Bangalore-based Theatre For Change comes to Mumbai with their production, When The Rainbow Is Enough
Adapted from American playwright Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, the play brings the stories of sexual abuse, gender inequality, racism and depression faced by women
Bengaluru-based theatre group, Theatre for Change, is coming to Mumbai with their production, ‘When The Rainbow Is Enough’. Adapted from American playwright Ntozake Shange’s For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide, the play directed and curated by Sujatha Balakrishnan brings the stories of sexual abuse, gender inequality, racism and depression faced by women and aims at engaging the audience by asking the relevant questions. Ahead of their performance, we ask the 62-year-old theatre artiste what’s in store for the audience in Mumbai. Excerpts:
Q: Tell us about your play 'When the rainbow is enough'. What's in store for the audience?
Sujatha Balakrishnan: The Mumbai show consists of multilingual compelling personal stories on sexual abuse, gender inequality, partition, caregiving, racism and depression arising out of excess introspection of oneself, shared with courage, conviction, pride and honesty by women across age. Some of these topics are so stigmatized that we are reluctant to have a conversation about them even within the four walls of our homes. They're either buried under the carpet or dismissed but these women share it on a public platform with the intention of connecting with everyone as a shared humanity.
The audience is in for abundant food for thought. As I firmly believe that any art form must go beyond entertainment and engage the audience in becoming agents of change, the play certainly provides an opportunity for the audience to engage in a conversation on topics that are seldom addressed. As monologues are difficult to sustain the interest of the audience, we have interspersed it with poetry, music and movement.
Q: How did you stumble upon For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf by American playwright Ntozake Shange?
SB: Theatre for Change wanted to provide a platform for the women who are 50 years old or above to share the story of how they became what they are today and how they navigated the challenges that were there in their path. Every story has a soul and it needs to be told, heard and counted. When I was looking for women-oriented theatrical productions on oppression/discrimination, I stumbled upon Ntozake Shange's brilliant piece of choreopoems which was about various forms of oppression. Interestingly, the production that began initially as a seniors’ show soon became an inclusive one that went across age, gender and class. The international women's day show saw women cab drivers Yashoda Satyanarayana and Divya Srinivasalu along with transgender activist Shanti Muniswamy boldly sharing their stories.
Q: What made you adapt it?
SB: I have always felt the access to counter stories is very limited. Our stories are always told from a specific perspective. How different would the Ramayana be if told not from Rama's perspective but from the point of view of Sita, or even Ravana's wife Mandodari? Obviously, it's always the dominant narratives that we're pumped with. I decided to adapt ‘For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide’ as it resonated with my vision of sharing oppression/discrimination stories of women. It was conceptualized in November 2017.
Q: And, how many performances have you done so far? How has the audience reacted to the play?
SB: We have staged eleven shows across Indian cities and Boston. The audience reaction is the driving force that pushes us to have another show. At times, they get so involved that we get more topics that need to be addressed. For instance, In our show in Boston, a member from the audience told us that she would love to be part of one of our shows as she would like to address her story of menstruation.
Q: When you take this play to a different city, you work with local artiste there. How does it shape up the existing play? Does it vary a lot?
SB: Not much. Even though the stories and cities get different, the emotions continue to be similar and then the common thread that binds them all is sisterhood.
Q: Your performance is followed by a Q & A session, which discuss questions like, “Why are most caregivers women?”, “Why do women face the dilemma of always pleasing others?”. How integral is this session and what has it achieved so far?
SB: To be honest, I am a taskmaster when it comes to Q&A! I feel it would defeat the purpose of our vision if won’t initiate a community dialogue. Initially, the audience is in a nutshell but they open up once we start engaging them. Once our show in Hyderabad show at 8 pm but the Q&A went on until 11 pm and we had to end it because the venue had to be closed. It is so heartening when our audience tells us that they connected with our stories in one way or the other.