An Open Letter to the Protestors at the National Law University: Space Theatre Ensemble

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:

STE at Event, Truth, Politics
STE at Event, Truth, Politics

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 ensemblespacetheatre@gmail.com

We also welcome performance enquiries from other like-minded women (and men)…

2 thoughts on “An Open Letter to the Protestors at the National Law University: Space Theatre Ensemble”

  1. Dear Sir,,
    We contacted you earlier for the purpose of performing at your place. But for some reason or other the matter didn’t work. So we would like to appeal to you for the purpose of performing at your place.
    However, in this connection we are glad to inform you that we have staged two of our present productions, “JANALAR BAIREY” and “NISHKRITY” in Gujarat on 5th July,2014 and 6th July,2014. They invited us as well as Charbak, Kolkata to stage two productions each on those two days. The organisers were so moved to see our production, “JANALAR BAIREY” as well as “NISHKRITY” that they are keen to invite us to perform in the next year also. We will probably visit Mumbai with our, “JANALAR BAIREY” in December, 2014. We also performed in the All India Multi-Langual Drama Festival at Bongaigaon, Assam in December, 2013.
    However, we are very much interested to perform there at your place. If you feel interested in the matter then we are ready to send a DVD disc being video recorded one of our production, JANALAR BAIREY. Of course, you can easily see it through You Tube in the name Janalar Bairey. We hope you will be never be dissapointed with our performances. If you can’t afford to invite us at your own only you may make it jointly with other Bengali Cultural Association in in your city.In that case your expenses will reduced to a great extent. In this regard we state we are interested for in the cultural bonding with you people. So we will perform on costs only.
    Thanking you,

    Yours faithfully,
    BARNAKATHA,
    Chandannagar
    Contact: +919433734486

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    1. Dear members of Barnakatha,

      Hello, I hope this reply to your comment on this post will find all of you well. From your comment I get the feeling that we are sailing in the same boat, and the water around us is not choppy but still and possibly dead. This shouldn’t worry us. If there is one thing that gives actors life, it’s to be dropped in dead water…

      Please mail the ensemble (email ID at the end of our post) and we will gladly share with you contact details of persons and institutions where you will receive a warmer reception and perhaps even the courtesy of a reply. The Space Theatre Ensemble has had performance tours to at least four cities easily reached by you, and between the two of us, I am sure we will get our work done.

      Your comments however seem more directed to those at NLU-D, who look after such ‘extracurricular’ activities like cricket, some kind of ‘entertainment’ like stand-up comedy for students and faculty, and ‘fashion shows’ and ‘bollywood dance competitions’ during their annual ‘festival’, and perhaps even something like theatre or modern dance or spoken word, or music.

      So let me also give you the context of the post to which you posted your polite complaint.

      I am steering till September 2015, the Space Theatre Ensemble, four of whose young actors including the new artistic director, spontaneously decided to offer support to some 15 students at NLU-D.

      They read both the posts on this issue in Kafila and all the comments posted, and were genuinely angry on a few counts.

      Their conclusions were that even stand-up comedians need to introspect on what is funny and what is not, and do this with compassion. They should not hide behind the speciousness they give to ‘freedom of expression’ taking forward the sole argument that laughter is a ‘therapeutic’ way to engage with reality.

      importantly though, as women, the ensemble’s actors strongly felt that the 15 or so protesters at NLU did not deserve the treatment they got at the hands of what could even be a nice neoliberal audience. Far more importantly, my young actors felt the protestors themselves ought not to have protested they way they did. Breaking up a performance goes against our grain as performers they argued.

      A major part of our discussion therefore went into the nature of the protest at NLU-D. We turned this into an exercise to determine what we would have done as a theatre ensemble to make both Avish Matthew and his sated audience feel our hurt and outrage, and do this in two minutes flat before they could even shut us down.

      The argument that the ensemble should show their support to the protesters was on two important counts. the first of course, as genuinely offended young women, and two, to get a performance for ourselves.

      My girls (as I am allowed to call them) are simple but accomplished actors and idealistic to boot. They thought the ensemble’s inbox would be full of requests from the protesters at NLU-D asking for a performance in the park, and that 200 young people their age would turn up and put into the hat what they would for a burger or pizza or whatever.

      I am much older and wiser. You will get zilch I told them. It’s easier to protest with a post on Kafila, nobody can see your face and your profs don’t read lefty blogs like Kafila.

      So sure enough, there’s a text message from an old friend of the ensemble asking them to contact a student at NLU-D. Read the post on Kafila they text back. It’s because of the post that he wants to talk to you comes the reply. What’s he scared of I ask them? The Secret Police at NLU-D? They glare at me and call him up. This is a very brief conversation. Has he been arrested I ask? They glare at me again.

      He texts them a number of the girl that has to be spoken to. This is all getting too complicated. Why don’t they just email you I ask the girls. Shut up Hartman, they reply.

      So they talk to the girl they have to talk to who tells them, oh yeah we heard about you, we wanted to call you here last year but you know how it is, with so much happening, we completely forgot…

      The girls persist being simple actors. Turns out they have to send in a mail asking whether they can perform. It’s a pattern, and still, being idealists I guess, they don’t see it.

      They’ll send the PDF thoroughly documenting the Space Theatre Ensemble, attach posters of our performances, and tell whoever it is that we’d like to perform at their college or university or whatever, and how much we’ll charge.

      Still the girls will get an email back asking them to please send in a ‘proposal’! Or they’ll be told that they’ll have to wait until an ‘event’ is found into which they can be fitted in. And you guys at Chandannagar think you have problems??

      About our offer to perform for the protesters of course, nothing was heard, not even a single email.

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