Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A three day workshop on Gender and Theatre - As part of the Fulbright Alumni Award 2017 to Chandradasan - Sponsored by USIEF and Lokadharmi

A three day workshop on ‘Gender and Theatre’ was held at Nadakaveedu, Nayarambalam Kochi, as part of the Fulbright Alumni award 2017 awarded to Chandradasan, from 22nd to 24th of September, 2017. The workshop is sponsored by USIEF and Lokadharmi Kochi. The interactive and informal round table sessions of the workshop were inspiring with the participation of renowned personalities from various walks of life.
The purpose of the workshop was to introspect and share ideas and experiences related to gender equality in performance arts especially theatre. The workshop ruminates gender insensitivity as a multi-dimensional universal issue: all workspace performance could be related to theater performance; therefore it took a rather cognitive stand, so that the effort taken is percolated in nature and would trespass time.
Each one who came to attend the workshop, around 30 in number, (22 on the first day, 27 on second and 29 on the third day to be precise) from various walks of life- Theatre, Cine, Kathakali and Kutiyattam Artists, Dancers, Educationists, Lawyers, Civil servants, Administrators, Visual Artists, Sports persons, Singers, Traditional performers, Teachers, and students - eagerly shared the wealth of their experiences and contributed ideas to face and challenge the burning issue, in the deliberations. Due representation was given to seasoned artists who struggled against all odds and found their position in the field of performing arts. The participants included men also to complete the spectrum of understanding.
The value system which is the residue of a society’s moral, ethical, and religious culture was identified as a key factor that determined how a performer was viewed in that society. It is evident from how, in the west, an artist /performer is treated with that identity whereas in India, especially Kerala, the gender of the performer/artist determines the kind of treatment given. Discussions relating to this have happened before and in this workshop it resumed with fresh energy.
Day One/ 22 September 2017
The first day of the workshop centered on the history and position of women in theatre and its current scenario. Prof. Chandradasan, the director of the workshop introduced the subject. He mentioned that exploitation and inequalities have no boarders and women are exposed to various forms of abuse and ill-treatment worldwide. “The workshop intends to explore the dark corners of bitter experiences women encounter, the myriad emotions they live through and the voyeuristic eyes they have comprehended,” he said. The subtle evolution of the concept of gender and theater from the earlier women and theater was clearly delineated.
Prominent theatre and state award winning film actress, Sajitha Madathil gave a comprehensive discourse on the role of women in the history and evolution of theatre in Kerala. She adhered to the fact that women are still at the receiving end of unpleasant experiences, citing examples. The situation is as grim as it was in the olden days, even though creative revolutions have taken place at various phases in the evolution of the Malayalam theatre and theater has even been used as a tool to throw light upon the ordeals faced by women.
Kathakali artist Ranjini Suresh talked about the conservative realm of Kathakali training and the discriminations she had to face as a woman performer who took up to perform the challenging male epic characters like Ravana, in the male dominant world of Kathakali. The woman performer’s greatest challenge was to break free from the performance parameters set by the male masters even for female characters/roles. Innovations by women artists is rarely acknowledged and if at all recognized, it is ascribed to a male support in the form of a guru or blood relation.
Afternoon session addressed the main issue- exploitation and injustice women artist face in theatre. The eighty four year old singer and theatre artist P K Medini talked at length about her long, traumatic journey into art and life. She belongs to the first generation that tried to coalesce politics and art. The issue of language and body language was discussed at length.
Sajitha Madathil (Theatre and cine actor), Ranjini Suresh (Kathakali Actor), Madan Babu (Actor and writer), Arun PR (Writer), Aparna Venu (Researcher), Selvaraj VR (Actor), PK Medini (Veteran Actor, Singer and social activist), Asha Devi (Actor), and Shobha Menon (Visual Artist) actively participated in the days discussions along with others.
Day Two -23 September 2017
Eminent academician, writer, orator, and social activist Prof. M K Sanu graced the second day of the workshop. This 88 year old, prominent literary figure of Kerala who has authored more than thirty-six books, arrived at this workshop because of his passion for theatre. The topic acquired a progressive rise in insights and ideas as he discoursed authoritatively about the eventful milestones of Kerala theatre. He described how women were marginalized and swept aside by the powerful male attitudes and the contributory social structure.
Former Vice Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam and renowned Art scholar Prof. K G Paulose, theatre critic, writer and social activist Civic Chandran and prominent poet and activist Shri. S. Ramesan gave comments painted with stark realities. According to Prof.K G Paulose, the patriarchal psyche of a male dominant society continues to mar the theatre and its artistic equality. He spoke about the orthodox tribal psyche that has been passed down generations as archetypal images that prescribe specific performance spaces for the male and the female.  But according to him, an effective interference from the creative world can change the scenario positively and it is happening, though very slowly.
Civic Chandran had a different opinion. The Renaissance period had chopped off the artistic part of art and gave no prominence to art as a medium in its pursuit for uplifting women. He strongly suggested that drastic steps be taken to infuse artfulness in theatre.
Molly Kannamali, the veteran Chavittunatakam performer and mini screen actress energized the workshop with her unfailing spirit and enthusiasm for the art she represents. She gave a detailed speech about her plight as a woman performer. “All the old taboos with coarse, uncivilized attitudes still reign the world,” she said.
Chandradasan Introducing the workshop - Sajitha Madathil and Medini on both sides
Molly Kannamali (Veteran actor of Chavittunatakam), PR Arun (Writer), Prof. MK Sanu (Academician, writer, and social activist), Dr.KG Paulose (Former Vice Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, Writer and theatre Critic), Civic Chandran (playwright and Social activist), Indu G (Kutiyattam Artist and Poet), Margi Madhu (Kutiyattam Actor), Nandini R Nair (Officer at Indian Civil Service), Prof. Anjali George (Academician), Priya Sreejith (Actor and Dancer), Anand Haridas (Journalist), and PK Medini (Singer and actor) lead the days deliberations.
Day Three – 24 September 2017
By the concluding day of the workshop, ‘the road not taken’, the path that needs to be taken, was more or less clearly identified. Each participant’s fresh thoughts and ideas synchronized with discourses from the previous day and that eventually became contemplations for future actions. Experts from new arenas like social auditing, business consultancy and tribal teaching asserted that everywhere the situations of women are of neglect and negation. In the course of the four sessions of the day, though different experiences and individual ideas were exchanged and interpreted, in the end it all coalesced as rivers into a sea.
“The peculiarity of a movement is that it never ends and takes a permanent shape; it travels, evolving in its course through time and space…,” one of the participants was heard saying at a lighter moment of the work shop…True enough…No finite shape evolved and no conclusions were reached…the ethos of Art started to travel to another phase, to take another form… The workshop flagged it off.
Sajitha Madathil (Actor), Prof. Gopan Chidambaram (Playwright and Academician), PR Arun (Writer), Madan Babu (Actor and writer), Shirley Somasundaran (actor and playwright), Dr.KG Paulose (Former Vice Chancellor of Kerala Kalamandalam, Writer and theatre Critic), Civic Chandran (playwright and Social activist), Bentla D’Coutha (Vice captain of women’s football team of India Coach, and referee in International matches), Nandini R Nair (Officer at Indian Civil Service), Selvaraj VR (Actor), Chathuri Chandrageetha (Social auditor and actor), Ferha Aziz (Lawyer, human rights worker and actor), and Suvarnna (musician), were the prime discussants in the final day.

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