Students write a thought-provoking script and come up with innovative designs for a play steeped in reality

It is a pleasant afternoon at DJ Academy of Design. A group of students and Archana Dange have gathered at Vaav, an open air space with a raised platform, stone steps and green lawns, for a workshop to discuss the production of their first play, “Are We?”. Ideas on props, costumes and settings spring up. Some have suggestions about the lighting while others offer healthy criticism about their friends’ performances.

The two-week workshop by Helen’ O’ Grady as part of the theatre elective in the college, will culminate in a production on Friday at the Academy.

“Clear out the bags from the stage!” Archana, head of operations, Helen ’O’Grady (Tamil Nadu), instructs. The themes of the plays, staged by the Dash Theatre Group, are terrorism, rape and addiction — everything that one reads about in newspapers. However, our approach is different, says Ayushi Sharma, a second-year communication design (CD) student. “Instead of focussing on the victim, we want to draw attention to the psyche of the abuser. Sometimes, circumstances trigger criminal instinct.” Shivani Prakash, her classmate who hails from Delhi, says the Nirbhaya case had a huge impact on her. “I used to feel comfortable when I walked on the streets. When I went back home after the incident, I faced new restrictions!”

The play, divided into small acts, begins with a boy (played by Navath Rahin) who turns into a terrorist to make his father proud. In another act, he and Ayushi play husband and wife. They call their friends for a party. After pleasantries are exchanged and visitors leave the house, the audience figures out their life is not as chirpy as it seems to be. An enraged Navath raises his hands to hit Ayushi for insulting him in front of his friends. “We do not treat marital rape or violence seriously in this country,” says Shivani. “That is why we decide to engage with this issue.”

Shubham Gandhi and Sunny Haladker, two students of industrial design, handle the music. “Since the theme is serious, we wanted an intense music track. So, we have chosen a track from Requiem For A Dream.” The mood, however, changes during the last sequence. The grim music gives way to the title track of Chennai Express. The scene talks of the North-South divide in the country.

The group then moves to a room inside the college to create props and settings. Shivani, Ayushi, and Stuti Dalal are crouched over huge sheets of chart paper stitched together. They are going to create a 15 ft by 10 ft stage backdrop using newspapers. “Since our play is based on current issues, the newspaper is an important theme; we will plaster newspapers on the chart,” says Shivani.

Meanwhile, Natasha Rodgers, a second year CD student from Pune, holds a paint brush between her teeth and examines the poster she and her friends have just finished painting. It features the top half of a face. Bands of yellow, bright orange and green line the forehead. They merge into a thick, black line. “This represents a person’s evolution into evil,” she explains.

The best thing about this workshop is that we know the excitement behind team work, says Ayushi. “We also know how to do role play and think from another person’s point of view.” Archana says she was thrilled that the students came up with such a complex, nuanced script, in such a short time. “They are innovative and professional when it comes to designing stage settings and creating props. It is also a learning process for me. I want to use the skills set of the city’s youth for more productions.”