This form of community theatre asks for real-time feedback and intervention from the audience
We believe in theatre of the oppressed, not theatre for the oppressed,” clarifies Sanjoy Ganguly, theatre performer, trainer and founder-cum-artistic director of Jana Sanskriti, a theatre goup.
Also known as ‘forum theatre', this form of community theatre involves active feedback and intervention of the audience.
“We call the latter ‘spect-actors' as their role involves active dialogue and participation,” says Ganguly, who spoke at a recent public discussion on ‘Theatre for Democracy', facilitated by Sangama, a Bangalore non-governmental organisation, championing the rights of sexuality minorities, sex workers and people living with HIV/AIDS.
The group started its work in low-income areas near the Sunderbans mangroves in southern West Bengal around 25 years ago and is headquartered in Kolkata. It has in this span touched the lives of thousand of people — tribal people, victims of domestic abuse or factory workers — primarily from economically backward urban and rural backgrounds. Research scholars, students, theatre performers, artists and others from India and abroad have benefited from its resources.
As a fresh graduate in political science, Ganguly spent a year as a young political activist in the suburbs of Kolkata. Disillusioned with the functioning of his party, he decided to move to South 24 Parganas district in the mid-1980s to reach out to the marginalised agricultural workers there.
“The workers and small farmers did not welcome us initially. Fearing that we would harass them, they even tried to get us evicted,” he recalls.
Ganguly and the others at Jana Sanskriti strived for seven years to build bonds with village residents and gain their trust.
Ever since, the full-time performers with Jana Sanskriti have lived and performed together, urging exploited tribal communities and factory workers, women victims of domestic violence and others to fight their oppressors.
Having trained under the legendary Augusto Boal (a Brazilian, who initiated the concept of Theatre of the Oppressed) in Paris, Ganguly also holds a Ph.D. in drama from the University of East Anglia in England.
“I regard the late Boal my dada (older brother in Bengali). From him, I learned the importance of creating ‘spect-actors' from those who may otherwise be silent viewers and listeners,” Ganguly adds.