FirstAct: Chanakya Vyas' Leftovers examines a pandemic's semantics, its effects on everyday lives
Leftovers, the upcoming FirstAct presentation in association with Chanakya Vyas, deals with the themes of privilege, fear, and othering — all of which are in focus during the ongoing pandemic.
Editor's note: With FirstAct, Firstpost is collaborating with theatre and improv artists from all over India, who'll perform short pieces or readings over a Zoom video-conference call.
After FirstAct's debut show with Improv Comedy Bangalore, followed by Drama Queen's For Tomorrow, Theatre Jil Jil Ramamani's Haiku in a Bun, and OGLAM's Abey Yaar!, we are all set to present our next — Leftovers. It will be broadcast on our Facebook and Instagram pages (IGTV) at 8.30 pm IST on 19 June, 2020.
Following is an edited excerpt of a conversation among the creators of Leftovers — actor and director Chanakya Vyas, actor and playwright Saudamini Kalra, and fellow cast member Rahul Thomas.
Foray into digital theatre space —
CHANAKYA: [There were] lots of apprehensions. But the good thing was that Saudamini, Rahul and I were already working on a piece for another project, which is still in its initial stages at the moment and that will take some time to develop. We tried a couple of rehearsals on Zoom for that and felt that it was working quite well if there were 2-3 people. And when Firstpost approached me with this idea, I felt it could open up new ways of looking at making theatre on Zoom and I said: "let’s give it a try." So, yes there were lots of apprehensions but it was also about giving it a try and seeing what works and what doesn’t.
SAUDAMINI: The digital space already has a language and a culture, which is very different from what I have experienced in the theatre space. The interaction between the viewer and the artist is the most unsettling. I want to see the audience and talk to them after the show. I want them to be able to speak to each other. I don't know how to feel after the performance is over. I don't know how to tell when it is over, in fact. It is not ephemeral but eternally available on the internet. It is not available to you if you can't get online.
RAHUL: Initially, I was in denial with this whole idea of theatre going virtual. I was battling with questions like theatre happens live in space and time, how can one record it while performing in front of your computer. There was also fear in embracing this new idea, how to sense your co-actor, how do I bring in my body to communicate etc. But then after a few weeks into the lockdown, I was trying to look at the possibility of this situation that I might never get in my life (hopefully) and decided to look at this situation as a constraint and decided to work along with it.
CHANAKYA: The process began with a piece of text which was inspired from Sartre’s play No Exit and was set in a virtual, digital world. But after working on it for a couple of days, we realised that there are two things which we cannot ignore: Using the Zoom platform itself as the setting and about the times we are living in right now. In fact, each of us responded to what we feel has changed in our lives and the mindset of people around us during this pandemic. And from then on, a new idea emerged and that was the most exciting thing about making this piece. Saudamini developed that idea into a script, which we all then devised and developed over the next few days. In terms of making it, adapting to the platform was initially challenging but then we got used to it.
SAUDAMINI: We went through quite a few possibilities before we arrived here. At first, making theatre on Zoom felt a bit like 'experimental art' in a not-so-good way. But Zoom is the only place where we congregate right now. It is the closest to a theatre space right now.
In a way, it is the most relevant piece I have ever been part of because I am writing about exactly what I'm living through on a given day. We are rehearsing one day and then we are seeing the same moments occur in our surroundings the next day.
RAHUL: Unlike a regular theatre performance, here you are looking at the screen and performing to your own face which was unusual. We started with a lot of fun improvisations to get used to this new platform. The idea was not to replicate what we did on stage. The process was to find newer ways of doing theatre through the online medium, seamlessly adapt to it and also to arrive at a story that is relevant in this difficult time. A few days into the rehearsal, we also questioned the reason for telling a story through the online platform. My relationship with my internet connection has also evolved during this process.
Themes and thoughts —
CHANAKYA: There’s so much uncertainty around us that even mundane conversations are now sometimes filled with negative thoughts, fear and information overload. And this is connected to the semantics of the pandemic and what it is doing to our everyday existence. Also, in these times, I am asking myself this question as to whose stories can we tell? The play deals with the themes of privilege, fear, othering and we hope that it resonates with the times that we are in right now.
SAUDAMINI: The crisis is so colossal that there is no way to wrap your head around it without reeling, and the pandemic is pretty bad too. We are hiding inside our apartments from more than just the virus — we are hiding from the faces we can't bear to see. In a country like India, death by a virus is hardly what keeps us scared to step out and help. Then we must ask what do we really fear? If we live through this, what will we celebrate? "When will all this end?" is a question with very different meanings depending on who is asking. We are not all in this together. I'm just trying to learn and support as many experiences as I can.
RAHUL: Fear of safety, survival, uncertainty, loneliness, the concern for privacy, blame game and speculation were some of the thoughts that I was going through personally. So, those are also somewhere reflected in Mr Nair, the character I play. I think these feelings and thoughts largely connect to a lot of people and I hope that makes this play relevant in this tough time.
Meet the creators —
CHANAKYA VYAS is a playwright, performance maker and educator based in Bengaluru. In 2014, he received the Charles Wallace India Trust Award to study Devised Theatre and Performance Making at the London International School of Performing Arts (now Arthaus, Berlin). Chanakya is currently the Artistic Director and Managing Trustee of Indian Ensemble, Bengaluru. He is working on an interactive game performance project inspired by the stories of urban lake revival processes in the city and is supported by India Foundation for the Arts under the Project 560 grant.
SAUDAMINI KALRA is a performer, writer and theatre-based educator. She is also the co-founder of the Meat Puppet Company. She has received her theatre training from L'École Jacques Lecoq in Paris as well as The Drama School in Mumbai and has performed her works in several parts of India, Europe and the UAE.
RAHUL THOMAS is an actor, director and storyteller. He has facilitated many storytelling sessions and theatre workshops for children in different spaces like literature festivals, schools, libraries and gated communities. He directed Our Theatre's first children's play Just Think About It, a play that raises questions about inclusion and bullying, which was presented at the Hyderabad Children's Theatre Festival 2018. His latest play is Qabila collective's Koottu, a non-verbal piece for children that has been in performance since August 2019. He is currently working as a theatre pedagogue in Head Start Educational Academy, Bengaluru.
GAURAV DEY is a software engineer and is passionate about theatre. He is currently training and learning the art form and believes that practicing theatre will help him engage with society and the community at large.
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