'ELECTED', a forum theatre production by Beyond Borders was held recently at the Punchi Theatre in Borella. Forum theatre is, in brief, a drama performance that allows the audience to intervene in unique and interesting ways. It encourages audience participation and allows one to get far more engaged in the subject matter than with a run-of-the-mill drama.
The concept was created by dramatist Augusto Boal in the latter half of the twentieth century, to supplement his ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’.
‘ELECTED’ was created to highlight the underlying racial issues still prevalent in our society that are so easily ignored or just considered something you have to live with. Dealing with such a touchy subject leads one through a potential minefield of issues such as offending people’s sensibilities, but the Beyond Borders FT crew seems to have cast aside any concerns and decided to just go ahead with it, in uppercase titling to boot.
To examine if their efforts were fruitful, you’d have to see what they were trying to drive home to the audience. And this goal, is the ambitious yet noble goal of getting people to stop, think about racism and issues spreading from racism, and hopefully get their friends to think about it too.
The actual play was the story of Mohan and Mihiri, two eminent students at a national university who are contesting the student council elections. It started off with Mohan, a Tamil, delivering his campaign speech about developing facilities at the campus and other things people like to shout about from podiums. Then Mihiri, Mohan’s surprisingly similarly-named counterpart, starts her speech.
Most elements of the play pertaining to the subject matter of racism were exaggerated so as to make a bigger impact. That is why Mihiri closing her speech by basically calling Mohan a terrorist doesn’t seem too out of place. Mihiri uses the ‘Us vs. Them’ mentality so often used by other famous people the world over to garner votes and win the elections.
During the course of all this, Mohan is eventually led to a confrontation with Mihiri, which leads to Mihiri’s thugs confronting Mohan in a metaphorical white van. He is ‘taken care of’, we are told.
After this first brief run, the cast re-do the play, but this time allowing audience members to stop the action at any point, and either suggest how things could have been done differently for things to turn out better or even go up on stage and act it out the way they want it to be. Of course, this is all moderated by a ‘joker’.
This part of the stage is probably the most crucial part of forum theatre. Having said that, the issues that arose in the discussions that ensued after that point were many and varied, starting at racism and spiraling through the use of violence, election misdeeds and everyone’s favourite pet subject and past-time to some, sexual profiling. The issue of racism in all this managed to just about keep its head above the water. The script could have been more focused.
But all in all, if the point was to get people to think, it succeeded. People who wouldn’t talk about racism if they were slapped by ‘I have a dream’ were talking about it outside the theatre afterwards. And it certainly was entertaining enough to stick in your head for a long while.