Creative Coincidental Kinship~ 3

April 29, 2017 at 9:15 AMApr (Activism, Friends, Musings, Slice Of Life, Theater, Uncategorized)

It was 13th November 2016. I was sitting in the hostel and trying to work when Dharmakeerthi called to ask if I would be interested in watching an experimental play in Marathi. My first response was in the negative because I wouldn’t follow Marathi. But I changed my mind in no time when Dharma told me the play is titled White Rabbit Red Rabbit, a play about which Shrunga had spoken to me, while in Bangalore, couple of months ago.

Atul PetheThe play white Rabbit Red Rabbit written by Nassim Soleimanpour , I was told earlier by Shrunga and by Dharma that evening, is a unique experiment in theater where the play if handed over to the actor for the first time in a sealed cover on the stage in the presence of the audience and s/he is expected to perform while s/he discovers the play while reading it aloud on the stage and performing as per the instruction given by the writer. The play is played only once by a performer and each time a new performer does the play. The prerequisite for the performance is that the performer, before the play, should not know anything about the pay before the performance. The performer is sent a mail 48 hours before the performance where they are told to bring a bottle of water with them and come prepared with an animal impression.

Thus the play opens as a mystery not just to the audience but also the performer.

What grounds this experimental world on earth is the primary reason that led this play to be designed in this fashion. Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian, refused to enroll for national service and was forbidden to leave his native Iran for the same. So when restricted from moving outside Iran this theater artist decided to make his words his play travel without him yet with him and wrote the play White Rabbit Red Rabbit, which as he himself says could, “find a way around the Iranian structure of supervising the performing arts.”

Dharma came to pick me up slightly over an hour before the time scheduled for the play to begin. Demonetization had just crashed on all our lives and neither Dharma nor I had money in hand to buy tickets. Dharma requested the organizers to let us pay the next day or on one of the days following and permit us to watch the play that evening. The organizers agreed gracefully.

That evening the play was to be performed by the celebrated Marathi theater and screen artist Atul Pethe. As we waited for the play to begin Dharma told me that Alok Rajwade had earlier performed the same play. Alok was with us waiting for the performance to begin.

Unlike all other plays the performance of White Rabbit Red Rabbit encourages the audience to keep their mobile phones switched on because one “might need to use it,” and begins by uniting all, the audience and also the performer, in a shared experience of nervous excitement.

This feeling of nervous excitement which is quite paradoxical, kind of captures the nature of White Rabbit Red Rabbit which is paradoxical and through the paradox quite profound.

The play handed over in a sealed packet stands as a metaphor for the closed worlds and secrecy of the state and authority which through such secrecy not just secludes people but also controls them. While the uncertainty of what is going to happen reflects the uncertainty of life in a repressed society the overwhelming presence of the voice of the author dictating terms not just to the performer but also the audience speaks of how unknown voices, given the stature of authority/ author controls our movement or non-movement through its demand of obedience. At the same time when the actor speaks for the author introducing himself/ herself as Nassim Soleimanpour we see, in a strange way, how censorship works i.e. someone starts to speak through the individual stripping them of their voice.

The structure of the play certainly echoes these ideas, also because of the circumstances under which it was written, though the author says the play which is ‘meeting of social experiment and theater experiment’ only his exploration of the ideas of obedience and collective behavior.

On the flip side of this dark reality told in a gripping way through secrecy and mystery, the play speaks of possibilities within such a restricted, repressive and restrained given reality.

The sealed packet reaching the hand of the performer, to begin with, gives the first hope about words still being able to be transported to the performer even when the author is not allowed to move out of his native. When the performer begins to read the script, s/he, “I am Nassim Soleimanpour,” it shows the transformative power art holds within itself, where the performer becomes the author and author performs through the performer. This, in a way, also hints that the author, the performer, the audience all could be the same kind of individuals in similar situation of life/ world.

The author at one point says, “I can’t see you or hear you, but I consider you somewhere in my imagined world and I write to you.” This while shows the power of imagination it also shows the transgression made possible through word through art. When the author says he had written the play on 25 April 2010 and says he doesn’t know when and where the performance is taking place, the author and the play starts to hint about words being able to travel in time thus sculpting story and history in time and making it travel across space and time.

When Nassim, the author, says through the performer, “I have not seen you but have met you,” he challenges the authority and its power by making his play, a piece of art, turn into a creation of human bond across space and time. He further extends this bond when he invites the audience to write to him and send him photographs of the play. He also promises to respond to the mails “if alive.” This uncertainty of his life, while chokes the audience it also shows the immortality of words and art, which continues to survive beyond the author and tell the story of a particular phase of history in a given land.

While it looks like experimental play it is also an experiential play because the anxiety, authority and uncertainty of a condition of living is made to experience, though in a diluted way, by the audience and the performer and are also made to experience the possibility of breaking such structures through art and words.

The play, through author’s personal anecdotes and through a fable of animals, speaks of freedom, censorship, life and death, obedience, passivity, compliance and the power of communication. By blurring the lines between fact and fiction, performance and actuality and primarily between him and us the author breaks walls and unites the divided word at the level of experience and makes the performer and the audience realize that he, in his closed atmosphere, and we in our closed theater are still connected and a collective.

The play unites the author and the audience not only through the performer but also by making the audience a part of the performance. In a beautiful way of breaking the fourth wall the author prompts the performer to make the audience to count numbers in succession and then making the performer invite audience of some designated numbers to come on stage and perform tasks, take notes, keep time etc. Thus a strange bond takes place between the author, the performer and the audience where the gap between time, country and on-stage and off-stage breaks, uniting everyone in a single thread.

While watching the play with rapt attention because of my inability to understand Marathi I was put into a strange situation when the author Nassim Soleimanpour instructed the performer Athul Pethe to invite number 15 on stage, which was me! I politely told Atul Pethe that I don’t follow Marathi and hence it is better if he invites someone else. While for everyone else only the content was not known, for me even the language in which the content was being expressed was unknown, causing extra nervous excitement. My refusal to get on to the stage was not accepted by Atul Pethe who insisted I come on stage. He said he would translate the instructions to English for me. “Have faith in me, I will help you,” said Athul Pethe, reminding of a performer in US who when interviewed before the performance of White Rabbit Red Rabbit had said, “I am trusting them to not humiliate me.” My fear was not just of being humiliated but also unwillingly, because of my language limitation, diluting the seriousness of the play. But then Athul Pethe was inviting me to invest trust in him who had invested trust in Nassim Soleimanpour to help him navigate through this unique experience of performance. I was confused. I looked at Dharma who was sitting next to me who through mild gesture said I should get on to the stage.

after the performance with the performer Atul Pethe

I went on stage and had to become a bear, on stage, and act with a few other audiences who were also invited on stage, along with Atul Pethe. While everyone else on the stage was following Marathi the instructions for me had to be translated. A play which was originally written in English and translated to Marathi for a Marathi audience was being partially translated back to English! Thankfully it was that part of the play which was meant to be funny. My not knowing Marathi and standing still with no reaction when the instruction was first being read, which the audience understood, added to the humor. The spontaneous translation of Atul Pethe for me and my response which was a delayed response for the audience made the audience involved enactment of a rabbit going to a film without play and a bear checking tickets in the hall, appear more funny.

When the play got over that night Dharma took me to Atul Pethe and introduced me to him. Atul Pethe said, “It was fun to have you on stage.” I smiled and shook hands with him for I dint have anything much to say for I did not understand some of the nuances of the play spoken in Marathi. But I was overwhelmed the fact that a Nassim Soleimanpour who wrote a play in English in Iran had instructed Atul Pethe, who he has never met, in Marathi to invite me, a Marathi illiterate, to come on stage and instructed, in Marathi, to perform some actions, which I had performed after the words were translated to English.

Nassim Soleimanpour’s play which creates anxiety, nervousness and excitement in everyone who watches it and performs it had managed to do the same to me in more than one level, not just through its form and content but also through language. In that I felt more close to the play, the performer and the author!

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