How do contemporary conflicts impact the imagination of the youth? At a theatre festival in Delhi, titled Atelier’s Campus Theatre Festival (ACT), college students showcase their ideas in the form of plays. ACT’s 2020 edition included plays such as I Am Yusuf and This is My Brother by Aadhar, the theatre society of Motilal Nehru College, and Jal Bata Shunya by Miranda House’s group, Anukriti. The former is a poetic tale of love in the background of war, while the latter sounds the warning that “we have exploited, overused and polluted all water sources that currently exist”.
ACT not only stages the plays in Delhi but travels with a few of these to other cities — thus amplifying the voices of campus theatre makers. On March 8 and 9, Chandigarh witnessed the street play Bachpan and a proscenium production F.A.M.I.L.Y. Staged by Navrang, the theatre group of Institute of Home Economics, Bachpan revolves around the importance of childhood experiences on the attitude of a person. F.A.M.I.L.Y., by College of Vocational Studies’ group, DramaNomics, shows what happens when a bunch of misfits get together to make things work for them by being completely selfish.
For the first time, ACT will bring a performance to Pune, a city that has a long tradition of campus and youth theatre. Titled Kaand, the play, by Pratibimb theatre group of Delhi Technological University, will be performed at Maharashtra Cultural Centre on March 28. Kaand walks the tightrope between “doing the right thing and the responsible thing”. “It is a striking commentary on the frolics of the Delhi elite mixed with instances of crime and compassion,” says Kuljeet Singh, Festival Director and Curator of ACT. Singh taught at the department of English, SGTB Khalsa College, University of Delhi, for a decade. In November 2017, he gave it up to work for his group, Atelier Theatre, full time. “ACT aims at providing a professional space for the promotion of theatre and drama among youth, especially collegiate theatre societies and groups. With Kaand, we see how the students are grappling with the question of right and wrong,” says Singh. Excerpts from an interview:
What is the importance of campus productions in the larger genre of theatre in India?
For me, this space called the campus holds a lot of reverence for various reasons, the top among them is the possibility of imagining the unimaginable and creating the undoable with meagre resources and support. Campus theatre remains different from the theatre practices in the professional circuits because of these possibilities.
How does campus theatre impact the journey of an artiste?
If one examines the lives of actors, designers, and directors of Indian theatre, we will find that the age bracket 17-28 is the most active with regard to theatre practices. They have the courage to take a position with acumen and experiment. Atelier believes in investing four months every year to hear their voices as part of ACT. A lot of new theatre groups emerged out of these campus practitioners in Delhi by producing works of grave significance. It’s imperative to support, nourish and strengthen this theatre happening in colleges and universities.
What is the format of the festival?
We focus on plays performed on stage or street as well as experimental works that may work in both the domains. There are three rounds to the selection of ACT, which is a non-competitive theatre festival. A “call for entries” invites applications from colleges. Round two is a preliminary round when the teams are invited for line-reading sessions. They are expected to share their work and have a discussion with the jury. Senior theatre workers of Atelier and I sit through all the discussions. We meet almost 1,600 student-artistes. The jury selects the street and stage teams, based on their preparation and clarity, and curates the festival. In Season 12, 15 street and 12 stage teams were selected to perform over eight days and nine venues in Delhi. Teams from the Delhi leg go to other cities. Those who aren’t taken, we believe, need more time to explore and prepare.
Based on the plays that come out of the campuses of Delhi, how can we understand the mind of the students?
A lot impacts the mind of the young performers. This includes institutions, authorities and events happening around them. In the recent past, we have also witnessed authoritarian censorship on plays which a certain section disagrees with. These forces are strong and the resistance by these creative groups is stronger.
What brings you to Pune?
ACT has been travelling to Mumbai since its 10th season and we were extending the movement in ACT 12. Pune became a natural choice in Maharashtra for its cultural contribution.
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