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Updated: January 9, 2013 20:43 IST

Instant karma

Pheroze L. Vincent
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In the act: Stefan Kaegi at the National Scool of Drama in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy
The HIndu In the act: Stefan Kaegi at the National Scool of Drama in New Delhi. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

Stefan Kaegi on his theatrics with humans, numbers and spaces

It’s a narrow alley in Kolkata. Red walls, communist graffiti. The sun is directly overhead. The camera follows a lean Bengali-esque man, with a mobile phone, to the ruins of Biswaroopa Theatre.

Gutted in a mysterious blaze in 2001, Biswaroopa which had closed down four years prior, had seen almost the entire pantheon of modern Bengali theatre legends perform. It was here that the play Setu, which featured a moving train on stage, had opened in 1959.

The voice on the phone guides the man – a spectator who got a mobile phone with his ticket to the play Call Cutta in a Box – through the lanes and decadent buildings of North Kolkata. There are scenes of tension, trespassing private property, action and so on. The spectator becomes an actor and the passers-by become the audience. The cast — the voices on the phone — sit in a call centre in the Bidhannagar suburb of the metropolis.

There is a narrative, a cast, which plays over phone, and an audience, omnipresent and curious. The closing applause is replaced with the tone of a call disconnecting. This is a play, like none other. It’s a Rimini Protokoll production.

Call Cutta in a Box (which played in Kolkata in 2004 and Germany in 2008) was one of the many alternative theatre productions Stefan Kaegi has been involved in. Swiss by nationality, Kaegi works with Rimini Protokoll, a theatre collective in Berlin known for its “Theater der Zeit” or Reality Trend. They infiltrate urban spaces with non professional actors creating a platform to experiment with new theatrical realities.

Kaegi is in the Capital to curate Parallel Cities- Delhi 2013, an expeditionary theatre experience in a mall, a library, a terrace and so on, with interdisciplinary Argentinian artist Lola Arias. He gave a lecture on his work titled ‘Ready-made actors and Remote Controlled Audiences’ at the National School of Drama on January 8, as part of the 15 Bharat Rang Mahotsav theatre festival.

“I want to use theatre as a tool to understand society. There are no messages in my work. It gives a platform for people to express themselves,” he said.

A working example of this philosophy was the play Airport Kids (2008), staged by expatriate children in Lausanne – an economic hub in Switzerland. The children — of multinational executives, political exiles and diplomats — who starred, shared stories of alienation and their lives which evolved rapidly every time they shifted. They played their roles – including that of a drummer in a rock band – from cardboard boxes connected through Skype. They – a generation of 7 to 13 year olds with multiple passports, yet without a language or culture they could call their own – couldn’t strike closer to home.

“Life can be a very good story… This is relevant now, more than ever. A reality which commercial theatre would not show,” says Kaegi justifying the use of public funds for his work.

In 100 Percent Melbourne, staged last year, his team gathered 100 residents of Melbourne in a way that perfectly represented the various demographics recorded in the census. With a jazz band playing in the background, this group was asked a series of questions on attitudes and perceptions. The group divided themselves according to each answer and this was captured by an overhead camera and projected. The result was a living pie chart.

This gave the city’s statistics a face that informed and surprised Melbournians about their collective perceptions. This is like Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “general will” being played out on stage.

So turn your life into a performance, even if only for a few minutes. Register at the NSD on Bhagwan Das Marg for a free pass to Parallel Cities, playing till January 18.

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