• Being Heard: Reflections from an Evening of Politically Charged, Socially Sensitive, Poetic Theatre

    July 1, 2016

    Ilina Acharya

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    Space Theatre Ensemble, ‘Voices from the Belly’ / ndtv.com

    One often wonders where the world is headed. We read about yet another act of violence, another horrific act of sexual assault, and then there is good old Justice who often does not play his dutiful role. The blaring headlines only seem to mute the voices of victims, the oppressed and of those treated unjustly. They are unable to touch and reach the masses as one gets immune to the recurrence of tragic events. Space Theatre Ensemble has liberated these voices in their captivating performance “Voices from the Belly”. These voices can be heard—loud and clear, as they arise from the belly with full force, jolting one and all from complacency.

    Space Theatre Ensemble is a part of SPACE Goa, an initiative to spread the arts to young people. The ensemble strives to mentor youngsters in a manner that gives them the freedom to develop their own artistic voices, and also sensitising them to various social issues through the medium of the arts. The ensemble had also started in order to spread awareness about the illegal mining in Goa and the destruction of the Western Ghats. Hartman de Souza, an actor, writer, and director of SPACE Goa, shared with the audience that Goans were not even aware of the mining that was taking place, just 60km from where they were living. In an interview with NDTV, he further said that we now live in an age where we constantly indulge ourselves with entertainment, living a life perpetually in front of a screen. As a result there is lack of reflection and thought. He suggested that thoughtfulness and awareness can be achieved through art, and the immediacy of theatre. This aim has been embodied clearly in their performance, as they bring to the fore various social concerns that require attention. Space Theatre Ensemble comprises Andrea Pereira (26), Katheeja Talha (26), Rachana Rajan (25), Heidi Pereira (18) and Sugita Thangavelu (26). However “Voices from the Belly” was performed by only Andrea, Katheeja and Heidi.

    Out of the 79 days spent in New Delhi, the ensemble held 36 performances, at venues ranging from private spots like living rooms and terraces, to public spaces like parks, schools and colleges. This particular performance took place at a cosy basement in a house located at Panchsheel Park. The minimalistic setting—the bare stage, dim lighting, the simple costumes comprising just a black T-shirt and tights, and the unassuming venue—amplified the impact and message of the play.

    The play consisted of a series of thematically linked poems. Music was an integral part of the performance as the ensemble set the poems to tune by singing and harmonizing, and creating a chorus, which served the dual purpose of a musical score and a script. The ensemble synchronised the harmony of voices and the unity of the chorus, with bodily and abstract dance movements, making for a tight and crisp performance. This unique style drew one and all to listen to the voices that are usually left unheard, along with the wonderful confluence of music and poetry.

    The introductory piece set the theme of the play going. The poem, titled “Victim”, was written by the Spanish poet Marcos Ana who was imprisoned for a large part of his life. His poems reached the masses through oral transmission. The rendition of this poem was also an oral exercise and an invocation, as it was chanted simultaneously in two languages—English and Hindi. Those who knew both the languages could seamlessly move from one to the other. Those who were less familiar with either could treat the unknown language as a musical score, as Hartman suggested in his introduction to the piece. The same technique was also used while performing the poem “I still read” by Uma Narayan. The poem spoke about the defiance of a young woman in the face of societal impositions of tradition, and stereotypes associated with being a woman. The conflux of three languages – English, Hindi and Tamil – however, got confusing to the point that it was difficult to understand what the performers were saying. Perhaps the cacophony that gave the effect of a disconcerting sensation was deliberate, so as to convey the struggles of being a woman in our patriarchal society.

    These voices didn’t simply convey stories. They also used sarcasm, satire and irony which made them all the more hard-hitting. The poem “Warren Anderson Rest in Peace” was a jibe at Warren Anderson, responsible for the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. The piece had the sarcastic refrain “Warren Anderson aaram se chal base”, shedding light on the thousands who died and are still suffering, as well as questioning the justice system as Warren Anderson was never convicted.

    The ensemble also held an impromptu performance based on original material titled “Happy Birthday India” which spoke of the prejudices towards the LGBT community and religious minorities. This is not something unfamiliar but the satire and irony made it refreshing, compelling one to rethink and revisit them. The humour did not undermine the seriousness of the issue but only accentuated it.

    The intimate set up of the performance made it all the more engaging, with the director, Hartman, interacting and briefing the audience before the start of each piece. “Voices from the Belly” is a delightful collage of poetry, music, dance and theatre, forcing one to sit down and listen to the voices that have broken free in this intriguing performance.

    Ilina Acharya is part of the editorial collective of the Indian Cultural Forum and Guftugu. First published in Thespo INK.

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