Sentient Beings by Crea-Shakthi Chennai satirises the role of AI technology in education
An experimental play from the house of Crea-Shakthi Chennai, Sentient Beings explores the world of hostile corporate takeovers in the Indian edtech space
Smarty AI, a new age start-up unicorn with the hot new edtech AI bot set to hit the market, has hit a snag. The start-up has been sued by the behemoth Spyder Corporation for theft of IP. This action sets off a series of events that have serious political, cultural and economic ramifications, leading to each pillar of our democracy crumbling under the pressure of corporate greed, all in the guise of education for all.
Set in the dystopian world of today, the play satirises the role of new age AI technology in the service of education and the erosion of learning and systemic injustices that stem from such an unfair, unsustainable practice of trying to profit from infusing tech into learning.
Sentient Beings combines movement, live music and digital interludes with hard-hitting dialogue — with a bit of Tamil and Hindi along with predominant English — to place in front of its audience some very pertinent questions. “I wouldn’t want to reveal too much, but I would be grateful if the audience themselves ask questions after the play as we plan to have an interaction right after with them. We do plays that make people laugh, cry, smile, but with this play, I would like to make its audience think, and after thinking, make them talk about it,” says Dushyanth Gunashekar, writer, designer and director of Sentient Beings. Dushyanth, who is also the founder of Crea-Shakthi, tells us more about this experimental play.
What is Sentient Beings all about?
Sentient Beings is set in the world of Indian edtech and a clash of two companies — one large behemoth with hands in every pie and another startup that is seemingly interested in improving the education system through new age tech. Through this clash of two corporate entities, we see a lot of political, social, cultural and economic ramifications that have far reaching consequences on life and learning.
You have called it an experimental play. Please elaborate.
It is experimental both in content and form. As a content piece, it flows more like a novel; the scenes are literally chapters and happen in different locations. The form too, is immersive as we are performing in a space that isn’t traditionally for theatre. You will feel that it is happening literally with you in the room. There is a lot of play with digital tools and movement that add to the narrative, which I personally haven’t seen in plays, at least not in Chennai. I also felt that the story world that we are exploring, ie the world of corporate greed, has never been explored in the manner that we have explored. While it is a satire, it is very real and could even be a lived experience for many working professionals.
How was it conceptualised?
Honestly, as an owner and promoter of an edtech app myself and involved in arts and education for the better part of 15 years, I believe I had the terrible privilege of having a vantage view of how education and enterprise collide. This is especially true since the pandemic where I saw many enterprises inorganically force pretty half baked learning solutions on anxious parents and children. It is all coming crashing down now around us, with the birth of AI tools. I wrote it about a year ago in just one sitting and over the last two months, the script has evolved taking into consideration the many things that have happened in the last one year as well. The actors too chipped in with anecdotes from extensive research.
There is live music and movement and there are 26 artistes... How was this play directed and choreographed?
Together! It was more like — ‘What do you think would work?’ Rather than ‘do this, do that’. That way it was quite exploratory — it works for some plays, does not for some others. This play, I felt, lent itself to a more exploratory approach. The actors involved in movement are trained dancers and through the rehearsals it was finding movement that is true to the character and context at that moment and was quite taxing and enjoyable at the same time. Having a full length 26 member cast crew isn’t easy but they were all up for the challenge.
Please introduce us to the artistes.
All the artistes are full time theatre artistes and theatre in education professionals with Crea-Shakthi. They teach in schools by day and we rehearse by night. The performers include Atchaya S, Nimmy Babu, Shreyaa Suresh, Tvisha Vadhul, Aastha Dhasmana, Kavyashree Prithviraj, Yugesh Ramachandran, Praveen Kumar, Prethiviraj, Livya, Abishan, Surya Prabha, Koushik Murugan, Sarvesh Bairav, Chehek Agarwal, Navya, Marshal, Sunder S, Indulekha, Sahitya, Georgie, Sojan, Laxmi Prasad, Karthik Anantha Subramaniam and Akshaya Ravishankar. Live music is by Vishwa Bharath.
What is the aim of Sentient Beings?
The aim is to make more people aware about this nexus between enterprise and education in the profiteering that’s happening in the name of accessible education. It aims to speak the truth and question what is happening right in front of us but seemingly invisible — and that is a misuse of power and corporate greed.
Rs 300. Tickets available online.
July 16. 3 pm & 6 pm.
At Vidya Sagar, Kotturpuram.