All the World’s a Stage
What is the first thing that comes to a regular person’s mind when asked about theatre?
Beautiful backdrops, spotlights, actors who enact various plays, audience to watch them and most importantly, a stage to perform on!
Stage is a space where we see actors performing different plays for its audience. The audience however is seated in a separate space, where they do not have much access to the stage.
Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theatre practitioner, believes that this kind of an arrangement separates the actor and the audience from each other (Hageman, 2017). This arrangement makes the audience a mere object who accepts whatever the protagonist shows. Boal coined the term ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ for such an arrangement where the audience believes everything the actors present to them. These plays are received positively without further questioning. He understands this arrangement as a valve through which the dominant ideas and the inequalities of the society are perpetuated.
In India, the concept of theatre has been prevalent since the pre-colonial times. Theatre movements like IPTA during the colonial rule in 1943, forged nationalist sentiments of unity and brotherhood through the use of folk theatre. Even after six decades of independence, IPTA remains to be one of the major bodies contributing towards the field of drama. So what sets such organizations or movements apart is what I am going to focus on.
Theartre artists like Utpal Dutta and Safdar Hashmi used drama as medium of social and political awareness. However, they were not restricted to the auditoriums or stage to spread these messages. Similar to Boal’s idea of ‘spect-actor’, these theatre artists reached out to the common people in their own areas. They used the streets as their stage or the ‘Rang Manch’ in the respective localities of the different communities. Through these plays, the audience were given an opportunity to interact and reflect on the state of affairs.
Today, so many years after inception of IPTA, the same model has been perpetuated. Be it a weapon of Left wing political activism or a way of advocating social awareness, the concept of
theatre has been molded as per the needs and the choice of the society. People like these have revamped the idea of a stage to enlighten and empower people in the rural areas. Even today, theatre remains to be a relevant avenue for the empowerment of rural people.
Safdar Hashmi once said “If we can’t take big theatre to the people, we can take small theatre to them”.
Today, many organizations use theatre in various ways to bring in social development. For example, Nazariya in Gujrat who mainly work in Ahmedabad and its outskirts attempt to resolve social problems by mapping and identifying the problems in the community. They script plays accordingly and use participatory process of development by involving the audiences in decision making and problem resolution.
Another example is that of Ashokenagar Natyamukh in Kolkata. They believe in participatory development of the society. The organizations envisages to do this by amalgamating theatre with everyday teaching and learning. They have organized many theatre workshops and given many theatrical performances to eradicate illiteracy.
Parivartan believes that to connect with people of any community, it is important to know and appreciate their culture. Rang Mandali, one of the initiatives by Parivartan, aims to revive folk traditions of music and theatre that used to be existent in the rural communities. Rang Mandali comprises of a team of young actors who are headed by Mr. Ashutosh Mishra, who has previously been a part of many eminent theatre groups like IPTA and National School of Drama.
Ashutosh ji and his team are involved in the revival of folk theatrical and musical genres which can help them bring in positive change in the community. These actors are selected from within the community itself. They are trained to perform in various drama festivals and street plays or Nukkad Nataks.
Apart from theatre, many of these actors are also involved in reviving the local musical genres. The team has also developed a song book, ‘Raag Rang’. The book consists of all the major genres
that brings the community together. The Rang Mandali team also comprises of instrumentalists who play harmonium and naal dholak. Be it Patna or Parivartan, these instrumentalists have been accompanying these actors in every play. They have provided them with all the support that they need.
Rang Mandali’s accomplishment knows no boundaries. Apart from performing in the community, they have performed with various famous theatre artists and performed at IPTA, Patna. Audience opinions at the end of every play acts as a score card for them with the help of which they enhance their quality as actors.
The Rang Mandali team through their work, strives to create a positive social change in the community. By reviving folk genres of art and culture, they seek to connect with the local people by establishing a sense of community belongingness. For them, a stage is not just an open theatre but it can also be the shade of a tree or a small lane of a village. The plays performed by the Rang Mandali mirrors the social realities of the community.
Similar to ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’, Rang Mandali’s concept of community theatre uses a participatory process of development. The audience is given the opportunity to watch as well as reflect and produce their ideas in the form of debates and discussions. Through these plays, the team is able to know the community’s outlook towards any particular social issue. Through this initiative of Parivartan, we seek to encourage the people of the community to realize their potential as social actors.
The impact of such an initiative is also visible in the Rang Mandali members. One of the members opines, “I am happy to have found Ashutosh ji as our mentor. Under his guidance, we do just learn new acting techniques but also have new approach towards life. It is great to work for the people and know their opinions. Their perspective towards a problem teaches us a lot and has broadened our outlook attitude towards any issue.” Therefore, Parivartan’s Rang Mandali’s work has two way effect people.
Actors in Rang Mandali continue with the intent to sensitize and raise awareness among the communities Parivartan is working with. For them, a stage is where they can free people of the prevailing societal evils
- Thakur, P.B. (2013). Theatre for Development in Indian Context: An Introspection. Global Media Journal-Indian Edition, Vol.4/No.2. http://www.caluniv.ac.in/global-mdia- journal/COMMENTARY-DEC%202013/Commentary_9_Priyam_Basu_Thakur.pdf
- Kasturi, S.K. (2013). Theatre and Sociological Issues with Reference to Contemporary India.
Global Media Journal-Indian Edition, Vol.4/No.2, www.caluniv.ac.in
- Hageman, Samantha J. (2017, July 21) Theatre for Social Change: Histories & Applications (2017). http://digitalcommons.ursinus.edu/theater_sum/4