The boxing ring as a stage
- A new play, I am Not Here, presents an eight-step guide on how to censor women’s writings
- Each step in the guide is represented as a boxing round. Not only does the censorship get compounded with each round, but so does its effect on the actors
Two performers circle in the boxing ring, amid haunting vocals by Pallavi M.D. in the background. The audience, seated on four sides of the ring, and separated from the performers by a red rope, waits in anticipation—it’s not every day that a boxing arena serves as a setting for a play. Titled I Am Not Here and crafted as an eight-step guide in how to censor women’s writings, the play has been directed by Deepika Arwind, who is known for works such as Nobody Sleeps Alone and No Rest In The Kingdom.
Arwind did the play because she was able to find only a few texts by women playwrights. In the director’s note, she mentions that the idea of “censorship" in this case needed to be expanded: Outside the purview of official censorship lay a history of women writers being pushed to the fringes and never accorded the status of folk heroes or rebels, qualities that male writers were often revered for.
The starting points for I Am Not Here were Joanna Russ’ How To Suppress Women’s Writing and the chapter “Shakespeare’s Sister" from Virginia Woolf’s seminal book, A Room Of One’s Own. The former, published in 1983, is a non-fiction work that looks at women writers like Suzy McKee Charnas and Margaret Cavendish (from the 20th and 17th centuries, respectively). Take the cover page itself, which has lines such as “She Wrote it but She Shouldn’t Have" and “She Wrote it but She had Help". “Anytime a woman writes, people find some way to discount it," says Arwind. “But these books have only served as a diving board for us."
One wonders about the choice of the boxing arena as the stage for the play. “It has to do with the format of the play itself. The ring serves as a metaphor. Each step in the guide is represented as a boxing round—not only does the censorship get compounded with each round, but so does its effect on the actors, who are playing out this guide for you," she says. In some ways, this format heightens and complicates the relationship between the viewer and the performer as well. “Also, since the viewers are seated on all four sides, they can see each other’s reactions," she adds.
Devised and performed by dancer Ronita Mookerji and theatre director-actor Sharanya Ramprakash, I Am Not Here was shortlisted for the Stückemarkt Prize, Berlin, in May, and was then performed at the Nepal International Theatre Festival. “The play has a lot of improvisation, based on how the performers are affected. Their bodies constantly transform into men, women and creatures," says Arwind.
I Am Not Here will be staged at Ranga Shankara, Bengaluru, on 27 July, at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.
FIRST PUBLISHED26.07.2019 | 02:06 PM IST