At 8 pm today, over a 100 performances of Iranian writer Nassim Soleimanpour’s play, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, shall take place online across the world in various time zones. In India too, Mumbai-based theatre group, QTP, is presenting performances on Zoom in English, Hindi and Marathi by Mantra Mugdh, Jayati Bhatia, and Pushkar Chirputkar respectively. The idea is to commemorate the anniversary of the shutting down of theatres around the world due to the covid-19 pandemic, and also help raise funds for theatre artists affected by the lockdown. “This is part of a larger initiative by Nassim’s company, Aurora Nova,” says Quasar Thakore-Padamsee, founder, QTP. “We have been in touch with him over the past few years. In 2016, we did multiple productions of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit in Hindi, English and Marathi, and then we did Blank. The world is a much more local place than it used to be. There is always an interest in what you are up to.” So, while Thakore-Padamsee was in talks with him about bringing his new show to India, he got an email from Aurora Nova about commemorating a year of theatres getting shut down across the world. To do this, Soleimanpour readjusted the play for an online experience.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is quite a significant play for its format and treatment. The Guardian, in a 2012-article called this an absurdist adventure, that sits on the boundary of comedy and drama. “Soleimanpour is not allowed to leave his native Iran, as he is a conscientious objector who has refused to take part in military service, which is mandatory for all Iranian men. Unable to travel, Soleimanpour has turned his isolation to his own advantage with a play that is written in English but which requires no director, no set and a different actor for each performance,” stated the piece. When it was performed at Gate Theatre, London, in 2012, each performer—Mark Watson, Tom Basen, Juliet Stevenson, Tamsin Greig and Janet Suzman—read Soleimanpour's script for the first time on stage. "The audience are given my email address during the show," the playwright mentioned in an email-interview to the Guardian from Iran, "and they can send me photographs and notes by mobile phone."
In the performance happening today, the format still remains the same, albeit on an online medium. There are no rehearsals, no directors—a sealed script is handed to a new performer every show. Two of the actors, Mantra Mugdh, Jayati Bhatia, shall perform on Zoom from their homes. They will get the text only once the audience logs in, and will then open it in front of the audience. “It is quite funny. Jayati is a director’s rehearsal dream. And this time, she is like ‘What! No rehearsals,’,” laughs Thakore-Padamsee.
The play is a potent reminder of the transformative and transgressive power of the theatre even during the pandemic. The performances have tried to keep some elements of audience participation intact. “It is quite an appropriate piece as it’s form itself is about uncertainty. The actors are uncertain about what is going to happen. And this is a reflection of what we see around us today. White Rabbit, Red Rabbit seems like a really lovely and appropriate way to commemorate this moment,” says Thakore-Padamsee. “We could bemoan the fact that it has been a year since theatres shut down and be shattered about it. But here’s a way we can sing and dance about it. We are theatre people, we celebrate everything.”
Just like the pandemic—a pan-global event—that affected everyone negatively, this set of performances too is a pan-global event, which is positive in nature. QTP decided to perform the play in English, Hindi and Marathi like before. The Marathi performance has been done in conjunction with Pune-based group, Natya Company.
The play, with its construction and creation, makes for quite a unique experience for both the actors and the audience. In 2016, when White Rabbit, Red Rabbit was being performed live, QTP had organised three shows at the Cuckoo Club on a weekend—at 3 pm, 5 pm and 7 pm. “An audience member, who watched the 3 pm show, bought the 5 pm show ticket as well, and then for the one at 7 pm. When he came out, he told me how amazing it was to be able to watch the same play being completely different each time. That’s the magic of it. We are all looking forward to it. And we get to do a bit of theatre as well,” says Thakore-Padamsee.
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit will be streamed on Zoom at 8 pm. https://insider.in/white-rabbit-red-rabbit-mar13-2021/event