Returning with its 18th edition, the Old World Theatre Festival remains one of the most awaited theatre festivals in the Capital. Featuring 13 plays over 10 days from August 16-25, 2019 at India Habitat Centre, the upcoming edition focuses on original scripts, crossover genres, innovative aesthetics and critical issues.
Reflecting on the curatorial process of the festival, Vidyun Singh, Director Programmes, Habitat World, India Habitat Centre, says, “As always, in the festival we attempt to bring for our theatre audiences, a kind of wrap-up of some of the exciting, new and innovative work in theatre from within, and mostly outside Delhi. These may not be the most popular plays. Apart from the mainstream, we try to bring a balance of experimental, exploratory, innovative productions on this platform to provide a sense of the new direction that theatre is taking.”
The line-up brings to the fore, pressing issues like climate change, mental health, immigration, cultural divides, gender and others. “Art is a reflection of our world,” emphasises Singh, “all the productions deal with the current concerns of our times.” In terms of aesthetics, the curation pushes the boundaries between text-based theatre and other allied forms. “The productions use interactive, inclusive, engaging means of communication like projections, movement, sand art, puppetry and others. The festival celebrates the new emerging artistic methods where spoken word may not be so important yet the message is very powerful.”
Directed by award-winning puppeteer, Anurupa Roy, “1..2..tree”, a puppet theatre production for children would open the festival. Exploring aspects of climate change and environment, the play was created in Bangalore with experienced actors working with puppets for the first time. For the director, the process was unique, “I normally work with a repertory company of professional puppeteers, here I first trained the actors in puppetry and then created a production with them. This was unique and exciting for all of us. The play was created during the process, the script is devised.” Reflecting on the theme, Roy points out that at the outset they had decided to devise a children’s production, yet it is meant for adults more than ever. “We looked at the theme of the environment, climate change, the notion of what kind of world are we leaving behind for our children? I don’t have children, but people with children don’t seem to be asking this question enough, how do we all, as a community, leave behind a habitable world for children?”
The other opening act is an Improv theatre production that has garnered much attention in the Capital recently. Directed by Varoon Anand, “Unravel” is an interactive theatre production bringing experiences with mental health and wellness to the fore. Reflecting on their journey, Gaurav Singh, core team member of Kaivalya Plays and one of the players on stage, says, “During the show, we use the language of improv to recognise and highlight our journey with mental health. It's interesting that every time I've taken to stage, I find the show evolving with every audience member who shares the evening with us. As performers, we prepare ourselves to be at our most vulnerable and honest selves but very quickly, we realised we need to take care of our audience too and decided to bring on-board a consultant dramatherapist. The intent has always been to initiate a conversation about mental health in a non-taboo manner and now, we feel like we’re getting started in the right direction.”
Other plays during the festival include Gurleen Judge’s “Hunger Artist” inspired by both Franz Kafka's chilling short story by the same name and Dhasal's masterpiece poem “Bhookh” (hunger), a moving portrayal of the agrarian crisis. For the director, the question of spectatorship emerged as a critical one as she created the performance, “In the last couple of years, a lot of things happened in the country around the idea of food and feeding, that affected me deeply. For instance the Farmers’ March to Delhi, Irom Sharmila ending her fast and fighting elections, more than anything else people are still dying of malnutrition and lack of food. I kept going back to the short story and the Kafka-esque nature of the reality we are living in. I wanted it to be a performance which was not just exploring the question of the person who is fasting, but who are the people who are watching? Who are we, outside of the cage, watching someone die of hunger?”
Veteran Director Neelam Man Singh’s “Gumm Hai” follows Pinki, a young girl of eleven, who has gone missing from her village for two months. It traces how an inexplicable loss irrevocably changes the dynamics within a family and the community. Sharing the eclectic approach to the play, the director says, “Whatever work you do reflects your journey at that point of time, and you hope that actors will collaborate and deepen that theme. The play is drawn from many different sources, a series of memories, incidents, parts of plays I read, parts of all our experiences, all collapse into one another and we try to create text through responses, images, memories, experiences, to explore ideas of struggle, survival, loss, grief and human affirmation.”
Directed by dancer Sanjukta Wagh, Bombay-based Beej’s “Faqeer Nimaana” is a dance and music narrative, a tribute to Shah Hussain, a mystic weaver poet from 16th Century Lahore. The production explores ways in which concepts of religion, caste, gender, sexuality, and nation might discover a new way of being. Wagh will be joined by collaborating artists Radhika Sood Nayak, Hitesh Dhutia and Vinayak Netke. She says, “It is a collaborative effort where a huge part of the performance would also be improvised live, using elements of the tabla with ghungroo, guitar with vocals, baithak-style abhinaya, contemporary movement, and others. The form changes with the poems. Each poem unfolds like a thread – the path of love is like the needle’s eye, it winds and unwinds, knots, breaks, unties, we have taken these images as the choreographic and compositional motive.”
“Those Left Behind Things” directed by Vikram Phukan is a play that follows the journey of Iranian asylum-seeker Hamid set in the dark alleys of Tehran to the neon-lit pier at Brighton. Reflecting on his own journey alongside the play, Phukan says, “I lived in the UK as an immigrant on a work permit, the neighbourhood had different people at different stages of the asylum process. In this production, we explore how an asylum-seeking person deals with the limbo one is trapped in, the uncertainty, and the gumption of leaving behind countries. While the text is one layer of the play, there is a parallel exploration through non-verbal elements.”
Bringing together a spectrum of productions, exploring compelling contemporary issues and encouraging exchange between forms, the festival promises to present a sample of the most vibrant in theatre today.
(The Old World Theatre Festival is scheduled to take place from August 16- 25, 2019, at India Habitat Centre, Delhi)