As people gathered day after day at Jantar Mantar and India Gate over the past two weeks to protest against the recent gang rape of a 23-year old girl, something remarkable happened. Suddenly, an issue which had so far been clouded in shame began to be spoken about openly, without fear. Whether or not any structural changes are made as a result of these protests, there is no doubt that smaller, more personal transformations have been made possible. How does one understand prejudices and try to move beyond our personal experiences of alienation?
A workshop titled ‘Sitting Around Difference’ held on Thursday in the city, hoped to answer these questions by means of performance. Organized by Yellowcat Theatre Co. and conducted by New Orleans based award winning theatre artist Rebecca Mwase, the workshop brought together a group of around ten people to explore the idea of ‘difference’ in our lives. Opening up and talking about issues such as gender discrimination, racial or caste prejudices and religious biases can be challenging and in this respect Rebecca helped participants tap into their deepest memories and experiences using theatre techniques. “The idea is not to talk about gender, race, religion, and class using political or academic theory. Rather I wanted everyone to go deep and pull out personal stories that define them” explained Mwase.
Curiously, these personal stories helped participants connect with each other despite their varied experiences, highlighting the fact that issues pertaining to difference or isolation often intersect. Based on her learning from the Free Southern Theater and Junebug Productions of New Orleans, Mwase helped people mine personal experiences through storytelling and performance. “Story circle is based on ancient African traditions of sitting around fire and telling tales. It is an equitable space where everyone in the circle is encouraged to talk and also listen to other people’s stories. After all our experience of difference may be different, but emotions remain the same” she said. Participants were consequently encouraged to piece together experiences gathered through storytelling, singing, dancing and poetry sessions into one narrative based on particular gestures and movements that reflect a given experience of difference. “What gestures people choose to articulate their emotions says a lot about the experience of it and in a way mark a move forward and a protest against discrimination” she added.
In the wake of a nationwide outrage against rape and discussions surrounding sexual violence, the workshop offers an interesting insight into the possibility of collective action. It was indeed fascinating to see performance and communication lead to liberation, resulting in a serious questioning of the power structures that seek to control our lives.