“A Moment of Memory”: Theatre Review

When my friend Priya Venkatesh told me about the performance of “A Moment of Memory”, I was intrigued by the description of the performance and decided to attend the 8 pm showing at Atta Galatta in Koramangala, on January 10th. The production was by Visual Respiration, a group founded by Aruna Ganesh Ram, and  the show was directed by her. 

An experiential performance based on personal encounters’ is the description of the performance in the words of

Visual Respiration.

It  gives the details about how this production came into being.

It was not a “play” in the usual sense of the term at all. The production consisted of performances by four actors, of real-life experiences, and was described as experiental theatre. The audience consisted of small groups of  12 to 14 people; and they did not sit and watch passively, as is usual in theatre, but moved from tableau to tableau, in four demarcated spaces.

Before the performance, Aruna addressed the audience , telling them what they might expect. Each member was also given a sheet of paper, on which was a description of the production, plus four sticky notes: one describing “immersive theatre”, one a request to  tell friends about this theatre experience and inform them about the next such performance. The third was a note that was used by the audience member during the performance (more about this later) and the fourth, a note where one could write feedback, as well as one’s contact information.

“A Moment of Memory”

  • Produced by Visual Respiration
  • Performed by Abhishek Misra, Priyam Jain, Rohini Mundra, and Samridhi Purohit
  • Designed and directed by Aruna Ganesh Ram
  • Poem, “Take Back the Night”, by  Manasi Subramaniam
  • Production crew: Ravi Karthik, Vrinda Misra, Manvi Gandotra, Shruthi Chandrashekaran
  • Further performances on Jan 23, 24, 25, 2015, at Shoonya Space, Lalbagh Road.
  • Tickets on www.bookmyshow.com
  • “Devising Immersive Theatre”, a workshop on Jan 31 and 1 Feb 2015, leading to a performance in Aug 2015.
  • Website: www.visualrespiration.com
  • If you’d like to participate, you can email the group at perform@visualrespiration.com.

The performances were all about the various oppressions and dangers that dog womanhood, and were powerful and intense from start to finish. The first one had a young woman recount how she was first attacked late at night and how later, she tried to save another young woman in similar danger. The poem she declaimed was very moving. The next one had a young woman  find out about lack of commitment on the part of her lover, with lighted matches forming a metaphor for various experiences that she undergoes. In the third, a young woman uses sticky notes to remember and to forget, and she invited the audience to go into a memory that they would like to forget. The  fourth, in Hindi/Urdu, had a young man describing the oppression he saw his mother undergoing. The fifth had a smiling young woman starting every line with “There’s something about…”, where the audience were given things to taste, with the blending of various spices and tastes, becoming both a sensory experience as well as a memory.

The intensity of the performance was leavened by touches of humour, especially in the last performance. It was certainly unlike any other theatre that I had witnessed before. It was a novel thing for me not to be able to take notes for my review, as I usually do during the performance; I was standing, moving, and doing things!

The lighting of the various spaces was very well done, and highlighted  each experience and memory. The direction was very subtle; I did get the feeling that most of it had been conveyed to the performers before the show, and more  feedback would be given later, as the director, watched the peformance with the audience.

The play ran about 55 minutes. The director of the play and its designer, Aruna, conducted the audience through the various spaces. Our show began on time, but the next show started about 10 minutes late.

I emerged from the performance disturbed… but bemused at the same time. Discussing  our reactions, Priya and I both felt that our puzzlement and our lack of engagement  with the performance was due to the fact that each tableau lasted for about 15 minutes or less, and before we could internalise it, we were led to the next one.

Also, when one is used to a passive reception of what the cast is conveying, it takes a while to get into a more interactive mode, and it was only after repeated prompting that audience members realised that they too were being asked to light the tealights, or extend their hands.  What was part of the actors’ dialogues, and what were instructions to the audience, was not very clear and the confusion also prevented us from interacting the way we would have, otherwise. For example, in the first tableau, the young woman wished us a good evening and we responded, but we realised it was part of her performance and we were not really expected to respond verbally to her.

At the end of the 8 pm show, Aruna asked us to  join in for a discussion, but after the 9 pm show was also over! To ask us, at 9 pm, to go out, have dinner, and come back for a discussion after 10 pm was surely not practical. So our discussion never happened, and I do not know if the 9 pm audience also stayed for the discussion or not.

There was also some merchandise on display; prints of paintings and memorabilia based on the performance. All these were referred to in the really excellent brochure provided to each audience member, as was the information about the audience not being seated in one place, the senses being engaged, loud sounds and  high-energy movements being used.

As Aruna forbade any photography or videography, I was not able to take a couple of shots for my review. However, I noticed that the performance was being videographed, no doubt for future publicity material or for feedback for the performers themselves.

All told, I feel that I would probably have to see the  performance a couple of times to really get into the interactive mode mandated by the show, and  truly introspect upon my own moments of memory. However, this was a bold, intense attempt at a genre of theatre that  the playgoers of Bangalore, at least, are not used to. Visual Respiration is certainly one group whose further productions I will be looking forward to.

A word about the venue. The spaces were well designed and utilised, but in my mind, I was comparing this space to the Atta Galatta  which I had visitied earlier, in a  house in a calm locality…and wished that the traffic noises would not have to intrude quite so much into the  production. However, that’s the reality of urban space in Bangalore!

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