a ‘soft’ enterprise and to reveal what he considered to be the commonalities of the world a scientist and an artist share, a world of mystery, of inscrutability. For Brody, although the methods and processes of discovery might be different the question that plagues both their minds is the same, 'What if'?

Panelists like Shiv Visvanathan and Naresh Dadhich pointed out what they believed to be misunderstandings in Brody's approach to the notion of collaboration. Visvanathan spoke of how he felt Brody's view of the similarities between the two disciplines was a sentimental one that failed to grasp the core and method of science; what sort of collaboration are we talking of when we can be certain that the presence of art will never make an impact in a science text book. When Brody remarked that Eintsein's discovery could be made by anyone but King Lear could only have flown out of Shakespeare's pen, Dadhich spoke of how science is not bereft of uniqueness as Brody suggested it was, and that it possessed an art and beauty of its own. There is, he believed, art and beauty to Einstein's scientific findings and its there because it was Einstein's process, no one else's. Einstein is then as much the artist as Shakespeare, only their subjects differ.

The majority of the discussion that followed the address, however, had little to do with its concerns, and instead reflected the trap that Brody had mentioned earlier, that of seeking to justify art. The discussion wandered into personal anecdotes of how each of the several panelists had found a use for art, a purpose of art and a result from its employment. Gieve Patel shared how his experiences of teaching poetry to younger children showed him that art taught and instructed us how to love, how love would be incomplete without artists like Chopin and Shakespeare, and how art gives shape to emotions we experience – emotions he felt we would not fathom completely were it not for art. Shanta Gokhale narrated her experience with Glaxo-Smithkline, and how plays organized within the corporation helped fuse and bring together employees from completely different social backgrounds and hierarchies within the organisation, and rise above its corporate and economically driven ethos and attitude.

While these anecdotes did underline a collective understanding between all present as to the important role art plays in society, they not only failed to carry the discussion forward – Brody's address was thrown to the way side – they pointed to another far deeper problem, elucidated brilliantly by panelist Ram Bapat - the struggle against utility. Advocating the necessity of autonomy for arts, ethics and science, Bapat spoke of how we live in a world where a field's validity is informed by its utility, the arts are valid and necessary because they are useful. And indeed each of the anecdotes seemed to assess the arts, illustrating how they had been put to good use in different métiers. His words brilliantly summed up the spirit of such discussions – discussions that make for, as he humorously pointed out, round-table conferences where everyone pats his neighbor's back, shares a sidelong smile and passes the issue around…….round and round.

Written by Naren Chandavarkar

Edited by Rachel D’souza

Art has no evolutionary benefit. Yet, in our age, when routine physical threats are no longer a reality we say we have no time for art.

- Jeanette Winterson

Look Out For

1. Arpana Production's "Cotton 56, Polyester 84", 4th August 7 pm and 5th August 6.30 pm at N.C.P.A. Experimental, 31st August and 1st September, 6pm and 9pm at Prithvi theatre.

2. Q Theatre Production's "To the Death of My Own Family" 9th August, 6.30 pm, at N.C.P.A Little Theatre, 12th August, 11am, at Prithvi Theatre

3. Workshop on Protest Theatre by Salim Arif, 7th August, 3pm and 8th August 3pm at Prithvi Theatre

4. Panel discussion – "Whose Culture Is It Anyway?", 11th August 6 30pm at Prithvi House

5. Aranya's "Illhaam", 17th, 18th and 19th August, 6pm and 9pm, at Prithvi Theatre

6. Q Theatre Production's "Khatijabai of Karmali Terrace", 21st and 22nd August, 9 pm, at Prithvi Theatre

7. Q Theatre Production's "The President Is Coming", 23rd August, 6 pm and 9pm , at Prithvi Theatre

8. "Nangiar Koothu" – A dance performance by Usha Nangiar, 24th August, 7pm, at Prithvi Theatre

9. Nehru Centre Theatre Festival

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