Spoken, a storytelling and poetry festival, is scheduled to be held at Mumbai’s Jio Garden from 28-29 October. This first-of-its-kind festival, organised by Kommune, a collective of artists, producers, poets and art lovers, will play host to some of the most vibrant voices in live storytelling, poetry, spoken word and song from across India and around the globe.

Over the course of two days, Spoken will host almost 50 national and international performers—the list includes Britain’s Shakespearian outfit, The HandleBards;  the Indian musician Raghu Dixit; Piyush Mishra; Kalki Koechlin; and Kommune’s own superstars, Ankur Tewari(Hindi-Indie singer/songwriter),, Shamir Reuben (poet),, Gaurav Kapur(VJ, actor and sports presenter) and Tess Joseph(Casting Director)  among others.

Speaking on the growing popularity of the art of spoken word, and on what inspired the idea of Spoken, the festival’s director and co-founder, Roshan Abbas, explained, “Poetry and storytelling have in the last two years moved into the space of pop culture from sub-culture. Open mics, viral videos all pointed us to the trend. We also do so many Kommune evenings that we saw those as places where we could showcase this talent. All we needed to do was build a platform for them. And that’s how we thought of Spoken.”

He added, “Kommune was built as a platform for artistes. From storytelling nights in cottages to poetry slams in yoga studios, we have built this audience one heartbeat at a time. And today we have a community that breathes and lives the art of the spoken word, of storytelling and poetry. We are now poised to give them a larger stage and louder voice.”

All set to host a star-studded lineup, Abbas said that he had no problems convincing the celebs to come on board. “Honestly the love and warmth has been amazing. Mostly everyone was happy to come on board,” he said.

Abbas also told Guardian 20 about the pleasant meeting he had with Boman Irani regarding his attendance in the festival. He said, “Boman Irani was a delight, though we haven’t announced him yet, he was away on film shoots and shows but was so excited. Who would know that Boman is a closet poet and story writer. He has promised to come and if it doesn’t clash with a shoot he will be there.

In addition to serving an eclectic mix of art and artists, the festival will also have performances in Urdu, English, Hindi and Kannada. Abbas talked about the challenge of presenting the unfamiliar with the familiar, and how the festival intends to be a “tastemaker” and create an audience that appreciates poetry and storytelling in vernacular languages.

“If I could, I would have had even more languages. And yes, the reach of Urdu, Hindi, Kannada is a lot. We want to diversify each year with unique ideas and languages. The challenge is to find a blend of the familiar and unfamiliar. We must play taste-makers.”

Boosting a fair mix of new and established talent, the festival endeavours to stage the many fresh voices that are emerging in India.

On encouraging budding artists through this medium, Abbas said, “We need to be their [young artists’] platform, as Kommune has always been.”

Audiences can also discover their own voice, by joining one of the several interactive workshops and masterclasses that will be organised with the likes of Grammy-nominated, African American storyteller Diane Ferlatte , and US Moth GrandSlam Champion, Margot Leitman. Separate classes to learn lyric writing from Swanand Kirkire, and workshops to understand the art of the play with Sumukhi Suresh will also be part of the two-day schedule.

“So we have had submissions from all over and Shamir (Reuben), our in-house curator, has kept a stringent eye on quality. We also have masterclasses and workshops. We need to encourage people to participate and find the stories within them.”

Abbas also spoke about storytelling being an intrinsic part of our culture. He said, “We need to encourage our stories. It’s amazing that we have a culture of rich storytellers across the centuries, but recently have not had a platform for them. When Kommune started traveling across cities we found the voices of tomorrow. And they spoke of amazing things: there was heartbreak and heartache, depression and despair, but also hope and happiness. We’ve curated over two years of these stories and poems and we think they will enrich lives, and the cultural fabric of society. Like the face that launched 1,000 ships, we hope this festival launches a thousand new poets and storytellers,” said Abbas.

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