Last night I attended another show at the Bharat Rang Theater Festival put on by the National School of Drama in Delhi.
I’m seeing seven shows this week. As I am here to study “politically engaged theater” I picked the shows I was seeing based on how “political” I thought they’d be. The first show I saw was in Kashmiri, and while I could tell it was “political” because of the numerous political rally scenes, the most exciting and relevant moment of the evening was after the show when the actors came out to bow and the director said (thankfully in English):
“Please let us thank Amina Bano. This is the first time I’ve ever seen a woman on the Kashmiri stage.”
I was amazed and left the theater with at least that nugget of political relevance.
The play last night was titled Stones and Mirrors, performed by the Simorgh Film Association of Culture and Art from Afghanistan under the direction of Monireh Hashemi.
The group consisted of Ms. Hashemi herself and five incredibly committed and talented young girls. Normally I am less than impressed by children’s theater. This piece may have been performed by children but it was very far from “children’s theater”. It told the story of a group of young girls who flee to the mountains to escape the invading Huns. They fling themselves from the mountaintops to preserve their liberty and chastity. The girls played both parts and I must say they made very convincing Huns. The music, which sounded like something out of Gladiator accompanied their swift and determined movements. It was pretty badass to see the girls doing their sword dance and even more exciting to think about how empowered they must have felt. They were doing a big, bold, defiant dance. I don’t know what their lives are like back in Afghanistan but as I sat there and watched their performance I rejoiced. They were getting to be big and bold, something they are probably only allowed to be on stage… when they are allowed to be on stage.
The piece was clearly political, it went on to deal with the struggles of two different Afghan women and their sufferings. But the reason it was so effective was not because it was a perfectly executed piece, indeed there were dance sequences and songs that were too long and badly articulated lines that left me confused. The reason it made such an impact was the circumstance of the piece. Those five young girls got up and gave an incredibly committed and profound performance in spite of a society that tells them they should sit down and be demure. Instead of being passive they were acting. Furthermore, they were great actors. It was the action of their performance that was a political act.
When the cast came on stage to bow there was thunderous applause. Myself and some others were compelled to give a standing ovation. I could not help but smile the broad smile of inspiration. It made me really happy when I gave two thumbs up to the girls and they responded in kind. All of the girls were sobbing. Overcome with the experience of their performance.
It was exactly what Boal described in Theater of the Oppressed. When the oppressed and passive audience takes up the process of theatrical creation to become the active group, the actors, the oppressed become the empowered.
Monireh, Mahida, Rahela, Sakina, Zahra and Marjan created a Theater of the Empowered.