Sunday, March 27, 2011

A Case for Theatre in Service of Humanity -Jessica A. Kaahwa, Uganda

World Theatre Day Message 2011 - Jessica A. Kaahwa


Today’s gathering is a true reflection of the immense potential of theatre to mobilize communities and bridge the divides.

Have you ever imagined that theatre could be a powerful tool for peace and reconciliation? While nations spend colossal sums of money on peace-keeping missions in violent conflict areas of the world, little attention is given to theatre as a one-on-one alternative for conflict transformation and management. How can the citizens of mother-earth achieve universal peace when the instruments employed come from outside and seemingly repressive powers?

Theatre subtly permeates the human soul gripped by fear and suspicion, by altering the image of self - and opening a world of alternatives for the individual and hence the community.  It can give meaning to daily realities while forestalling an uncertain future. It can engage in the politics of peoples' situations in simple straightforward ways. Because it is inclusive, theatre can present an experience capable of transcending previously held misconceptions.

Additionally, theatre is a proven means of advocating and advancing ideas that we collectively hold and are willing to fight for when violated.

To anticipate a peaceful future, we must begin by using peaceful means that seek to understand, respect and recognize the contributions of every human being in the enterprise of harnessing peace. Theatre is that universal language by which we can advance messages of peace and reconciliation.
By actively engaging participants, theatre can bring many-a-soul to deconstruct previously held perceptions, and, in this way, gives an individual the chance of rebirth in order to make choices based on rediscovered knowledge and reality. For theatre to thrive, among other art forms, we must take the bold step forward by incorporating it into daily life, dealing with critical issues of conflict and peace.

In pursuance of social transformation and reformation of communities, theatre already exists in war-torn areas and among populations suffering from chronic poverty or disease.  There are a growing number of success stories where theatre has been able to mobilize publics to build awareness and to assist post-war trauma victims. Cultural platforms such as the “International Theatre Institute” which aims at “consolidating peace and friendship between peoples” are already in place.

Jessica Kaahwa, Ph.D., possesses a long and varied career in facilitation and designing of participatory communication methodology for development. She currently lectures in the Departments of Drama and Literature at Makerere University, which is where she also received her Masters degree. Widely traveled, Dr. Kaahwa’s undergraduate degree is from University of Benin, Nigeria where she also worked as a broadcaster with the External Service – Radio of Nigeria. Dr. Kaahwa went on to study Theatre History, Theory and Criticism at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she received her Ph.D. in 2001. Dr. Kaahwa has been the architect of a number of national initiatives that have sought to use theatre and media as a constructive force in conflict settings and for health improvement. She has and continues to experiment with theories that expand the discourse on theatre practice. A good example is her recent experimentation with “Theatre for Personal Meaning” and “Theatre for Conflict Communication.” She is currently working on integrating “Process Theory” into Theatre Therapy practice.

Dr. Kaahwa is a great believer in “teaching by doing” and has in recent years, conducted training facilitation for both international and national organizations.

Celebrating theatre



Preview The annual National Theatre Festival begins in Kozhikode on March 27.

Stage shows: Scenes from ‘Peer Gynt' (left) and ‘Lankalakshmi.' Photos: H. Vibhu and S. Gopakumar

Scenes from ‘Peer Gynt' (above) and ‘Lankalakshmi.'(below). Photos: H. Vibhu and S. Gopakumar

What does quality mean in creation? How does one understand quality in art from different perspectives?

These questions give way to some of the most varied and interesting plays that will be showcased as part of the National Theatre Festival scheduled to begin on March 27 in Kozhikode. This sixth edition of the National Theatre Festival is striking for the variety it brings, says Abhilash Pillai, director of the festival.

Ranging from the most popular to the most experimental, to the most ‘modern' to the most ‘traditional,' the festival has brought together plays and theatre forms from different corners of the country, he says.

Explaining the rationale behind the selection of plays, Pillai points to a parallel between the commercial and art worlds. We see how in the first, a new product with no history whatsoever takes over the market and wins over consumers.

Rich theatre history

“We wanted to see if something similar could happen with theatre,” he adds. This becomes relevant especially since theatre has a rich history in India and bringing together diverse theatre forms is part of this exploration.

The eight-day festival organised by the Information and Public Relations Department, Government of Kerala, features various theatre forms like puppetry with live actors, non-verbal theatre, multi-lingual plays, street theatre, physical theatre, a one-woman show, a musical production and so on.

There is also traditional theatre such as Jatra (a traditional Bengali folk theatre form).

The plays are…

Plays from groups based in Kerala will include Kavalam Narayana Panicker's ‘Oorubhangam,' Oxygen Theatre Company's ‘Peer Gynt,' directed by Deepan Sivaraman, Lokadharmi's ‘Lankalakshmi,' directed by Chandradasan, Deshaposhini's ‘Madhyadharanyazhi,' ‘Kalamkari,' directed by Sreeja Arangottukaran and ‘Jeevacharithram,' directed by S. Sunil Kumar for Central Theatre, Payyannur. Those from outside Kerala are ‘Archee Kaal,' ‘Roop Aroop,' ‘Sonata,' ‘Aaj Rang Hai,' ‘Aarambh,' ‘Mire Masignghja,' ‘Ms. Meena,' ‘All About Women' and ‘About Ram.'

A selection committee – a first in the history of the festival – has put these plays together says Pillai, pointing to how the festival has become more mature at an organisational level.

Also, the variety of the festival allows it to bring in emerging forms like ‘live art' in which you engage your actual life in an installation, he says. In contemporary Indian theatre, there is a movement towards this form where there are no characters or plot – art is engagement rather than entertainment or a statement.

Underlining the need for more such theatre festivals, Pillai who is also Dean of Academics, National School of Drama, notes that the government and corporates should work together to promote and develop theatre in India. Compared to other art forms like cinema or other literary genres, theatre has not moved much, he feels.

At the same time, there is also a keen audience for this genre even today, which is why the National Theatre Festival is a reason to celebrate – not only for Kozhikode.

This sixth edition of the National Theatre Festival is striking for the variety it brings. Abhilash Pilla

courtesy .The Friday review of The Hindu, 25th March 2011

It’s time to play!


  • A still from the play, Lanka Lakshmi

A still from the play, Lanka Lakshmi

T.S Preetha

The curtain falls to a thunderous applause.

The lights come on, but there is no scramble to get to the exit. People linger on, still mesmerised by the splendour of the show and the experience of watching a stellar performance on stage.

Yes, theatre is back in vogue in Kochi, successfully gratifying the appetite of a crowd fed on a diet of commercial films.

As we celebrate World Theatre Day today, Kochi is well-hooked to the idea of an evening out to watch a play. But amidst this euphoria, practical problems do pop up, like the unavailability of a venue with good acoustics.

Kochi is yet to get a performing centre like the Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai or the Ranga Shankara in Bengaluru. But unlike the 90s, the city is waking up to a host of plays being staged in various centres — JTPac, Changampuzha Park, the Fine Arts Hall and so on.

Lanka Lakshmi and Hayavadhana were two plays that brought much acclaim when they were staged in the city this year.

“Kochi does not lack actors or scripts. What we need is a good space and a support system. Language is no issue now; many plays in English are staged here. But we have to build a theatre culture where people do not mind buying tickets to watch a play,” says Prof Chandradasan, director of Kochi-based theatre group, Lokadharmi that revolutionised the theatre scene in the state with a slew of path-breaking productions.

The Corporation has been sitting idle for years on a proposal to construct a performing centre in Pachalam, off Kochi, on a three-acre plot. Today, a major problem that is faced by theatre groups is the high rent charged by premium venues in Kochi.

Unlike in Bengaluru, where the Ranga Shankara can be booked for Rs 2,500 a performance, there is no such venue in Kochi.

“We should also have plays that deal with lighter themes, like the one based on the novel, Five Point Someone. The scene in Kochi is active now, but we still have a long way to go,” says Muthumani, who played Mandodhari in Lanka Lakshmi. Muthumani has been part of the theatre scene for over 10 years and sees a change in Kochi’s theatre scene over the last couple of years.

Interestingly, more youngsters are entering the acting profession, either through theatre clubs in schools or workshops during the holidays. But many find it difficult to stay on in this field.

“This is not an income-generating career, but we are all here because of our passion for theatre,” says actor Sandhaya Balasuma, one of the lead actors in Hayavadhana.

The city will be active with theatre workshops once the summer holidays begin next week. And a number of plays are scheduled to be staged here, giving Kochi’s evenings a whole new dimension

Courtesy Deccan Chronicle Kochi, 26 March 2011