By Srividya Srinivas
As part of my MA Applied Theatre course at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London, I was required to do a drama-based project that connects with the practice I intended to develop after completing my MA. Funded by the Leverhulme Trusts, my project with the young people at Buguri Community LIbrary at Mysore ran from the end of May 2019 till the beginning of July 2019 for 2 months, where I went every weekend and facilitated full-day applied theatre sessions which focussed on the young people and their connection with their community, engaging with their community and therefore helping to develop a sense of belonging with their community.
Phenomenologist philosopher, Edward Casey (2001) defines a place to be ‘thick’ by virtue of its rigour and substance. The community at Mysore was thick with its lived history and art (the tin-work and wood-work that have been at the heart of this community for the past 100 years). The young people in the community, however, did not give much thought to the diversity and art that existed within their community. But what became apparent through the initial days of my project with them was the fact that they had their own dreams of what makes an ideal community, such as religious inclusivity, good education, good electricity and water supply and
good connectivity to name a few. It became evident and also important that the young people engage with the people of their community more, to learn more about their history; who they are are and where they come from. So they met with and interviewed the adults of the community, where they learned a lot about them; who they were, what kind of work they did, what dreams they have for the next generation. It was heartening to see the adults so passionately talking to them about their lives, about the kind of work they did. Some very practical, saying they wished for the next generation to follow their dreams and make something of themselves, rather than get stuck in the rut they got stuck in. Some were sad that their art would perhaps die with them as the younger generation were not keen to learn the family trade, but equally hopeful that they would follow the path of education and do well in life.
The young people came back from their interviews with renewed enthusiasm, for they had never experienced their own community in the way they had through these interviews. They were more invested in their community. Instead of searching for their dream community, they now wanted to make their community their dream community. They started to think about how they could bring the ideal to their community when they grow up. This was the beginnings of the performance they devised, to be showcased to the adults as well as to the youth of the community. Right from the conceptualization of the story, to the making of the props, to gathering their audience were all led by the young people. It was indeed fulfilling to see the older girls and boys taking charge of the process and bringing their performance together and ensuring the younger children were all ready to go. At this point, one could see they felt a true sense of belonging with their community.
This project gave me a lens through which to see the importance of placemaking to develop a sense of belonging and how that motivates one to take steps to make a positive change in their community. Since I depended on Chaitra and Sachitha for translating everything for me from English to Kannada and vice versa, this project also encouraged me to introspect the importance and politics of language in an applied theatre setting in post-colonial India, where language is not only a mode of communication, but also a reflection of your identity and your privilege. There were many times I was left wondering whether I was running the risk of re-stamping colonisation due to my language barrier, or vice versa when they managed to redefine a drama game we played, using Kannada as their primary language! It was indeed heartening to see the young people using their agency to make this project more meaningful and relevant to them.