Voices from the shadows

Print edition : February 24, 2006

German director Richard Schechner. - BY SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

"THEATRE in Turmoil", a seminar masterminded by eminent theatre director Richard Schechner and theatre scholar Samik Bandyopadhyay, was part of Bharatrang Mahotsav. The title acquired striking resonances when seldom-heard voices from Iraq (Awni Afram Karoumi), Iran (Hamed Mohammed Taheri), Lebanon (Rabih Mroue), Pakistan (Usman Peerzada, Madeeha Gauhar) and Bangladesh (Kamaluddin Nilu) shared personal experiences under totalitarian or theocratic regimes, in times of war and exile. Nor was the home country lacking in the need for theatre to shake people out of apathy, to warn against the dwindling of the individual's freedom, and human rights.

Happily, the focus was on practice, not theory. Every speech, written or extempore, underlined the vital connection between art and human existence socio-political and spiritual. Aesthete or activist, all agreed that "man is a social creature, a political animal, but he survives only because he is also an artiste".

What makes theatre indispensable to human life? Richard Schechner's answer was simple, spontaneous and insightful: "Theatre is inherently incomplete. Of this we should be aware and be profoundly thankful... Its incompleteness, like life itself, is what holds our attention. Sophocles wrote that no person can speak of happiness until after death; that death converts contingency into destiny. Theatre is the art of contingency. There is always the risk that something will go wrong - which, as we all know, is when often it goes very right.

For example, at the Sammukh Theatre during a production of Hamlet, directed by Neeraj Kabi, the power failed. For a few moments the show went on in the dark. Then someone opened a shutter at the back of the auditorium. Through a small opening, a pale, eerie light, streaked and haunting, came through and illuminated the actors whose characters seemed suspended between life and death. For me, this was a very powerful moment... Only live performance can deliver these experiences."

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