Truly interactive and unusual

Bangalore’s theatre audience participates in an unusual form of interactive theatre, and enjoys it too!

In Bangalore, Yours Truly Theatre (YTT) has been working on a form of theatre that has been tried in a few places around the globe; it’s called Interactive Theatre, where the members of the audience are active participants in the production. In several plays, so far, Yours Truly Theatre has stopped the storyline at some point, asked the audience for inputs and the cast then act out the denouement of the play according to the directions that the audience members give.

Scene at YTT

Scene of a play at YTT (pic: Deepa Mohan)

Taking this initiative further, on 22nd February 2009, at the Nayana Auditorium (at Kannada Bhavan, next to Ravindra Kalakshetra) they had two sessions of ‘extempore’ theatre, on the theme of All You Need Is Love, at 5 PM and 7PM. In these productions, they used three methods- fluids, stories, and conflicts- to elicit from the audience various reactions to the word ‘love’, and present those in a dramatic way on the stage.

‘Fluids’ is a method where the compere (Karan Shah and Ranji David) asks members of the audience questions such as “What does love mean to you?” and after having taken a number of answers, recapitulates the collection for the benefit of both the audience and the cast. The cast members then attempt, one by one, to dramatize those answers and the process is taken forward. Each cast member has a different way of dramatizing the viewpoints presented, and this makes for a mosaic of theatre, very interesting to watch. Several such ‘fluids’ were elicited by Karan from the audience of the 5PM show. For example, the question, “How would it be if there was only love in the world?” brought forth various responses such as, “It would be overkill…it would be boring….there would be 365 Valentine’s Days a year….it’s not possible because there’s love only when there is hate…” and the cast members staged their own reactions to those statements.

In the second method called ‘Stories’, the cast again engaged with the audience through Karan; more swift tableaus were staged.

The third method was ‘Conflicts’, where a member of the audience was invited to share some event that she/he had seen which elucidated the import of the word ‘love’. One young man talked about how a group of North Indian students wanted to go from Bangalore to Chennai for a walk-in interview, and one of them could not get a bus ticket. He said that someone whom they would have classified as belonging to a gang of goondas, actually stood up and said, “These students are our nation’s future, they deserve to be helped,” and took a lot of trouble to get that young man a bus ticket so that he could proceed to Chennai. This small story was put up as a kind of impromptu skit by the cast, and it, too, was peppered with humour.

A good production

The co-ordination between the members of the cast is something that was truly commendable. They did not tread on each other’s feet at any point; each had a different viewpoint to express. Sometimes sad, sometimes funny, each actor played his/her part so well. In this, mention must be made of the excellent comic timing of Amrutha; several times, she drew spontaneous applause for her sense of comedy. It’s apparent that the group has been together, and has learnt to work together, for some time now.

Cast of YTT

Cast of the YTT (pic: Deepa Mohan)

Mention must also be made of two things that contributed immensely to the success of the show. One was the excellent live music (keyboard) provided by Vasanth Mohan Raj, who has scored the music for many of YTT’s earlier productions (many of them, like Common Man being interactive theatre). He took his cues from the actors instantly, and provided just the right accompaniment.

Ranji and his helpers on the lights provided a range of superb slide backdrops, lights and colours that added a lot to the impact of the show. At a few points, the whole auditorium was used as a theatre space by some of the cast. Very simple props (which are quite familiar from their other productions!) such as coloured dupattas and umbrellas, were used by the actors; two levels on the stage also defined a variety of spaces in the show.

However, the success of such impromptu theatre depends largely on the active participation of the audience, and also, the role of the compere. I felt that Karan was a good compere. He went out into the audience, asking them for their words and opinions, and accepted different points of view without ever being judgemental. He then summarized the inputs concisely and well. If I have a nit to pick, I would say that he allowed the show to run on too long. Experimental theatre of any kind should, in my mind, run about an hour or 75 minutes at the most. This should include the feedback session, too. The show I attended took an hour and nearly 45 minutes; it speaks well that the audience was still engaged, and that the cast and crew got a good round of applause at the end. With a little practice, Karan will bring a tighter rein to bear on this aspect, too.

It’s an unusual thing for Indian audiences, whom I have found to be very quiescent and wanting to be passively entertained, to be so interactive with the members of the theatre group, and on that count alone, I would vote the show a success. Apparently, the second show was even more successful, with the narration of someone’s long-standing hatred of his grandfather turning to love on reading the dead grandparent’s diary and letters.

Yours Truly Theatre uses these methods in three different directions: one, for pure theatre, the second, for self-discovery and awareness workshops that they run, and for actual therapy sessions, where a psychologist is also involved. Interactive theatre seems to be a potent therapy tool as well as an entertainment medium.

In the same vein, YTT is producing a show on the 28th February, on current issues, and is inviting volunteers from the Jago Re campaign being run by Times of India to participate, too. This will be at 6 PM at the same venue. If you are interested and intrigued by this uncommon theatre form, do go and watch; better yet, participate, and be part of the show in a way that you cannot, with traditional theatre!

About YTT

Yours Truly Theatre was established in 2003 by Ranji David and Nandini Rao. Ranji is just two short of his 150th playback theatre performance. YTT has had around 11 Basic Acting and Theatre workshops and around five internal workshops (where they invite eminent personalities or experts to do a session). The other dimensions of YTT are to have public shows, shows for a cause, and shows at educational institutions (only public shows are ticketed, rest are free of charge for the institutions)

YTT is an amateur theatre group; Nandini works with a software firm, in the marketing communication division, and Ranji works with another software firm as the head of training. Ninty-eight percent of the members in the group work at ‘regular’ jobs and follow their passion for theatre in their spare time. YTT consists of around 10 core members and around 40 semi-core members.

YTT conducts regular workshops when young actors are required within the group. Induction through a theatre workshop is a must. The basic acting and theatre workshop that YTT conducts is done for 6-7 Sundays at the end of which the participants put up a performance. After this, they become members of the group. YTT has staged many corporate shows but is focusing more on public shows this year.

 

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