BENGALURU: Anuja Ghosalkar likes to call herself a ‘rodent researcher’. No, she doesn’t spend night and day studying rats. Instead, the theatre-maker looks for material to incorporate in her performances, in places no one would think of looking. We’re speaking of the likes of bill receipts, music lists and greeting cards,. For example, The Last Story, her upcoming theatre workshop this weekend.
When her participants come together, the members will use the material they bring with them (limited to the last page of a notebook, which could contain doodles, to-do lists, recipes) to use as an entry point to create something. The ‘text’ they bring along could also be their last WhatsApp message, last selfie or even their Tinder chat. The event, conducted by Ghosalkar and organised by Last Page Collective, follows the format of documentary theatre.
“The format flips conventional theatre on its head. You don’t work with a playwright or a script. Instead, you use archival material to use as an entry point, and it could be a newspaper article, a photograph or even a YouTube clip,” explains Ghosalkar. In one of the workshops curated by her and conducted by her German colleague Kai Tuchman, participants watched a video of a doctor claiming to genetically modify twins, after which they used that premise to write a political manifesto or a fairy tale.
Ghosalkar, who is one of the few artistes practising this form in India, stumbled upon it in 2013. Tired of the hierarchy between a director, playwright and actor, she found it refreshing when a workshop proposed the use of no scripts. “I didn’t like the stories conventional theatre was telling. At this workshop, we used Virginia Woolf’s A Room Of One’s Own instead,” says the 40-year-old. It wasn’t long before Ghosalkar developed her own documentary theatre performance - Lady Anandi, in 2014, which she performs now as well. “The audience is never passive here; in Lady Anandi, I pause to interact with them and they become my director,” she explains.
In 2016, Ghosalkar developed another performance, The Reading Room, where strangers get together and each brings a letter. The letters are sorted by Ghosalkar and mixed with other public domain letters she has collected (including love letters by Karl Marx, a resignation email, and Rohith Vemula’s suicide note) distributed for each member to read out. “Everyone becomes a performer.
And since I am the only one who doesn’t read a letter, I become the audience,” she says. Though meant to be a performance, many also find it therapeutic. In one instance, a woman came with a letter of abuse that was read out by a different man in the group. “For her, it felt like the man was apologising on behalf of the abuser, which she found cathartic,” adds Ghosalkar.
The aim behind Ghosalkar’s workshops is to spread word about documentary theatre. It isn’t restricted to artistes, as lawyers, sociologists, economists and even doctors take part. “The challenge is making people understand the form,” she says, adding that she is currently working on developing the first ever Indian documentary theatre festival in 2020.