When theatre renews life...

When theatre renews life...

Theatre is ideally about creating triggers for society to reflect upon its decisions. This idealism becomes a challenge with the increasing commoditisation of theatre. 

In this fast track era, German dramaturge and theatre scholar Kai Tuchmann, who was in residence at Jaaga as part of Max Mueller Bhavan Bangalore’s documentary theatre project, explored the dynamics of the author Virginia Woolf’s essay A Room of One’s Own, through intercultural collaborations. 

“My colleague Angelique Doludag, who is a social worker, and I, along with our collaborators who were also the performers, set up a dramaturgical collective of documents, which included poems and YouTube clips. Along the way, we started combining chapter two of Woolf’s essay with the Ramayana. We went on to mix different versions of the Ramayana TV shows, with retellings by Bengali women,” explains Kai, adding, “It evolved into an exploration of how Sita is construed by dominant patriarchal societies with the Brahminical discourse as a model. 

Through this evolution, this discourse found similarity with Woolf’s description of how the woman is constructed through the academic writing of male scholars.” Ultimately, Kai completed a production in a way he didn’t know it would evolve, when he first set out exploring the integral nuances of Indian culture in the context of Woolf’s text. What panned out as a result of this life-paced production was theatre for community development. 

But, Kai feels not everybody finds it possible to create productions, which aim at evincing social responsibility. “For, especially in Germany,” he says, “theatre is an entertainment for the upper middle class. Sadly, most of the audience is regarding theatre as a location where you stage what it already knows. So theatre groups treat their tradition and knowledge as a possession and want you to accumulate their possession. On the contrary, we want to create experiences and not a kind of symbolic capital. But I guess this is the permanent dilemma of artistes.” 

Kai’s artistic balance finds root in his prior experience as an exponent of community development in Sudan, Iraq and Palestine. In travelling to these nations and theatrically collaborating for development, Kai came face to face with diverse theatre scenes. “Each theatre scene is different, even to the extent of how they are funded, and I try to adapt myself to each,” stresses Kai, adding, “I don’t want to go somewhere and stage a play because I don’t know much about the indigenous audience. That’s why I depend on collaboration.”

In Palestine, Kai worked with a circus group, which receives most of its funding from UNRWA and other NGOs. “This group plays at refugee camps. While working with them, I met other people, like actor Juliano Mer Khamis, who was shot down two years ago in Jenin. I continued and then interfaced with more people. Going further, I found the work in Iraq highly professional, given that it has one of the most developed theatre scenes in the Arab world. In Iraq, it was mainly about bringing people back to the country.”

In seeking change that is integral to each society, it’s largely a task of connecting. “So the connections I made in Iraq brought me back to the fact of how, co-incidentally, there is a huge diaspora of Iraqi theatre makers living in Germany,” explains Kai. 

Connections are pertinent at every level in every country. In turn, in his experience of collaborating in India, Kai met highly informed and critical people in Bangalore. “This critical nature is in contrast to Germany, where people consume a lot more news,” he points out. As a result, Kai’s residency in Bangalore reiterated the love for his job and his inspirations among the people he collaborated with in the city. “I don’t like the idea of having dead or imagined muses. Apart from my real-life inspirations, there’s God when everything works and a constellation, when things fall into place,” he beams. 

While in Bangalore, Kai’s musings found pertinence in a writing that author Shashi Deshpande gave him: ‘Liberation does not mean casting of your humanity. Liberation never means doing without the family. Liberation does not mean leaving your marriage. We are human beings. Human beings are social animals, and we need all these ties. My only thing about liberation is that you don’t give into oppression and cruelty. Liberation means you refuse to be opposed, you refuse to give up your individuality, you refuse to do things which go against your conscience. You realise the potential you have within you, you don’t let other people tell you what to do. You know what you are worth. You know what your value is. You take that into account, and this is liberation. This does not mean doing away with all ties.’

So Kai took back friendships home to Berlin, where the person who supports and understands him the most lives. “My girlfriend and I haven’t seen each other this year in a total of over a month, I want to spend more time with her,” he decides.

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