No microphone, no make up and no prompter. There is no arrangement for artificial lighting to create any artificial environment. There is only pure and fresh air while bright sun rays tread softly through the gaps among the tall sal trees to light up the venue for the actors and the audience.
The audience, including the village children, are seated on low-cost, environment-friendly benches made of betel nut trees and bamboos. Pindrop silence marks this specially designed non-proscenium open air theatre inside the forest close to Rampur village, 5 km off Agia, in lower Assam’s Goalpara district.
From December 18 to 21, the residents of this remote Rabha village enjoyed the theatre festival - Under the Sal Tree - 2009, in Baddungduppa Kala Kendra’s unique theatre.
It was organised by the Baddungduppa, the only theatre group of the Rabha tribe of Assam, in collaboration with Theatre Embassy, Netherlands, an internationally reputed theatre organisation.
The festival began with Madaiah Muchi (Madaiah the cobbler), a Rabha adaptation of the orginal Kannada play scripted by Prof. H.S. Shivprakash and presented by the Baddungduppa theatre group. The play was directed by Sukracharjya Rabha, the man behind this tribal theatre group, who has also translated the original Kannada play into Rabha language from its English version. “It was a good production,” Prof. Shivprakash said after seeing the Rabha adaptation of his play.
“This venue was selected by my Guru Heisnam Kanhailal, when he visited this place for the first time. We have developed this open-air theatre under his guidance. We have not cut a single tree in the forest. The stage and the seating arrangement have been made on space that existed naturally among the sal trees. The pure natural atmosphere under the trees inside the forest gives the performing actors a feeling of attachment to nature,” Mr. Rabha told The Hindu.
Mr. Kanhailal, an internationally acclaimed theatre personality from Manipur, said the objective behind open air theatre like Baddungduppa was to give rural people the opportunity to enjoy plays of good quality, as modern theatre, within the confines of auditoria in the cities and towns, was beyond their reach.
On “Celebrating Rituals through Theatre,” the theme of the four-day festival, Mr. Rabha said: “Rituals are the core of our cultural heritage. The present project is about attempting an in-depth study of rituals and traditions and exploring the possibilities of modelling them in theatrical expressions for creating awareness among the people on their preservation.”