As the Shadows Rise

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JSIRRI launched its 2016 public workshop series last week with a Shadow Liberation workshop facilitated by Evan Hastings. The workshop engaged 13 students from Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru, along with six members from Jana Sanskriti to create an original Forum play on gender violence.

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In this workshop, the participants engaged with Jana Sanskriti’s dramatic methods and Shadow Liberation’s highly visual approach to theatre dialogue in order to devise a dynamic piece that was performed for the public.

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“Realisation of change sometime comes from within people and cannot be imposed upon them by others.” 

The workshop started with a series of games to demechanize the senses and dialogue about patriarchy and misogyny. For example, the variation of Colombian Hypnosis with one person in the middle with extended hands being followed by two people, whose hands are being followed by two more people. This was played with the central character speaking a monologue from the point of view of patriarchy while  leading the movements of the others with hand gestures. In addition to the leader/follower dynamic of Colombian Hypnosis, the debrief of this activity also got into the idea of ideological proximity. Some of us are closer to the core beliefs of patriarchy, while others distance ourselves, but make no mistake, we are all affected.  In our Forum Plays, we can use this idea of ideological proximity when considering bystander characters or other potential allies in our scenes. To what extent do we, and do our characters, carry the oppressive ideology that we are struggling against?

The participants also went into sudden, uncomfortable silent zones while exploring the oppressed-oppressor relationships through Image Theatre. This gave raise to personal reflection and sharing that gave material for the development of the play.

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“Issues considered a taboo in terms of thoughts, actions and/or conversations in the society have to be questioned and deconstructed.”

Leading up to the workshop, the participants traveled to Kochuberiya, a village tucked away in the Sunderbans, West Bengal, to watch Jana Sanskriti’s all-women team conduct a community Forum Theatre event.

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A group of ten women entered the village in bright yellow and red sarees, walked on to the Manch (the stage), and huddled up for an energetic performance. They brought to light issues ranging from girls’ education to dowry deaths, through a vibrant display of characters.

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The power of the play was palpable and the intimate setting was conducive to personal interactions between workshop participants and village residents.

The show was culturally rooted, integrating folk dance and mask forms, and the energy levels were high throughout the performance as they were singing, dancing and acting simultaneously.

“When the play ended and the forum began, the local men either maintained distance or left the forum space. This also goes to show that forum theatre in villages is intimate and requires courage because the participants are going to be facing the other villagers on an everyday basis.”

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After the village the students went to Lok Indie Studio, a theatre group in Kolkata, to collaboratively devise and produce a two-minute short-film overnight. 

The workshop in Badu continued with Theatre of the Oppressed based activities adapted to the Shadow stage with the aim of learning Shadow Theatre techniques while developing a more critical perspective. As everyone warmed up, the investigation of patriarchy, power structures and gender specific violence grew deeper.

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“Women internalize the idea of being the weaker sex in their minds and patriarchy is further entrenched with women becoming partners in reinforcing the concept.”

The participants experimented with the shadows, lights and equipment to create a sequence of short acts depicting forms of  gender violence. Shadows lend themselves to the representation of traumatic memories, dreams and the unspeakable.  In front of the screen on-stage performers enact problematized social encounters to complicate the abstract Shadow representations and invite audience intervention into concrete situations.

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The workshop cultivated a safe space for the participants to move through emotions, deal with differences within the group and function as a collective while holding ourselves accountable for the part we play in the system of patriarchy and rape culture.

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“I took away lessons of feeling the moment and being present,” expressed a student.

Sanjoy Ganguly, author and director of Jana Sanskriti,  graced the workshop with an exercise and dialogue about the journey from Being to Becoming. Sanjoy spoke about the importance of Love in this work and shared stories from his decades of experience practicing Theatre of the Oppressed in rural West Bengal, India.

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On February 25, the original Forum play developed in the workshop met a live audience for the first time in the Augusto Boal auditorium at Girish Bhavan in Badu, Kolkata. The audience was full of women and children from the surrounding area, who were riveted by the visually lush performance.

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During the Forum, spectators sprung to the stage offering interventions into scenes depicting sexual harassment on public transportation and work, as well as a scene depicting a woman facing lack of family support while attempting to leave her marriage because of marital rape.

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The Jana Sanskriti team reflected on the session and one of them stated, “There was a powerplay even among the spectators, wherein some women came on to the stage and interacted while the other belonging to lower strata did not. But, the ideas echoed in their minds too, which is important.”

The workshop culminated in a public performance at the National Institute of Fashion Technology, Kolkata. The lively auditorium roared with spectators ready to jump on the stage. The students and other public reacted to situations spontaneously, and when the 1.5 hour Forum concluded, the audience longed for more.

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In a scene depicting sexual harassment at work, when the boss flicked the earring of a female employee, one of the spectactors, who replaced a co-employee, slapped the boss and threw a pad at him to protest his actions. The audience clapped and responded saying they would react similarly to such situations.

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“It was interesting how we did not know until the last couple of days that we are putting up a full-fledged show. Whatever we created through our sessions pieced together beautifully in our final performance”

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The workshop was filled with moments of humor, serious reflections, uncomfortable silences, creative expressions through shadows, art and dance, as people from different cultural contexts worked together to create truly meaningful theatre.

Click here to know more about upcoming 2016 activities.


One thought on “As the Shadows Rise

  1. Sudeshna Basu

    Must have been a terrific session. Shadow theatre of the Oppressed should I say? This kind of programme should not be confined to the outskirts alone. Kolkata people also need to be aware of these issues.


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