Reaching out to outreach

The Yuva Ekta theatre company will be showcasing the play Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein at National Theatre of Scotland’s fest

Community arts organisations that work at the grassroots level in India often operate beyond the pale, registering only as blips on the radar. Altruism isn’t always considered to be conducive to artistic accomplishment. Groups in this sector — especially those that are using theatre to transform lives — work on giving voices to the disenfranchised. However, their efforts remain unheralded, even if the impact on the communities that they serve is possibly much more palpable. This is sometimes a measure of success that passes by the conventional theatre groups, driven by art or entertainment, who cater to the bourgeoisie and make off with acclaim and revenues while effecting little social change.

This week, Yuva Ekta — an intrepid youth theatre company that is part of the Yuva Ekta Foundation (YEF) in New Delhi — will be showcasing the play Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein (In the Shade of the Banyan) at a five-day international theatre festival that commences October 8 in Glasgow. In its 10th anniversary year, the National Theatre of Scotland is organising this unique programme of ‘participatory arts’, called ‘Home Away’.

Performing groups from Brazil, Jamaica, Australia, India and the United States, four Scottish-based groups and a transgender global choir, will present new work each evening that “explores their place in the world — the experiences which connect and the forces which isolate us”. The venue for the festival is the Tramway in Glasgow. Once a horse tram depot of 1894 vintage, it first became a museum and then a performance venue in 1998, when Peter Brook’s The Mahabharata was staged there.

The line-up includes the transcontinental piece, MEMORi, which traces the lives of members of Glasgow’s Bangladeshi community who escaped the turmoil in what was then known as East Pakistan during the 1971 War of Independence. From Chicago comes Reprise, which deals with an old man returning a violin he had borrowed more than 80 years ago to the Northwestern University Settlement House, which has provided resources to poor and new immigrants for more than 120 years. The production from Brisbane, Gunyal*Scar, explores the cultural practices and aspirations of contemporary urban, aboriginal Australia, with an inter-generational ensemble that seamlessly integrates both traditional and contemporary forms of storytelling. And, billed as a play ‘made across the world wide web’ rather than any specific country, The Adam World Choir brings together trans/non-binary individuals from places as diverse as Jordan, Norway, Nigeria and the Ukraine, weaving together a community with no geographical, ethnic or gender boundaries.

These themes of disaffection and angst find echoes in Yuva Ekta’s venture, which has been directed by Puneeta Roy, and has been set in a resettlement slum in New Delhi, Jahan Nagri (inspired by the real life Jahangirpuri), which has “its power centres, its dark underbelly, as well as its pockets of culture and refinement”. The heart of this melting pot has always been a banyan tree, where young runaway Roshan finds refuge, and a place to call ‘home’.

The YEF itself works to integrate street kids into society through placements in their theatre company. For this project, the company engaged with a slum community where youth crime rates were particularly high, connecting with the mothers and siblings of youth offenders to explore the impact of unemployment, drugs and crime on their lives.

In her director’s note, Roy writes about her interactions with juvenile inmates at the Observation Home for Boys at Kingsway Camp, Delhi. “Robbery, murder, rape, extortion – their crimes are brutal. Each boy feels falsely implicated, believes that the system is working against him. Most come from dysfunctional families, have no role models, no heroes who can inspire them to find a way out of the horrific entanglement of drugs, alcohol and crime.” This is the space from where Bargad Ki Chhaon Mein is born.

Auditions for the play began in mid-June. In early September, the first showing was at a juvenile remand home in North Delhi, where many in the audience could identify closely with the characters in the play, including Rajan, a repeat offender caught in the web of crime from a young age. A showing a week later at the elite Vasant Valley School left student viewers “in an absolute state of shock after the play”, according to the YEF’s official blog.

The play will mark Yuva Ekta’s second outing to Glasgow in three years. In 2014, their play Shoonya Se Shikar, was part of ‘The Tin Forest’, an ambitious youth theatre jamboree held during the Glasgow Commonwealth Games. It is the renewal of an association that takes their work to audiences overseas most certainly, but does also immeasurably impact their outreach work at home.

The writer is a playwright and stage critic.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 9:06:28 AM |

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