“You have to move a few pieces to save a few pieces,” says one of the actors. The 12 odd people sitting around the room watch, in a trance-like gaze, as their favourite childhood games (like snakes and ladders and kabaddi) are being discussed and performed in front of them. What comes as a surprise next, is the performers beckoning them to join in from time to time. This is Re:play, an engaging attempt by theatre group, Visual Respiration, to introduce the city to something known as immersive theatre. It’s a form in which the audience are not mere spectators and are encouraged to engage in what’s happening in front of them.
Elaborating on the process of conceptualising such an act, visual director Aruna Ganesh Ram says, “We have been working on it for eight months. We researched the games and how we could incorporate them into the act and slowly developed the setup. The play premiered in Chennai in September, followed by Bengaluru and Hyderabad.”
“The level of participation begins very simply and moves on to more complex things, and that’s how we’ve designed it to involve the audience,” says Aruna, who is taking the play to Singapore in March and planning shows in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Pune as well.
Letting the audience in on the performance can also throw up surprises for the cast, as Ujwal Nair points out, “Once, during the kabaddi sketch, a person got into the stage even though it’s like an unwritten rule to not do so.”
Aruna adds, “It was interesting to observe how people interpret a framework given to them. More than what people say about the play, it’s their participation that makes all the difference.”
Where did the inspiration come from? Aruna, who recently completed her master’s in Advanced Theatre Practice from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, London, says, “I got the idea after watching a performance by UK-based theatre company Punch Drunk. They set the atmosphere and just let you do your own thing. Suddenly, before you know it, the performance happens.”
“The idea of getting people to act in the moment greatly inspires me.” she adds pointing out, “It also puts performers at risk, since they are putting themselves out there.”
Sharing the group’s future plans, Aruna says, “We are thinking of devising workshops early next year. The objective is to find what people are interested in and what we can create for them. If two people are moving differently, can I combine them and create something? I’d like to let an idea develop organically.”...