Guest post by SPACE THEATRE ENSEMBLE
Thank you for renewing this much needed dialogue on freedom of expression.
We happen to be, by sheer coincidence, a four-piece all-women theatre group that performs poetry, and have been following the correspondence over the sexist performance of stand-up comedian Avish Matthew with some interest – all the more so since we are now touring in Delhi and its environs.
The protestors are absolutely right when they point out that domestic violence is not a laughing matter and we completely endorse their views on why Avish’s jokes just weren’t funny.
We do not believe in laughter as just therapy to laugh off the stress of living the good life.
However, as a professional theatre ensemble we also strongly disagree with the predictable, and frankly irrelevant form of agitprop used by the protestors against Avish. Protest need not be chaotic, so far more vehemently we condemn the supposedly liberal students and others who heckled, booed, poked and shoved but stopped just short of physically molesting the protestors.
As performers ourselves, we unequivocally state that the performer has the right to complete her/ his presentation. Interrupting a performance in flow is not that different from pre-emptive censorship.
Although we tend to smile with our old friend, Nivedita Menon…
We all have smart phones. Before Matthews performance was over, we’d have compiled a repertoire of nasty, sexist, offensive jokes about the patriarchal male, and let him (and the audience) feel the heat as we hurled these. Like ladies with machine guns. In less than four minutes, they’d all get the message. And we wouldn’t have taken Avish’s right to be on stage.
“During the conversation, he (Avish) said that he had no idea that jokes about these issues would warrant such a strong response. He revealed that he does not crack jokes about female foeticide, for instance, as he recognized the issue to be a grave one…”
Thankfully, we don’t suffer from the same angst as Avish. We are in your face, but not offensive.
We just did a performance at Ramjas College to a small but very warm and welcoming audience and I trust some of them will come forward to endorse the offer we are about to make, which is namely:
That the Protestors at NLU to whom we give our unstinted solidarity, organize a performance of ours. We sustain ourselves as a full-time theatre group from what we earn, To get us to perform on the same stage however and get paid the same professional fee that Avish was, may face all sorts of bureaucratic and other hurdles. That will just give us all unnecessary stress.
We do a ‘Take Away’ theatre. In Malviya Nagar, wanting to test out our repertoire in Hindi we performed for a group of senior citizens sunning themselves in late winter. When we passed the hat around, we collected 800 rupees and were invited for tea and pakoras! Since being here we have had three terrace performances, five performances in public gardens, and one at Dilli Haat which was an absolute disaster given that the time and space allotted to us had been co-opted by an NGO working in women’s rights.
So avoid the stress. Pick a place and tell us where. Lodhi Gardens (where we have already performed thrice), Hauz Khas Village, some public space you guys particularly like, and we’ll be there. We’ll pass the hat around and the 15 of you put into it what you’d pay to watch a Bollywood film. Or each of you bring ten or more friends with you, and put into the bag what you’d pay for a medium sized pizza…or whatever…If yours is a residential university, we’ll do this on your lawns under a tree…
You’ll help pay our wages and get to see a performance quite different from Avish’s.
Andrea Pereira, associate artistic director, Space Theatre Ensemble, with principal actors, Katheeja Talha, Heidi Pereira, and Sugita Thangavelu.
Email us at Space Theatre Ensemble firstname.lastname@example.org
We also welcome performance enquiries from other like-minded women (and men)…