Last year was marked by a rise of experimental art spaces, a prominent feature of the changing arts and cultural landscape of India. No space for rigid lines and straitjacket convention, these alternative spaces celebrates a breaking down of boundaries between the performer and the audience. Venues that ‘let their hair down’ and set the stage for dissent, free-flowing conversation, awareness or even just a fresh, new experience, are popping up all over the country - from New Delhi (Okhla’s Black Box Theatre or Chattarpur’s wildly popular Oddbird Theatre) to Goa (The Village Studio is the state’s first alternative art space, set up only a few months ago). Fuelled by the availability of venues with room for experimentation, artists and directors are also reimagining seemingly-mundane spaces as backdrops for less-conventional, extremely novel theatre spectacles. Like Delhi-based production company, Crow and their immersive theatre play ‘The Emporium At The Edge Of Uncertainty’ that opens today. If 2017 was the year of experimental art spaces in India, could 2018 be the year of immersive theatre?
Not just sight and sound, immersive theatre focuses on engaging all five senses to engage with audience members. In her book ‘Immersive Theatre: Intimacy and Immediacy In Contemporary Performance’, Josephine Machon, a research fellow at Middlesex University in the UK, believes that the art form is gaining popularity as a reaction to the lack of intimacy in today’s social media-driven world. Another theory for the increasing popularity of immersive theatre across the world - the founder of UK-based theatre company Punchdrunk (founded in 2000) uses the ‘site-sympathetic’ to describe their work - is that audiences are seeking out unconventional lifestyle adventures. The format of immersive theatre allows the audience to go where they please, interact with the set and cast members and walk away with a made-to-fit experience that is unique to each person. ‘The Emporium At The Edge Of Uncertainty’ continues along the same journey that Crow set off on with productions like ‘The Floating Market’ in 2016, of creating a make-believe world for its audience to navigate. “For the large part, we have found our audiences to be open and willing to engage. In a way, they take on an added level of responsibility for the work because their active presence and the choices they make affect the production as well,” says co-director Nayantara Kotian, as the team gets ready to put up a spectacular showcase of their creation process, hinging on compelling narrative and innovative set design.
Running for three weekends at a converted, rundown office building in a Delhi’s Okhla neighbourhood, the play (co-conceptualised and directed by Nayantara Kotian and Prashant Prakash) takes you into the world of The Emporium. Where “A man peddling broken optical instruments will try to sell you one of his prized, patented headaches: piercing, pounding, or just a dull throb, whatever suits your fancy” or you can “buy a cup of soup for a song”. Free will and choice guide your purchases but you’ll pay in unusual kinds of currency at this ‘market-place’. On the concept, Prashant Prakash says, “The show looks at our consumer capitalistic society and the future we are heading towards.” This world will have you thinking about things like “Would you choose a shorter life if you could dispel your loneliness?” or “If time were on sale, how much would you give for it?” even as you journey along with the eccentric characters.
There are two shows a day, every Saturday and Sunday, until February 25 - so book your tickets and settle down for the show. Of all the things on ‘sale’ at The Emporium, a fresh perspective might be the most enticing of them all.
When: February 3-4, 17-18 and 24-25.
Timings: 6.30 PM and 7 PM
Price: INR 1,500