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A murder mystery solved virtually

Thespo 22 tests the possibilities of the digital medium to tell stories in theatre

'Miah-Boy Diairies', written, directed & performed by Atif Ally Dagman
'Miah-Boy Diairies', written, directed & performed by Atif Ally Dagman

Thespo, a youth theatre movement, has been a fixture on the annual cultural calendar since 1999. However, with the raging pandemic forcing events to go virtual, the festival has had to take the same route. This year’s edition, Thespo 22, comes with the tagline of being the country’s first international digital youth theatre festival. However, the one thing that has not changed this year is a celebration of storytelling by young theatre practitioners.

The performances have been designed for the digital medium by troupes from Jaipur, Kolkata and Pune. On the opening day, one saw a group from Jaipur perform a comedy, ‘Main Beedi Pikar Jhuth Ni Bolta’, in Rajasthani and Hindi. Directed by Chandan Kumar Jangid, the story revolved around a village simpleton Guthai, who is obsessed with getting married. In ‘Miah-Boy Diaries’, the laptop screen becomes a portal into a young man’s room, as he finds ways to cope with the isolation of the pandemic. The viewer is allowed a rare glimpse into his introspective journey, as he writes in his diary about quitting his job, making music, exploring stand-up comedy, and what it means to be a Muslim in India today. There is an intimate feel to the performance as it takes place in Atif Ally Dagman’s own room instead of on stage, with a set in the background.

There are two collaborative performances as well, put together by a team based in different parts of the world. These came together after virtual workshops. Take, for instance, The Ministry of Mundane Mysteries, in which a murder mystery takes place over the phone, between six cast members and you the viewer. After you book your slot, a cast member calls you to help solve a mundane mystery from your life.

One understands that access to the digital comes from a space of privilege. But what this has done is given entrepreneurial groups from across cities and towns, who didn't have a nationwide audience, an opportunity to use the digital space for “self-publication”. They no longer need to take permissions from venues or approach festivals and curated spaces to showcase their work.

Maybe this is also a learning moment for young people starting their journey in theatre, when they don’t have to shed their past experiences of working only in live theatre to embrace this new form. “They don’t have to unlearn, unlike me. I have spent 20 years trying to understand what it means to do a play on the ground. I am engrained in those notions and definitions,” says Toral Shah, a key member of QTP, which organises the festival. She feels that we are making the map to discovery during this unprecedented adventure. “History is happening before us. I can imagine when radio or television launched, those practitioners must have felt like space explorers,” she adds.

Thespo 22: Double the Dramagiri is taking place virtually till 21 December on

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