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Mapping An Unconventional Space


Neelam Man Singh

THE SCENES WE MADE: AN ORAL HISTORY OF EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE IN MUMBAI
Edited by Shanta Gokhale
Speaking Tiger Publications, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 216, Rs. 599.00

VOLUME XL NUMBER 3 March 2016

This was a story that was waiting to be told, a personalized documentation of three decades of theatre in Bombay from the sixties to the nineties. This mapping is done through the three spaces which became a catalyst for a certain kind of theatre to bloom. Significant theatre actors and directors emerged from that period, learning as they experimented and engaged with text and space that did not fit the conventional template. This inadvertently created an alternative vision of how performance could be viewed. These spaces seeded together to provide an exotic plant in the mundane backyards of Bombay. The reasons were pragmatic rather than based on personal choice or inclinations, but it developed a community organization that offered artistic challenges and created unexpected means of pursuing new goals and interest. The artistic work created then has a resonance in the working systems and sensibilities that are visible today. The book edited by Shanta Gokhale belongs to many people and I am sure there are many stories still to be told. It demonstrates how theatre artists learnt to play with ideas of transgression, renewal and community, discovering in that process what can be explored if the status quo is temporarily suspended. The spaces in which performances were rehearsed, analysed and conceptualized became the main protagonist—spaces charged with the passion of the performers with an audience equally engaged in embracing the new and the unfamiliar. The Bhulabhai Desai Memorial Institute, the Walchand Terrace and Chhabildas School hall were in complete contradiction to the black box form of theatre that was prevalent. These unconventional spaces, determined a way of working, and its advantages were that it was cheap and available. Admittedly there was an air of subversion to the productions that were performed there. It had a lot to do with the nonconformist nature of the spaces. The Scenes We Made is an anthology of collected articles that foreground the role of the director/actor/designer within the broad field of the performing arts: anecdotes, stories, struggles that valorize the risks, the adventures, the ephemerality of theatre, the uniqueness of the experience, the temporary community that is created every evening with the actors and the audience and the bonds that developed. This is the core of the book. Stories of collaborations and risk-taking, of jumping into the deep end. About swimming and drowning, struggles and survivals and the challenges to keep ...


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