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The other day in the train terminal, I struck up a conversation with an Indian doctor whose name I believe was Armarind, but I’ll never be completely sure. He was an Indian born doctor who was in town for a medical conference. I picked his brain on how interesting it must be to work in this field that’s actually saving lives and making a difference. He replied that the main thing wasn’t that he was saving lives, but that it was what made him happy. Amarind asked me what it was like studying theater, and I commented that theater isn’t nearly as essential.
Armarind disagreed with me on this and believed that theater was more essential then these other forms. He talked about what theater culture was like in India. It’s very different from the US, especially when it comes to Shakespeare. When translated into Indian, it loses the vocabulary and rhythm that defined the Bard. What Armarind was really fond of, though, was street theater. Intense participatory theater that grabbed people off the street and had them become characters in tales of protest. Over in India it has an amazing and important impact. There is a bundle of resonance and energy that a live performer can bring.
Even after we parted ways, Armarind’s words stuck in my mind, and I was determined to learn more about the theater that had impacted his life so much. When we think street theater here in America, a few things might come to mind—whether it’s that man banging on the trash cans to accompany a song or a group on stilts in Faneuil Hall, there’s a million different directions the art form can go. So it is in India, but with a more focused goal. According to Professor Feisal Alkazi of the Jamia Millia University in Delhi, street theater is most often used to bring about social change or raise issues to important issues in the local and national community. Popular street theater companies will tour all around to get their message out, and believe that the impact spreads widely.
According to many of these street artists, the importance of the work they do lies in getting their art up close and person with the people, some of which are not regular attendees of more organized, indoor performance. Confronting the public with something different in an environment they’re so used to, relying on an interesting performance to reel in attention as opposed to pricy tickets—it’s a completely different arena, and one that has a lot of power.
The conclusion, SRO fans, is one you know perfectly well—theater, although a quirky art, is just as important and necessary to us as other powerful jobs. Whether confined to a stage or brought into your own backyard, storytelling and getting the message across is more important than ever.
If you’re interested in more on street theater, check out these articles:
Street Theater – Breaking the Barriers
Street Theater – Where India Communicates With Society
Theatre for the Ballot: Campaigning with Street Theatre in India
Come back for more Thoughts on Theater next Saturday!