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Window Seat: Street Theatre

25/07/2021 at 7:07 AM

The other day I participated in a webinar on Street Theatre along with theatre person and author Sudhanya Despande and Sourav Gupta of Central University of Koraput, Odisha.   

Street Theatre is a form of theatre which is presented normally in an outdoor space in a public area without a specific paying audience. It is a much direct, brief and concise theatrical expression. The objective is to convey a particular idea or to portray a significant meaning. It is a direct, intimate and effective means of dramaturgy. 

The logistics of doing street theatre necessitate simple costumes and props, and often there is little or no amplification of sound, with actors depending on their natural vocal and physical ability. This issue with sound and the fact that it has to attract and retain the attention of the public has necessitated its extensive use of physical theatre including dance and mime. Slapstick comedy and chorus are some other tools that street theatre often uses.

Though the concept and major elements of street theatre has been there in Indian performing art culture for ages, origin of the pre-modern form can be traced back to the mid-nineteenth century. It could be found in different regions of India in different name and form with local variations: ‘Rahs’ in Punjab, ‘Nautanki’ in Uttar Pradesh, Jatra in Bengal, Odisha and Assam, ‘Beedi Nataka’ in Karnataka, Path Natika’ in Maharastra.

Street Theatre in its modern form has been developed and popularized by the Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) – the country’s first organized political theatre movement that emerged in the 1940s and formally formed on May 25, 1943 in Bombay (now, Mumbai).

It was Badal Sircar who attempted to theorize the nuances and objectives of street theatre through his seminal book Third Theatre. He also held workshops to disseminate his concept and ideas all over the country.

Safdar Hashmi’s Jana Natya Manch (Janam) formed in 1973, carried forward the people-focused, protest-themed street theatre movement though the tone was political and left ideology driven.

Political street theatre in India experienced a surge after the murder of Safdar Hashmi during performance of the play Hallabol on January 1,  1989 at the outskirt of Delhi.

Besides being used as a form of protest, Street theatre’s capacity to forge a connect with people made it a tool for promotion of ideas and practices for social development. Promotion of health and wellness, good social practices were attempted with government support and funding. After independence both the Union and State governments formed publicity departments to spread awareness about  issues concerning development and schemes of the government thereof. Directorate of Field Publicity (established in 1953) and Song and Drama Division (established in 1960) by the Union government took lead in this. State governments followed. They used the street theatre form for this purpose. A large number of NGOs developed and presented street theatres as a strategy to engage with these issues in sync with government programmes.

Presently Street theatre is also been utilized for purely entertainment and commercial purpose. There are companies with whom one can book performances for social occasions- like birthdays, kitty parties, etc.

So, from ‘protest’ to ‘promotion’ to ‘entertainment’ – street theatre has now different avatars. But the soul of street theatre will always remain in the passionate protest against any form of oppression and injustice.

Rocking Chair and Retirement

I have a fascination for rocking chair. My favourite wish in the big bucket of wish list was to lie down on one with a book in hand, slightly rocking and then then dozing off. As I am moving closer to my retirement- I increasingly see myself doing this.

There is a saying in Odia that if a patient wants something intensely, the doctor eventually prescribes that. The same idea has been delineated in other languages as well. And it happened. My son gifted me a rocking chair.

As it took its position in the drawing room I was curious to know the history of rocking chair.  A quick look through google told me that though American inventor Benjamin Franklin was sometimes credited with inventing the rocking chair, historians actually traced the rocking chair’s origins to North America during the early 18th century. It was in 1725 that early rocking chairs first appeared in England. It appeared as a common term in the Oxford Dictionary in 1787. Rocking chairs were typically used back then for mothers and babies in nurseries or for the elderly and invalids in hospitals and mental facilities.

I was really disappointed to know this. And then I learnt that  in 1955, President of USA John F. Kennedy, who suffered with chronic back problems, was prescribed swimming and the use of a rocking chair by his physician. The President so enjoyed the rocker that, not only he used it almost everywhere he went, he also gave them as gifts to friends, family, and heads of state. Kennedy’s rocking chair from the White House is on permanent display at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum.

However, my problem now is: I have miles to go before I doze off on the rocking chair holding a book.

But I am hopleful- uska time vi ayega.

Tailpiece: East or West, India is the best

Japanese scientists invented a machine that caught thieves. They passed it out to different countries for tests. 

In U.S.A, within 30 minutes, it caught 20 thieves;

In UK, within 30 minutes it caught 500 thieves;

In South Korea within 20 minutes it caught 250 thieves;

In Spain, within 10 minutes it caught 6,000 thieves;

In Uganda, within 7mins it caught 20,000 thieves;

In India, within 5 minutes the machine was stolen.

Courtesy: Social Media)

About the Author:

Journalist turned media academician Mrinal Chatterjee lives in Dhenkanal, Odisha. He also writes fiction and plays. He can be contacted at mrinalchatterjeeiimc@gmail.com

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