A play that you cannot see? Chennai’s Evam is back with fantasy theatre for a blindfolded audience

Evam is back with an immersive theatre show in Chennai that appeals to all senses except sight for a blindfolded audience

October 27, 2023 02:58 pm | Updated November 02, 2023 12:56 pm IST

Audience at the tester show

Audience at the tester show | Photo Credit: special arrangement

Enter a room of endless possibilities filled with a blindfolded audience glued to their chairs, completely oblivious to what is going to hit them next. This is a room that fosters imagination, no, one that demands it. In this room, every other sense apart from sight, takes over. A paper puppet becomes a dragon’s tail in seconds or the loud thumping of feet indicates an army leading up to a war cry. Here, the mind maps the story as a dozen artistes run around, trying to make your imagination come true.

“We joke about how when the blindfolds come off, the audience would find the most random objects around them,” laughs Sunil Vishnu, co-founder of Evam, city-based theatre company which returns with a public show for the first time after 2019; with a dead giveaway for a title: The Most Fantastic Show that You Cant See. An experiment in immersive theatre, the show is meant for an intimate audience. It takes the fantasy route to tell a story that appeals to all other senses apart from sight. Here, the audience is very much a part of the story. 

Audience at the tester show

Audience at the tester show | Photo Credit: special arrangement

The year 2023 marks Evam’s 20 years in theatre — “We have come this far and wanted to see what we can do differently,” says Sunil. Though Sunil and Karthik Kumar had been at this concept for a decade called ‘theatre of the mind’, it was an impending collaboration with the National Association for the Blind (NAB) that brought it to fruition. “Every description of theatre starts with ‘What did you see?’ or ‘I watched this act’ and so on. This is when we started thinking about what theatre or entertainment would be for people who can’t see,” says Sunil adding they were in conversation with a couple of friends who are visually impaired to understand their specific takeaways from visual entertainment. 

And if you cannot see, all your other senses immediately perk up. “We required a space that is empty which is fairly neutral, sound-wise. Then we started thinking about what kind of story we wished to tell. We needed to bring in a team of actors who understood voice-acting for this particular exercise.” A lot of technical questions had to be answered, from where the music should be placed in the room, to considering spatial orientation of the actors and creating special effects using props (imagine bats in a cave — from creating the sounds of a bat to making its presence felt). “The last two months have been about bringing a team of 12 odd people [including director Jayachandran] and creating these special effects in terms of sound and music.” Apart from live music led by city-based musician Anish Mohan, there are pre-recorded sounds and even a BGM score. 

Sunil continues, “If we had to understand all these senses coming true, it needs to be a fantastical story. It should be a tale that gives you the opportunity to go beyond the mundane.” There is inspiration from Roald Dahl and Mahasweta Devi among other writers, and specifically from fantasy that tell important stories.

More importantly, trying to understand life with visual impairment to enjoy a show is a major end goal. “The show is also raising funds. On October 28, people will experience the show and then be invited to a blind dinner as well. The audience will open their eyes only after the dinner,” says Sunil. 

A production of this kind that is constantly evolving is completely reliant on audience feedback. Tweaks that enhance the experience, considering the lack of technological expertise of a 4K experience, are necessary. A lot of it comes in the writing itself, says Sunil. “We have got almost 10 drafts of the show. The writing itself is elaborate and descriptive, and needs to come alive at that moment,” says Sunil.

The unpredictability of the show is a welcome deviation to Chennai’s staid theatre pursuits. There is definitely more to this weekend that what meets the eye.

The Most Fantastic Show that You Cant See will premiere on October 28 at Savera Hotel, Mylapore with three shows at 5.15pm, 6.30pm and 7.45pm. Tickets can be purchased on insider.in

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