Saturday, September 19, 2009

Kanhailal's theatre

Kanhailal as I Know Him
By: Nongthombam Premchand

A Journey from Politics of Theatre to Textuality of Theatre

In spite of the economic prosperity India enjoy
ing now, regional, social, political and economic disparities within the country continue unabated. Within free India there are pockets of colonial rule where people are subjected to a kind of colonial servitude and where people are struggling to set themselves free from the shackles of a kind of bondage different from the British experience. Theatre in Manipur or Kanhailal as a theatre director from Manipur needs to be seen within the framework of these points. Because, as of now, life in Manipur is certainly a kind of life very different from the life people are leading in other parts of the country. And, if at all theatre as a work of art that has something to do with the society where it is rooted we in no way can avoid seeing this art in the context of the brutalities taking place in the Manipuri society.
And, as for theatre in Manipur we are facing a very unusual situation which is at the same time paradoxical. There is a very gruesome onslaught done on theatre by the electronic media. There are cable television channels, home videos, a very close network of pirated films available in CDs and DVDs which the people can have access to as soon as it is released or even before, and there are mushroom numbers of video film makers, star actors, producers and directors ceaselessly working, producing nearly a hundred films a year. Even Shumang Leela which the people loved to see performed on charity or invitation at their localities is now shifted to hosting ticketed video film shows. The standing theatre halls have no longer put up regular drama performances as they used to do. What is paradoxical even to a layman is that in spite of its popularity nationally and beyond Manipuri theatre is seemed to be facing a very deep crisis at home. Hardly, there are playwrights or plays coming up. The gap left by the death of such big playwrights like GC Tongbra and Arambam Somorendra is still left agape. There are no serious actors one can take headcount of with pride. But there are directors everywhere at the most glaring spots.

One cannot expect the law-and-order situation to becoming better in foreseeable future except for a turn from bad to worst, and there is sense of disbelief and suspicion among the people. It is a brutalized society badly bruised on all parts of the body and traumatized by many shameful acts of human right violation meted out by both the outlaws and the guardians of law. Making meaning in such a society is certainly a difficult job. For, if one happens to step on an uncharted area one can get easily exposed and become an easy target for any camp whatsoever. This sense of fear is crippling the society and there is self-censorship, and the true voice of feeling is unheard of or if at all expressed one may find it hidden in a dense forest of metaphors. This sense of fear or insecurity has again created 'crops in the mind', to recall Augusto Boal, and has impeded all processes of development and creativity. For the art of theatre which is inherently forceful, immediate and at the same time vulnerable theatre practitioners face a very difficult situation which is felt but hard to express. A form of inertia, mutism, numbness and loss of direction has set on in the mind and behavioural character. What I have been trying to emphasize here is that Kanhailal's' long silence, his textualism in the practice of theatre and his intermittent sojourn to Delhi and other parts of the country can be located in these complex realities happening in the Manipuri society for many years. Textualism, as meant by Edward Said is a new kind of approach in literary criticism which is highly text-bound and which deals with the text in isolation of the history and circumstances where the text was created. In literary criticism it deals with a text, a finished product. But in theatre it is a matter of continuously evolving a text and not coming to any kind a finished text. Unfinishedness is itself considered to be the very essence of theatre. And, here, textuality is not simply how the journalistic critics or scholars view theatre but also how the theatre director as an artiste not simply engage in the production of plays but how far they engage in the textuality of theatre which means ahistorical approaches and pure textual ventures like actor training, scenography, etc.
When we look at how it came be born and came to flower we find the theatre of Kanhailal deeply embedded in history. Beginning part of the decade of 1970s was period when sections of people, the youths in particular started feeling disillusioned with the relationship between Manipur and India after twenty years of experience as Part 'C' state of the Indian union. Manipur came to be part of India in 1949 and the validity of its 'merger' is still questioned. When Hinduism came to Manipur in the eighteenth century and got entrenched in the Meitei society in due course of time it took the form of a kind of religious imperialism. To make Hinduism rooted among the people numbers of manuscripts treasured by the natives were burnt and native religiouspractices and ritualistic performances were banned. The native script use for writing was banned and replaced by Bengali script which is still in use. New myths and lores were constructed to firmly situate the indigenous people and their belief system within the framework of the Aryan civilization and their consciousness. Hills, rivers, dales, routes, stars and planets were given Sanskrit names. Mythopoets reconstructed the local myths of origin of the universe and the state of Manipur in consonance with the Hindu mythology. The mythical heroes and entire chthonic world were given Hindu names. The Gotra system was introduced and each and every individual had to define themselves with one of the Gotras. So the entire scheme of things generated by the Hinduism was considered as a step to obliterate the ethnic Meiteis of their past.

So, in seventies, when the meiteis started looking back to their past things came out to be a shocking revelation. They were at a loss, unable to find an authentic cultural positioning of their own. And, they started a journey of questioning their authenticity, searching for their identity as a nationality. Theatre was the first to respond to this kind of an absurd situation. Led by theatre persons like Kanhailal, Sribiren, W. Kamini and a host of young Turks started questioning on stage, in front of the audience composed of their own community members, the authenticity of their own political and cultural life, and meaning of their existence in absence of an identity which could be a befitting reply to others. And, since these theatre persons came out theatre in Manipur has never been the same both in form and spirit.
In the early stage of his career as a theatre practitioner Kanhailal was closely associated with the well-known theatre director and playwright GC Tongbra and his theatre group the Society Theatre. He was fond of writing social comedies but with a local touch of humour as different from his mentor GC Tongbra who was writing with a Shavian flavour. Some of his plays like Taret Leima were a farcical and hilarious kind of comedy which was very popular among the people. Kanhailal has always been a non-conformist and taken side with the exploited and downtrodden. His play Tamnalai appeared around the year 1972 and which dealt with the theme of the problem of goons in the society and how the innocents suffered in their hands, was a breakthrough in the art of writing drama in Manipur which was otherwise bound to a long habit of writing plays in linear narrative and on hackneyed themes. With Tamnalai Kanhailal has stopped writing plays and also the habit of staging well-made plays. Spoken language was not enough for him and other directors of those days. They were committed to finding a new kind of performance language which could convey the entire load of their feelings in a very intense and powerful way. Theirs was a kind of taking up the process of decolonizing the society in their own stride. They looked back to the sorry past with anger and wanted to undo it. They rehoused the forgotten or neglected past and reused it. Folk tales popular among the people came to be the favourite content and structure which could be subverted and rehistoricised to inflect a new contemporary significance. Word, of course, was not totally discarded but it came to be located in the overall scheme of performance with a bare minimum use with poetic qualities. Here Kanhailal was in his element as never before. The axis of his theatre was in foregrounding the live body of the actor in space and in creating a corporeal meaning through the physical immediacy of the performance. Yes, Kanhailal had earlier acquainted with Badal Sircar and his third theatre the grammar of which was acquired from the avant-garde theatre of the West. But when it came to Kanhailal it came out to be a different kind of body which is not neutral but has all the regional, ethnic, cultural and political meanings. This is the magic of Kanhailal which transforms and resituates things that come to him. His 'poor theatre' with a bare minimum use of, not simply the words, but also set, props, lighting and with no make-up theatre came out to be a fertile platform of multiple meanings. The audience was confronted with a very unusual situation which engaged them in a serious challenge of searching for meanings in his productions.

Nineteen Seventies was a decade of Kanhailal in Manipuri theatre. Pebet, Kabui Keioiba, Khomdon Meiroubi, Imphal 73 and Laigi Machasing-ga were all produced during this decade. The first three productions are reinterpretations of folk tales and the last two are representations of two poems of two Manipuri poets, N. Sribiren and L. Samarendra respectively. But all are Kanhailal's passionate responses to the plights of the Manipuri people, their question of cultural, political and ethnic identities; demographic threats caused by an influx of non-Manipuri outsiders, traders and daily wage earners and after all cultural imperialism, as it is taken to be, done in the name of Hindu religion. Pebet is Kanhailal's response to the politics of domination of the mind through culture. The Pebet mother represents the rock-bottom which gives a cultural and political authenticity to the people of Manipur. On the one hand the Pebet children represent those who have been swayed by the new imperialist culture. The play shows the sufferings of the Pebet mother at the hands of imperialist represented by the cat and her own children who have loyalty to the cat and converted themselves to the cat culture. Kabui Keioiba is the popular folk tale in which a half-man half -tiger character as a protagonist chance upon a young woman and forcibly taking her as his wife. Kanhailal subverted this tale with the idea of sacrificing the young woman to save the clan. Khomdon Meiroubi is all about a crow presumably an alien invader trying to dispossess a mother of her last sibling and of the mother along with her children fighting to save the child. This is a tale that accompanies performance of a folk game. What I want to emphasize here is that in all the three productions there is a mother figure, who is courageous, compassionate and very protective of her children and think of their future. His wife Sabitri Devi always played the role of this character. The role of a mother figure was a leitmotif which ran across many productions, not simply of Kanhailal but of others also, staged during the decade of Nineteen Seventies. The performances were filled with different body movements, compositions made of one single body or made of bodies organized to give an idea or a concrete thing like a prop. Bodily presentations were metonymic, but at times it could also go beyond and give a very enriching field of symbols and metaphors. Rape scenes, violence, agonizing contortions of body, shrieks, cries, shouts were the medium apart from the few words which tried to communicate to the audience. All in all, one could feel the experience of a people having the agony of the mind and body, and of longing for freedom.
There are seen and unseen forces creating a very uneasy congestion in the mind and we are in no position of creating new insights and ideas except for swallowing that is given to us, no mater who and why is that given to me or what agenda is there hidden. Because, we are facing with a very complex situation in life and we cannot be as free and courageous as we were in seventies. It is a limit-situations. Survival is the only concern for the moment. Kanhailal is becoming more and more difficult to comprehend in our mind. His theorizations and ceaseless effort for a new actor training process founded on the ethnic culture and philosophy has its root in the kind of theatre he was engaged in 1970s. The process is still continued and it keeps evolving. But we also need to consider the kind of politics which propelled the theatre of Kanhailal which made his textuality possible

Monday, August 31, 2009

Arvind Gaur's irresponsible comment!!

" Although Asmita under Gaur's direction does only what he calls " socially and politically relevant theatre", Gaur has no illusions about theatre's revolutionary potential. "Revolution is not easy to bring. Ab tak kranti jo hai woh JNU se nikalkar Munirka tak Nahi Pahunchi. But we try to bring about ...


with my full respect for Mr. Arvind Gaur, and the kind of theatre he does, i as a theatre activist and as a part of JNU...take it as a very superficial remark, think it to be very apolitical and irresponsible comment. required steps would be taken on the wake of this...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Theatre of the oppressed- Augusto Boal

Theatre of the Oppressed

The Theatre of the Oppressed is a method elaborated by the Brazilian director Augusto Boal, who was influenced by the work of Paulo Freire, starting from the 60s, first in Brazil and then in Europe. This method uses theatre as means of knowledge and transformation of the interior reality in the social and relational field. The public becomes active, so that the "spect-actors" explore, show, analyze and transform the reality in which they are living.
Key terms and practices
Forum Theatre
While practicing in China earlier in his career, Boal would apply 'simultaneous dramaturgy'. In this process, the actors or audience members could stop a performance, often a short scene in which a character was being oppressed in some way (for example, a typically chauvinist man mistreating a woman or a factory owner mistreating an employee). The audience would suggest different actions for the actors to carry out on-stage in an attempt to change the outcome of what they were seeing. This was an attempt to undo the traditional audience/actor partition and bring audience members into the performance, to have an input into the dramatic action they were watching.

Forum Theatre was born from 'simultaneous dramaturgy' when, according to Boal, by chance an audience member who was so frustrated that the actor did not understand her directions, took their place. This undid the audience/actor split and a new form of political theatre was created. He discovered that through this active participation the audience-actors, 'spect-actors', become empowered. This concept of the 'spect-actor' became a dominant force within Boal's later Forum Theatre work. The audience were now encouraged to not only imagine change but to actually practise that change, reflect collectively on the suggestion, and thereby become empowered to generate social action.

Thus, Boal's current manifestation of Forum Theatre is as follows: the actors (either professional actors or non professionals drawn from oppressed communities) perform a play with a scripted core, in which an oppression relevant to the audience is played out. After reaching the scripted conclusion, in which the oppressed character(s) fail to overturn their oppression, the actors begin the production again, although often in a condensed form. At any point during this second performance, any spect-actor may call out "stop!" and take the place of the actor portraying the oppressed individual (this actor stays on stage but to the side, giving suggestions to the spect-actor who has replaced him/her).

The spect-actor then attempts to overturn the oppression using some method unused by the actors, whilst the actors portraying the oppressors improvise to attempt to bring the production to its original, scripted ending. If the audience believes that the spect-actor's actions are too unrealistic to be utilized in reality, they may call out "magic!", and the spect-actor must modify the actions accordingly. If this spect-actor fails to overthrow the oppression, the actor resumes his/her character, and continues the production until another spect-actor calls out "stop!" and attempts a different method.

If and when the oppression has been overthrown by the spect-actors, the production changes again: the spect-actors now have the opportunity to replace the oppressors, and find new ways of challenging the oppressed character. In this way a more realistic depiction of the oppression can be made by the audience, who are often victims of the oppression. The whole process is designed to be dialectic, coming to a conclusion through the consideration of opposing arguments, rather than didactic, in which the moral argument is one-sided and pushed from the actors with no chance of reply or counter-argument.
Invisible Theatre
Invisible Theatre is a previously rehearsed play that is performed in a public space without the public's knowing that it is a play. It addresses a precise theme concerning social injustice, such as sexism, racism or ageism. It is intended to provoke debate and to clarify the problem with the people who experience it.

The actors involved will work from a scripted core, but improvisation is utilized to get the community involved in discussing the issue being performed. Often the actors will not just consist of the oppressors and the oppressed, but also those pretending to be passers-by who voice strong (and contrasting) opinions on the subject, as a means of encouraging the 'real' passers-by to do the same.

Those practicing Invisible Theatre are often seen as Activists and it is not uncommon for them to come into conflict with the authorities and/or police. Its aim is to reveal the violence that exists in society and to draw attention to recurring and common problems.
Image Theatre
Image Theatre begins with movement to achieve a static result. Participants are asked to 'mold' and 'sculpt' their own bodies or those of others into individual representations of a particular situation, emotion, or idea, and then move into a group and re-form the images they have created to form a picture or 'image'. Boal's philosophy behind this form of theatre is that the body is the first and primary method of expression, and by using the body rather than speech, the normal 'blockades' and 'filters' of thought can be bypassed. Boal encourages the participants to immediately create an image rather than think about it, as thought would defeat the purpose of expressing raw, unrefined perceptions on an idea or issue. Generally, this form of theatre is also used to express oppressions.

Image theatre is also dialectic, as those who view the image created are also able to sculpt the bodies of the participants to portray their opinions on the issue. This process is repeated until a general consensus is found, in which all are content that the image is an accurate representation.

In keeping with Boal's philosophy of theatre for empowerment, the 'ideal image', in which the oppression is overthrown, may also be created. This is followed by an 'image of transition' between the reality of the oppression and the ideal image, to encourage insight into ways of overthrowing the oppression in reality.

The images may often also be dynamised: that is, the image is altered and changed to express different facets of the issue. This is done in three ways:

First dynamisation: the participants move back to form the image, but simultaneously rather than separately. In this way, they are aware of each other, and of the image as a whole, rather than their own, individual pose.
Second dynamisation: the participants alter their images slightly so that they interrelate with the other people on the stage. Their poses must relate to each other in a way that creates a single perspective that encompasses all views.
Third dynamisation: The participants transform themselves from depicting the oppressed to posing as the oppressors. As participants are often victims of oppression, this vision is highly subjective, yet gives real insight into the attitudes of the participants.

Newspaper Theatre
A system of eleven techniques which give the audience a way to create a production rather than viewing a finished artistic piece. The techniques are devised to help anyone to make a theatrical scene using a piece of news from a newspaper, or from any other written material.

Legislative Theatre
When Boal was a Vereador (city councilman) in Rio de Janeiro, he created a new form of theatre called legislative theatre to give his electorate the opportunity to voice their opinions. The concept is similar to forum theatre; however, the subject of the production is based on a proposed law to be passed. Spect-actors may take the stage and express their opinions, thereby helping with the creation of new laws. Some 20 laws were created through legislative theatre during Boal's time in government. The technique has since been used overseas in countries including Canada and the United Kingdom.

Rainbow of Desire
Rainbow of Desire is a technique and also a family of techniques explained by Boal in his book of the same name. Rainbow techniques stem from Image Theater and tend to focus on forms of internalized oppression played out by a protagonist in relation to an antagonist. Rainbow of Desire is often considered a form of drama therapy.

Much of Augusto Boal’s theatrical process requires a neutral party to be at the centre of proceedings. This individual is usually called the Facilitator, although in Boal’s literature this role is referred to as the Joker, in reference to the neutrality of the Joker card in a deck of playing cards. In most cases, but not all, this would be a drama workshop leader. This person takes responsibility for the logistics of the process and ensures a fair proceeding, but must never comment upon or intervene in the content of the performance, as that is the province of the Spect-actors.
This is a term created by Augusto Boal to describe those engaged in Forum Theater. It refers to the dual role of those involved in the process as both spectator and actor, as they both observe and create dramatic meaning and action in any performance.

Equally, the term 'spect-actor' can be attributed to the participants in invisible theatre (who are unaware that they are part of a theatrical production, but nevertheless contribute to the discussion) and image theatre (who, upon viewing the image created, may alter it to reflect their own ideas).

Theatre of the Oppressed American Debut
The Misadventures of Uncle McBuck
The first of Boal's plays to be translated and performed in the United States. This play was adapted from Boal's play entitled "The Misadventures of Scrooge McDuck." The title was changed for copyright reasons. Performed February and March of 2008 at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA; the play was translated by Dr. Robert Moser, and directed by George Contini. McBuck is a social commentary on the politics of the American society. The play presents strong sexual innuendo, political satire, and references to many pop-culture icons from the U.S.. Augusto Boal's son, Julian Boal, worked with the cast in workshops before the performance as the play employed many of the facets of Theatre of the Oppressed such as invisble theatre, forum theatre, image theatre, etc. The Misadventures of Uncle McBuck starred:

Shana Youngblood, Bradley Golub, Tiffany Hobbs, Matthew Zuk, Carole Kaboya, Jade Fernandez, Mario Haynes, Maryella Shelton-Dyson, Truitt Broome, Antonia McCain, Joshua Delaney, John Otwell, Angela Savvas, George Akers, Katie Craft, Brandon Taylor, Leslie Johnson, Aaron McCoy, Kelly Nielsen, Chris Pryby, Alix Little, and Dorian Patterson.

Designers for the show created a regime-like experience for the audience, but added a cartoon aesthetic for the actual McBuck play itself, creating the idea that this was the only way that the "actors" can get away with presenting such rebellious ideas to the totalitarian regime. Set Designer - Laura Pyle. Lighting Designer - Ariane R. Erbar. Costume Designer - Lindsey Goodson Paris. Dramaturg - Amy Whisenhunt.
Rodgers, Mandy. "McBuck to Open Tonight". Red and Black 2/21/08,
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