Thursday, August 9, 2018

A mélange of narratives-Read Me in 5D Zone-

A mélange of narratives-Read Me in 5D Zone-Vikram Phukan, The Hindu

Continuing a burgeoning trend in contemporary performing arts in India, a new immersive theatre experience will be staged in Mumbai every weekend in August, with provision for more shows to be added on demand. A presentation by Pune-based mobile theatre company Theatre Flamingo, Read Me in 5D Zone — a title which evokes a whiff of millennial existentialism — will perform for limited audiences of just seven members at a time, and will take place at an arts aficionado’s well-appointed private residence at Dahanukar Wadi in Kandivli. The company was set up only last year by a bunch of intrepid twenty-somethings, all alumni of the University of Pune’s Lalit Kala Kendra. After making their professional debut at the Sudarshan Rangmanch with three one-act plays, the troupe embarked on a gruelling two-week tour of the interiors of Maharashtra — cast, crew and props crammed into a single soon-to-be weather-beaten Scorpio — taking theatre to rural communities in the almost 800-km stretch from Amravati to Sindhudurg, and discovering themselves along the way.

Road tripping

This new project will be helmed by 25-year-old Vinayak Kolwankar who graduated from the university last year. “We are constantly looking to upgrade the medium of theatre which, in my opinion, is lagging behind,” he says, alluding to old-school proscenium theatre. They spent seven odd months working on the immersive idiom, and have staged ten shows of the play in Pune to invited audiences of focus groups from Pune’s cultural scene, like Mohit Takalkar and Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni, whose feedback was then taken into active consideration. A multi-lingual venture in Hindi, Marathi and English, the play is a mélange of narratives in which multiple locations — an Andheri complex, a sheesha lounge, suburban middle-class households — are brought together under one roof, with spectators following the action in the manner of a film camera. “It won’t be interactive, because we still haven’t broken the form, but audiences can watch and move around,” says Kolwankar.

At his alma mater, Kolwankar had mounted a site-specific staging of Vilas Sarang’s story ‘Ardhya Murdhya’, in which a murderer is interviewed live in a conference hall. This was his first taste of an immersive experience and the impact it might have on an audience. Their rural tours, particularly, have also enabled them to explore different modalities of engagement with audiences. “We have performed in places with no tradition of theatre, appropriated spaces like the village square, performed under banyan trees, and in the houses in which kirtans were traditionally performed,” recounts Kolwankar. They decided to explore these inherently immersive spaces in their own ways. For instance, Kolwankar’s production of Mahesh Elkunchwar’s Wasanani Jeernani employed a ‘box set’ modelled on a bungalow they had discovered in a village. Later, as an experiment, the troupe travelled to the actual venue and performed the play right there. “Usually, actors make the mise en scène come alive with their actions. Here, the house was already breathing with its own history long before we stepped on stage,” he elaborates. Even an actor’s performance is transformed in authentic settings, where the world she might otherwise visualise in her head is actually present with far greater immediacy.

New experiences

Kolwankar and his cohorts, in their attempt to break new ground in their chosen field, are now completely sold on the idea of immersive plays as a trend that might win over fresh demographics for experimental theatre, and stem the tide of dwindling audiences. “In a proscenium play, perhaps only those in the front row might catch an actor’s eyes or his emotions. The impact of performance rapidly weakens as we walk away from the stage,” he explains. In contrast, in an immersive production, an actor can be fully present in one’s consciousness with “his eyes, his pulse, his pace of breath, his beating heart.” The work on Read Me in 5D Zone has allowed Kolwankar to do away with expository text, since audiences in thrall to an experience they are included within, need no hand-holding.

The Kandivli residence in which the play will be performed fortuitously and conveniently possessed all the ‘found’ characteristics that were required for the production, so the troupe cane asily travel in from Pune on the morning of a performance itself. “The play is an intense experience, and the actors are put through a wringer, which is why we will only perform a single show in one day,” says Kolwankar judiciously. This is likely to make Read Me in 5D Zone quite the hot ticket in the coming weeks
THEATRE AUGUST 08, 2018 18:22 IST
UPDATED: AUGUST 08, 2018 18:22 IST
Bookings for August are currently open for Read Me in 5D Zone. For more details contact 9503575464 or check out the Theatre Flamingo page on Facebook.

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