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Published: January 15th 2008
Jana Sanskriti in action
Scene from their current play
It's almost a week now since the theatre project with Jana Sanskriti (JS) so I've had time to unwind a bit and muse over the experience. And what an experience...........
When I first arrived in Badu - a suburb (though it's more like a village) just outside Kolkota where JS is based - I had a vague idea of what I was letting myself in for. I knew it would be a fortnight of drama training and activities using "theatre of the oppressed" (TO) techniques which I'd come across briefly before through working with a couple of drama therapists (see 2nd blog for an explanation of TO). I hadn't thought much about who 'd be working with though. I assumed it would be mainly Indians from JS and a smallish group of participants. I had a shock then when 25 people turned up (German, Austrian, French, Turkish, Greek, Spanish, Argentian, Canadian, Portuguese and English) who were mostly involved with TO projects already or who knew quite a bit about it and the work of JS.
Just to say a bit more about JS, they use TO to address political and social issues among poorer people. It was started by
Sanjoy Ganguly, a former member of the Communist party who got fed up with just following orders and was pushed out in the end anyway for asking too many questions. After that he worked in the slums of Kolkata for a bit then spent time in the villages where the majority of the slum-dwellers were originally from. In the villages he and his friends were treated with suspicion. People thought they were there with a hidden agenda to either rip them off or convert them. Once Sanjoy noticed and started to understand the local folk arts and use them in expressing political ideas, people began to "get it". Twenty years on, Jana Sanskriti (which means "people's culture") works in 10 of the (40??) states across India and there are about (10,000??) people involved now (haven't got the exact stats to hand).
Anyway, for the first few days I felt really out of my depth and with a crappy cough and cold, wanted to leave and spend a few weeks on the beaches of Goa instead. I was on holiday after all! Couldn't be doing with all these people......... But, once we got into things and I found myself in
Europeans in action
Snapshot from one of the workshops
one of the main roles in my group's play, it was difficult to back out. So by day 4 I decided to stop dithering and stay.
The process of putting together a play was one of the most uncomfortable things I've done for a while. I've been used to being the director for the past 3 years which is loads safer than having to properly act. Didn't like it at all which surprised me. Thought I'd be OK. Anyway, my role was the oppressor and I had to be really forceful and angry. I was crap to start with but Francesca the fiery French woman pretty much bullied me out of myself and in the end I found my inner bulshiness. Therapy in itself!
The workshops went on for a week and at the end we had a day off sightseeing in Kolkata. Hung out with a French woman called Delphine some of the day which was a laugh. Especially when in a moment of honesty I told her that sometimes I feel neurotic in groups. She looked more taken aback than I thought the comment deserved but then she thought I'd said that sometimes I feel erotic
Happy new year!
Sparks and celebrations
in groups. Ha de ha.
The next few days were spent visiting some villages. They're not too far away from Badu (about 100km) but due to dodgy roads, it took about 5 hours to get to them by bus (along with a few white-knuckled moments on the way). When we arrived at the first village we were immediately caught up in a protest march which had been organised by JS members. Women and children were pouring past with banners demanding better education and food for all. Men were mainly on bikes with similar signs round their necks. When we neared the end of the procession and turned a corner, I had to catch my breath because the crowd gathering round the stage and waiting for the rally was HUGE. A colourful mass of about 5000 people.
Sitting among the crowd with some women and children as Sanjoy spoke from the stage and a JS group, some musicians and another theatre group performed later, was the highlight of the whole time for me. They were just so chuffed to have me with them (and vice versa!) and we had a laugh "chatting" and playing together.
Later that night
we were dispatched on bicycle carts to Shuto (one of the actors)'s remote village. A beautiful place where we were treated like kings and queens by the 20 or so villagers who all worked together so eagerly and willingly to feed and serve us. A humbling experience.
After a relaxing and peaceful morning walking round the village and by the river we set off again to another village to perform our plays as part of a festival organised by JS. Again, a huge crowd had gathered by the time we arrived and after a welcoming ceremony in a straw covered canopy, we were soon on stage. The crowd were hushed as they tried to make sense of our strange languages. At the end people were invited on stage to challenge the last oppressor (me!) which was an experience. Bit tricky to think on my feet and respond to someone via translation but it was fun, inspite of having to be horrible to people I just wanted to hug.
The last few days of the project were spent resting, evaluating our time together and doing one last performance as part of a cultural festival in Kolkata. And the very
The Indian Proclaimers
Two music students from Kolkata who came to perform to us with some of their teachers. Serious stuff.
last night was spent in a pub with some German, Austrian, Turkish and Canadian friends. A memorable night in a memorable city with some great people after what turned out to be a really good time. Am so glad I stayed!
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