Belvoir, one of Australia’s most acclaimed theatre companies, recently presented a play in Delhi, titled Stories I Want to Tell You in Person — a fascinating examination of life imitating art and vice-versa. The play was presented during the ongoing Bharat Rang Mahotsav (BRM) in New Delhi and will be presented at different venues across India where the festival is being held throughout February. Directed by Anne-Louise Sarks who has a reputation of directing outstanding plays, the stories in the play are narrated by award winning dramatist Lally Katz as herself. It has stories of psychics, alchemists and drug store managers.
In conversation with Guardian 20, Brenna Hobson, Executive Director of Belvoir Street Theatre Company, and Director, Anne-Louise Sarks, speaks about the nuances of theatre performance and about their experience of performing in India.
Q. What is the play Stories I Want to Tell You In Person all about?
A. It’s about one woman’s quest to understand herself and her art and about everything that happens along the way. It’s about love, writing, psychics, danger and travel. It’s very funny and honest. And it’s all true!
Q. This production has a three-member women team, what was idea behind it?
A. We’re really proud that the best artists have come together to make this show. We didn’t set out to assemble a majority female team but rather to assemble the best team for this production and that’s how it turned out.
Q. You do not feel that having only women members sometimes limits the diversity of expression, which your play could have achieved if men were also included?
A. It’s interesting to us that people have noticed this. It is very common to have a production that has a male director, writer, lead actor and producer so it’s surprising that people would find it noteworthy to have a situation that is the other way around. We all grow up seeing plays with male characters in the lead and identifying with them regardless of their gender because there is something that is in their story that is universal. We believe that this is also true of Lally’s story.
Q. What do you have to say about Bharat Rang Mahotsav?
A. We’re honoured to be part of such an exciting festival, that’s jam packed with so many talented artists from all over India and the world. We haven’t been able to see everything but we have seen the inaugural performance in Delhi, Macbeth and also Dear Children, Sincerely by Sri Lankan company Stages Theatre Group. It has also been a wonderful experience to see some of the folk performances as we travel. It is so important for artists from around the world to be able to exchange ideas and Bharat Rang Mahotsav is doing a fantastic job of facilitating that in India.
Q. Are you performing this play for the first time?
A. Lally is not normally an actor. She’s a playwright with an incredible acting talent and is so charming and honest with her audiences. This production was first done in 2012 in Sydney and Melbourne (with our co-producers Malthouse Theatre). Since then it has travelled around Australia; also to Mexico and New York. Belvoir’s work more broadly tours nationally and internationally multiple times per year. It is the first time that we are performing in India, it is a real treat.
Q. When did you start your theatre production? What difference do you see between Australian and Indian theatre?
A. We first performed the show in 2012 and have performed it about one hundred times since then in NYC, Mexico City, Melbourne, Adelaide, Albury, Sydney and now we will be performing it all over India. Indian theatre is a wide range of practices and traditions – just like us. We love that storytelling and magical realism is alive in Indian theatre as it is in our show.
“We’re honoured to be part of such an exciting festival, that’s jam packed with so many talented artists from all over India and the world. It has also been a wonderful experience to see some of the folk performances as we travel. It is so important for artists from around the world to be able to exchange ideas.”
Q. What are your expectations from this year’s BRM?
A. We were expecting to participate in a vital and exciting festival that showcases some of the best work from India and around the world. And we haven’t been disappointed. We’ve had a wonderful time working with the festival staff as well. There is something about the crew who runs the festival that is the same world over. It has been great to be a part of that exciting energy and dedication.
Q. What are the real challenges faced by theatre today?
A. Making it live every night and new for the audience. Also, performing for the first time is always a primary challenge of each individual production. More broadly theatre all over the world has to earn its place in the culture as an art form that is capable of commenting on a challenging society while remaining enjoyable. It isn’t easy to earn a living from theatre in Australia, just as it is in India.
Q. How different it is to perform in different geographies?
A. It’s really different in the sense that each audience is different and then you have all the cultural differences on top of that. We’ve been pleased with how much it has transcended the cultural divide between us and the audience. People in Delhi and Ahmedabad have embraced Lally and the show. We think there is more, that unites us than what divides us. Touring is also often challenging because you find yourself in a different venue with different crews who you don’t know. We’ve found the crews in India to be wonderful, very skilled and so keen to make the show work. It’s make a situation that can sometimes be tricky.
Q. According to you, how can theatre be promoted?
A. We believe that theatre is for everyone and that it can be enjoyable yet it can make you think at the same time. We had a wonderful meeting with the young women from Kshitij street theatre at Gargi College. Talking to them, we got to know about their work and how it is accessible to everyone because it is performed on the streets. The aim of highlighting important issues in society, for us was a good reminder of why we all do what we do.
Q. What are your future plans?
A. We’re off to Bangalore, Trivadrum and Mumbai next. Back at home there is a production in Sydney that we are just about to start with and then we are off on tour to Perth in Australia in the beginning of February.