Myth and fantasy are the playing fields for Delhi-based performance group Crow. The duo, Nayantara Kotian and Prashant Prakash, specialises in making audiences a part of the story by combining theatre with the interactive nature of gaming. In their performances, one gets a whiff of JRR Tolkien and Neil Gaiman. Crow, formed in 2014, created The Magical Floating Market in 2016, in which denizens from Middle Earth sold products such as bottled dreams and salamander brandy.
The Lonely Hearts Supper Club, in February this year, was a dinner in which audiences were hosted by a Siren and an Imp and were served Cream of Nightmare Soup, among other delicacies.
Kotian graduated from the National Institute of Design and completed her post-graduation in Performance Design at Central Saint Martins, London. Prakash, who was featured in the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of 2016, is best-known for his award-winning play, The Skeleton Woman, that featured Kalki Koechlin. He has acted in Under The Chestnut Tree, Hayavadana and The Skeleton Woman. Kotian and he have now created an ambitious promenade piece, titled A Tall Tale.
Excerpts from an interview with Prakash:
What is the world of A Tall Tale?
In A Tall Tale, the audience enters the world of a living, breathing, growing tower. This is a site-responsive work, set in a unique building. We’ve created a piece inspired from the space. The audience is invited to travel through the landscape of a bizarre fairy tale, where princes, princesses, frogs and monsters are all re-invented.
What draws you to immersive theatre?
It’s very exciting for us to put the audience in the centre of the action, to give them a certain agency within the work. The fact that audiences in India are largely unused to experiencing immersive theatre makes it all the more exciting. Every new immersive experience comes with its own set of challenges, where the rules of engagement between the audience and the work are rewritten every time. Having already premiered two immersive experiences in Delhi, which received a good response, we’re just looking to push on.
Is there a single narrative in A Tall Tale?
The venue itself, the Tower, is the central character of this story. Up until now, it has been a self-sustaining ecosystem, operating with barely any contact with the outside world. It even grows some of its own denizens, who the audience will meet.
But now, at the time of the show, it has decided to throw open its doors and let people in. It’s seeking the adoration of the public. Some of the characters you’ll meet are the Nutritionist, a man who feeds the Tower. His revolutionary diet is responsible for its recent growth spurt. There’s also the 636-year-old Butler, the Tower’s oldest-serving inhabitant, who was injected with the same growth serum that sparked the Tower’s growth.
He has just completed his memoirs, titled The Tower & I: A Butler’s History, which will be out in October. And, where there is a Tower there must be an imprisoned Princess.
How do you recreate a mythical world for people in real time?
You have to establish the structure of the narrative, the parameters within which the world of the show operates. Simultaneously, you have to see how the audience can interact with this world. The authenticity of the world has to be held up, while having to account for a wide variety of audience responses. In a scenario where everything is within touching distance, the possibilities just multiply.
What are the processes that an actor and group undergo to present an interactive theatre experience?
We tend to start off with a few ideas about the character, and bring the actor into the process at a very early stage. A large portion of the character comes directly from the actor himself or herself. This becomes important for us, as they have a lot to do in an environment where the audience is responsive. They have to become their own directors, to a large degree.
Every actor is different. The characters are developed through a combination of improvisation and writing, and everyone comes with their own areas of strength, and areas in which they need to pushed. We’re lucky once again to be working with a very brave, intelligent and committed team.
Performances are at 42/1, Hauz Khas Village in Delhi on May 5 (5:30 pm); May 6 (3:30 pm & 5:30 pm); May 7 (3:30 pm & 5:30 pm); May 12 (5.30 pm); May 13 and 14 (3:30 pm & 5:30 pm). Entry: Rs 1,500. https://insider.in/go/crow