The 10-day theatre festival-cum-workshop threw light on issues plaguing the marginalized sections of the society

Can theatre play an active role in addressing the problems of the oppressed communities? “Yes,” asserts M. Shanmugaraja, actor and director, Nigazh Theatre Centre. “Theatre is not entertainment alone,” he says, “it educates and empowers the spectators.”

At the 10-day theatre festival-cum-workshop on “Theatre for Democracy and Nonviolence”, organised by the Centre for Experiencing Social Cultural Interaction (CESCI), a series of lectures by eminent scholars was followed by performances to drive home the point. Participants from Basel (Switzerland), tribal lands of Orissa and from urban areas like Delhi, Chennai and Hyderabad evinced keen interest in discussing how Gandhian way of non-violence could resolve conflicts, how democracy could be used as a method of non violence for advancing freedom and how non-violent struggles across the world was a learning experience and how the role of every individual during a world crisis was equally important.

The group that came from Switzerland apparently worked its way to participate in the workshop. It staged a series of performances based on Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi in Switzerland and Germany to mobilise funds for the journey. “The collection from the tickets sold took care of our performance cost here,” says Tobias, the team coordinator. . According to him, his team wanted to learn more about the non violent methods of Mahatma Gandhi and how it became a mass movement. The wokrshop’s main objective was to introduce all types of theatre to the participants, many of whom are also social activists in their native places. At the workshop, they were divided into five groups and encouraged to give their theatrical inputs to issues such as displacement of people, child labour, parenting, match industries and land grabbing.

“Since the festival and workshop highlighted the problems faced by the oppressed communities, we focussed on Augusto Boal’s concept of Forum theatre for our workshop production as it suited the occasion,” says Shanmugaraja.

The teams performed at the E.M.G. Yadava College for Women. Each team had one moderator who alsobecame the facilitator. The team enacted the model developed once for the audience and then repeated the scene. Once the team enacted the scene, it was repeated for the audience and the invitees were asked to stop the team at any point when they felt the particular act was not properly handled. To make it more inclusive and interactive, whoever from the audience stopped a particular scene was called on stage to show how differently he or she would have enacted the same scene.

The Swiss team took up the issue of child labour while those from Orissa highlighted Government’s mindless policies to displace tribal people from their land. Shanmugaraja explains how forum theatre helps any participant to experiment his or her idea. “Sometimes it may work, sometimes it may not,” he says. .

There was no theatrics involved in the performances. The actors encouraged the audience to react to a situation. It also helped people to identify their challenges and how to confront them in eir real life.

The evenings saw different kinds of performances that included “Navati” by the Swiss team focussing on cultural integration of India and Switzerland. Purisai Kannappa Thambiran Therukoothu Mandram did a koothu performance on ‘Draupati Vastraparanam’ and the Nigazh Theatre Centre performed ‘Pongovin Desam’ . The rest included S. Ramanujam’s ‘Ponmanathu Manikal’, CESCI Children Theatre’s ‘Chippichung’ and Chennai Kalaikuzhu’s ‘Payanam’.