Badungduppa Kalakendra

New Performance

Grant Period: Over four months

For a three-month workshop to enable four young theatre directors from Assam to develop productions that critically engage with the socio-political changes and cultural diversity of the region. The directors and their team members will tour together to present the newly created work in their respective home towns and share their theatre-making experience with local audiences.

This grant provides partial support for ‘Under the Sal Tree 2011’, which would enable four young contemporary Assamese theatre directors to undertake exploratory workshops over a period of three months, and travel through Assam with the resulting performances.

Based in the village of Rampur in the Goalpara district of Assam, Badungduppa Kalakendra comprises a group of twenty resident performing artists from nearby towns and villages. The group works out of its own space, constructed with locally available low-cost material. Besides creating its own performances that tour to various venues in India, Badungduppa Kalakendra conducts workshops and community-centred projects for performing artists. Sukracharjya Rabha, the creative director of the group, says that Badungduppa Kalakendra’s aim is to create “village opera” focusing on the expressions of rural communities. The “village opera”, Sukracharjya clarifies, is “not about purity of native expressions but of shaping it, analysing it” within the context of traditional values, existing forms of oppression, mindless industrialisation and changing life in Assam.

Despite the State’s considerable financial support to the Northeast, the funding does not enable artists to critically engage with the process of creating a new performance work. Support is mostly limited to the promotion of traditional art forms that are showcased as ‘Art of Assam’. In addition, mainstream Assamese theatre, under the influence of the mobile theatre, has become repetitive and formulaic, solely concerned with producing saleable work. Much of contemporary Assamese theatre thus neither emerges from an inner impulse nor responds to the immediate contexts in which artists create and which audiences inhabit.

Against this backdrop, Badungduppa Kalakendra established ‘Under the Sal Tree’ in 2008, which enabled contemporary theatre directors to explore their creative ideas while reinventing local forms of expression to develop theatre performances. However, after two years, the Badungduppa team realised that the festival-centric nature of ‘Under the Sal Tree’ did not adequately enable performing artists to find their own voices through self-enquiry. The team decided that ‘Under the Sal Tree’ should focus more on facilitating emerging directors to undertake experimentation and exploratory work, thereby enabling them to engage more critically with their processes of theatre-making. Accordingly, ‘Under the Sal Tree 2011’, will create the necessary infrastructure and support for a selected group of four emerging directors to facilitate, stimulate and steer their theatrical endeavours from the earlier stage of writing the project to the implementation of ideas and techniques, to the final stages of production and dissemination of the new work.

‘Under the Sal Tree 2011’, titled ‘Parichay+atma-parichay’, aims to stimulate the exploratory spirit and creative edge of young theatre directors to create a new performance work based on critically examining the ‘Self’, in the context of growing concerns about the prevailing uncertainty and politics of survival in Assam. The selected directors would jointly participate in a carefully programmed series of workshops facilitated by Sukracharjya Rabha, Sankar Venkateswaran and Mrinal Bora, all of whom are well-informed about the context of contemporary performance practices in Assam.

After an intensive introductory workshop at Badungduppa’s work place, the four directors will go back to their respective locations and begin developing their individual projects. The facilitators will observe the directors at work and encourage them to explore various possibilities of theatre-making. They will also help the directors share their work with one another and enable the cross-fertilisation of ideas. A built-in dissemination plan will play a key role in ‘Under the Sal Tree 2011’. The directors and their teams will tour together to each other’s places in Assam to present their newly created performances and share their theatre-making experience with local audiences. The project would hopefully establish a mutually supportive community of performing artists who are exploring new directions.