Impulse Theatre Festival
"What do you want to become: Dramatist".
The first time I filled up the slam-book of my classmate, this is what I wrote. Even without knowing the meaning of the word and it's greatness. I have been into the theatre from a very early age. I have spent more time on stage than in playgrounds, only to realise after growing up that it's almost impossible to make theatre into a profession. Not in India, definitely not in Bengal. I was in a disillusion. But theatre never failed to inspire and encourage me.
By Abhrajit Sen
Bertolt Brecht said in Life of Galileo "Unhappy the land that needs heroes." I gathered strength to carry on with the theatre I loved with all my life. I used the financial and infrastructural limitations as the main fuel of my theatre design. My theatre grew and became more exciting for the audience. But the only thing that stopped my growth as a creator was references. Not much of theatre happens in my city that motivates or inspires me. The few that did are not Kolkata productions, were mostly from foreign lands. I wanted to see more theatre and understand what's happening around the world. See more and learn more. Just grow.
The Impulse Theatre Festival has been the biggest event of my life. This festival has exposed me to many unbelievable experimental theatre productions. Intriguing content, unimaginable forms and exemplary productions. Every work is outside the classic city theatre system and which use alternative aesthetics and techniques to test, extend and question the medium of theatre. All the productions showcased in the festival has made a mark in me. Few amongst them brought in considerable artistic impacts and changes to my senses and contributed to my knowledge of the art and of life.
'SECOND ESSAY ON GYMNASTICS' has been the first performance I witnessed at the festival. It took me time to accept this production as theatre. But the eight performers with the course of the play forced me to accept the piece as theatre. Not with their gymnastics skill but with the walkthrough narrations of gymnastics history constantly redefining "German Body", where they not only question the slogan "How colourful is that then?" The parody on the symmetry and synchronicity of the hallmarked 'German Body' was great fun. And the monotonous, overtly repeated choreographies of gymnastic movements had a great sense of politics and failure.
Deconstruction of texts, unconventional treatment to space and narration, improvisation in the design always created new theatre forms. Everyone who practices or loves art knows that and appreciates that. But the production – WHITE LIMOZEEN has taken deconstruction and theatre presentation to a different level. Puccini's Opera 'Madama Butterfly’ tells the tragic story of a Japanese geisha waiting for the return of her lover. It's known to many. But the personal experiences of the black soprano lady and the female percussionist of Asian ethnicity presented with the exotic sensations of the opera and its history take us through the tense history of racism. The performance took place in the parking lot of a building. A non-dramatic narration through operatic vocals, heavy percussions and gongs, flat reading of texts, and projection of photos and film recordings of history of the opera; won the heart of the audience. A praiseworthy music theatre that unsparingly showed the disappearance of the black artists from the world stages, opera history in this play and the current fashion of "colour-blind" casting.
Julian Hetzel's ALL INCLUSIVE uses the insight 'Suffering can be turned into art and therefore money.' This insight has the power to grab every art practitioner and lover immediately. This cutting satire leaves the audience disturbed and mesmerised. The gruesome reality of how in art the greatest horror can be commercialised awakens the conscience of the audience. The aestheticization of violence in the play is very disturbing. The play beautifully exhibits realistic representations of violence and abstractions. Actors pose different scenes of violence while the real images of violence get projected on the cyclorama, which raises a difficult question. Who has the right to exploit these works? The artist who thought them up or the people who experienced that violence and paid it with their own lives? The audience has to decide. They need to find the answer themselves. I am still in a dilemma. The play still lives inside me. Fresh and still very disturbing.
MARKUS & MARKUS did not strike me deep for its innovative stage design, narration style or the performance of the two actors that lacked drama, emotion and empathy. But for the theme of the play: God decides whether someone becomes a Muslim or not! We can't decide that ourselves. This simple moral of 'MARKUS & MARKUS' is a very complex and risky thing to say today. But this play is a sheer act of courage and fearlessness. Our world is full of turmoil and violence. The constant threat and acts of terrorism have shattered global peace. And hatred and intolerance towards Muslims is now a universal thing. In such situations to perform a production that uses video recordings and elaborately speculative stories that talks about the rules of Ramadan, five pillars of Islam and celebrate the diversity of Islam is an act of great valour and evokes the true spirit of art. The storytellers - Markus & Markus take us through their journey to attain Islam. Two German white men narrating their quest to learn Islam and become Muslims. There comes a point when you start believing that might be Markus and Markus have become Muslims. Theatre, in general, is an opportunity to look at a set of themes from outside, but this play looks out at a set of themes from inside them. And that's extremely trippy. The play offers a sense of challenge in its approach. To enjoy this play you have to have religious pluralism and a great sense of humanity.
FEMININITY is a theatre full of dance and music. A girl, a boy, a transgender and a eunuch describe their struggle to live their feminine lives in their own way. The play celebrates the resistance of the norm. Questions the word femininity through the dance and monologues to draw intimate self-portraits from what they have experienced, what they have longed for and the social realities. Scenes of gender discrimination, age old-traditions, violence on women and abuses on trisexuals leave the audience in a mess. Why is feminisation regarded as something negative? Why can't we respect other's sexual preferences? Why can't one have the liberty to love and feel one's body the way they want? Does society have an answer? Do we? The true theme of FEMININITY is of prejudices imposed by society. Sexism, discrimination, hypocrisy and age-old myths are all examined and what emerges is a voice that stimulates and disturbs.
Not just the performances of theatre but the trip to Cologne, the visit to the art houses, the museums, short inputs by artists from all around the globe, panel discussions on important issues of art, table talks with experts, the feedback sessions with creators and performers, innovative art installations, the visit to historical and heritage sites, the visit to the Garden of Chicks, watching a five-hour durational play on domestic violence have brought in commendable change in my perception and knowledge of the world. Not just theatre but my idea of art has widened extremely. Dusseldorf was a breath of fresh air. The trip has sculpted out a better version of me. More serious about my art and society. More strong and courageous.
The programs planned by the festival and selected by Goethe Institut have opened my limits to thoughts and widened my perspective to art and life. Everything seems possible now. The limit to thinking is at infinity now. I have started believing " What can be thought, what can be imagined… can be created."
Now, I am in a new lease of life, ready to break new grounds.