Interview: Deepan Sivaraman

For visual language

Print edition : April 18, 2014
Interview with Deepan Sivaraman, artistic director of ITFoK 2014.

DEEPAN SIVARAMAN, artistic director of International Theatre Festival of Kerala 2014, is an associate professor at the School of Culture and Creative Expressions of Ambedkar University, Delhi.

What were your guiding concerns as the artistic director?

I have been part of earlier editions of the ITFoK, and as we stand in the 21st century, I asked myself what the questions we need to address in this festival are. It is important to question our notions of text and stage. So where is drama? What kind of theatre gains validity in this context? What is its language? Theatre has to be seen as collaborating with other visual arts. So I decided to bring productions that use a new language of theatre. I wanted people to watch it and become a part of the debates. Over the years, one has to recognise that ways of seeing have also changed. Proscenium theatre is largely a civilised performance. We are so used to seeing it in one single way. The world over they have experimented with theatre space. It was important for me to record the transition in spectatorship.

Every artistic director comes with his own curatorial concerns. Do you think your beliefs about the practice of theatre took it in a particular direction?

Theatre is a response to society, so you cannot do away with the story. Whether it is Brecht or Shakespeare, there has to be a story. Then, as we were discussing, the subject of violence came up. The recent Supreme Court verdict about sexuality brought even this into the curatorial space.

Going by your works, your idea of theatre is very different from the prevalent modes of telling. Can you explain?

It is not easy to step back or move away from your beliefs. I have been exploring theatre for the past 10 years. The philosophical inquiry the world over has been into visual language. All these years the supremacy was with text, and hence the writer was the core of the play and not the director. The dialogue is a dramatic text; only when the transition takes place will there be a performance text. You watch a performance, and listen to a performance. I think it is time to move away from a textual performance to a visual performance.

Performances like “Mephisto Waltz”, “Transfiguration” and “Revolutionary Messages” pose quite a challenge to the Indian viewer. Do you not feel that avant-garde performances such as these are alien to the Indian experience?

We are a country of storytellers with rich oral traditions. Most works that came had the story format for their narrative. But radical things are happening outside India. And the theatre audience in India needs to know exactly what is happening even when they have the right to reject it. For me, ITFoK 2014 is a curtain-raiser for theatre of the world. It is easy to access the world of cinema and literature and find out what is happening. But it is nearly impossible in theatre. People may hate a play like Revolutionary Messages, but you should see it to relook into our own theatre practices.