For many years now, I have been following the work of Yours Truly Theatre (YTT), a young Bangalore theatre group. They can be said to have pioneered Interactive Theatre in India. Called "Playback Theatre", it was started in the 1970’s in the US, and is now hugely popular across the world. Instead of a fixed script, it is an interaction between the audience and the cast; the performers take the inputs provided by the members of the audience, and stage a scene with their own dramatic interpretation. Playback theatre has three established ways of presenting the stories: Fluids, Stories, and Conflicts. Recently, other elements such as Echo, Encounter, and Chorus have also been added.
Having watched "Common Man; Version 2.0", and "Bhagwaan Dhoondo", in this genre, staged by the same group, I was looking forward to watching "Bangalor-u-holic", a new production. For this, YTT had a surefire theme for the audience: the audience’s reactions, stories, and conflicts to the city of Bangalore! If one has audience interaction, with inputs on this dynamic and ever-changing city, surely one has the ingredients for a very enjoyable performance! And so it proved.
The production got under way a little late, waiting for latecomers. I have my reservations about this. When Bangalore traffic is a known factor, ( much of the production inputs from them was about the bad traffic!), waiting for the latecomers means that the punctual members of the audience are being penalised. YTT, I would certainly suggest that you go ahead and start on time. Do not bar the latecomers’ entry, but show your appreciation for those who are punctual, by being punctual yourselves.
Ranji David, who, with Nandini Rao, is the co-founder and the artistic director of YTT, began the proceedings by welcoming the audience. "What was the first thing about Bangalore to hit you?", he asked. Responses started with "weather" and "traffic", and went on to such things as "by two coffee (coffee in the stand-up eateries called Darshinis, which can be split by two)" and "babes", that one young man said were the first sight that met his eyes! One gentleman talked about a time when he took a "Jatka" (horse-carriage) ride from the Railway Station to his home in Basavanagudi.
Such inputs were co-related by the performers: Abhijit Madhwaraj (who often brought the house down with his witty performances), Chetan C Nataraj, Nandini Rao, Sudarshan Rangaprasad, Sumit Acharya, and Vishal Bhandary, apart from Ranji himself. Each one did his or her own version of the inputs, and sometimes they got together, too. It was done so well, that it was difficult to believe that it was all impromptu acting! Certainly the cast of YTT has become much better at this over the years that I have seen them. Amongst the fluids were also such witty inputs as, "A Bangalorean is one who thinks Dr. Rajkumar is better than Rajnikanth!" (with the addendum, "But Rajni is also from Bangalore!")
After this, Ranji moved on to "Stories", and finally picked on the input from one young man, who said that he had come to Bangalore as a caterpillar, and become a butterfly! On the stage, this young man, Pavan, from the audience seemed particularly enamoured of the weekend parties, and the actors’ performances faithfully picked up on this as a kind of key word, keeping the audience in splits. Vasu, who talked about being so homesick in an engineering college in Mandya, that he was jealous of even the buses headed for Bangalore, was so impressed by the staging of his story, that he said, "It was almost like that"…a big compliment to the cast!
Another perceptive member of the audience also complimented the crew on their handling of the lights (design by Ranji, excecution by Aditya Kulkarni). The costume design, by Nandini Rao and Ameet Bhuvan, was casual, allowing for free movement by the cast. The stage was set very simply indeed, with just five chairs. The usual props of the coloured scarves, and umbrellas, that I’ve always associated with YTT, were far less used in this production.
The projection design by Nandini Rao, and the improv music execution by Ameet Bhuvan, also set the mood of the various tableaux.
The conflict section was represented mainly by the conflict of one audience member, Mamta, who could not decide whether she should leave Bangalore for a job in Chennai with better pay and prospects, and the dust allergies that the city’s pollution causes. The play wound up to sustained and enthusiastic applause.
The brochures that YTT distribute at the beginning of their productions are always excellent. There is always a little slip of paper, where an audience member can fill in mobile numbers and email ids, and hand to the hard-working and efficient volunteers, which helps YTT keep in touch with them later. The genre of Improvisation Theatre, and the various other initiatives that YTT is engaged in, were also set out clearly, with links to their website and Facebook pages.
However, this brings me to the one negative that I did feel about this production. Too much time was given to re-describing what Playback theatre was about, and stressing the fact that the production was impromptu. I think less time should be devoted to this…after all, the brochure says it all. Certain members of the audience were, also, I felt, on stage too long, describing their stories or fluids. Ranji,as the Sutradhar, if you could just watch this, the whole production would be more streamlined.
But on the whole, it was exhilarating to watch an audience, both young and old, being so invested in the production, and cheering the cast and crew on. Ranji introduced the cast and crew, and also called the volunteers up on stage, to receive their share of appreciation. A most enjoyable evening, though the treatment tended to be on the lighter side, and a production by Yours Truly Theatre is one that I would heartily recommend to the playgoers of Bangalore.⊕