AF Bombay Gets Dramatic With SAPP

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St. Andrew’s Centre for Philosophy and Performing Arts (SAPP) recently collaborated with Alliance Française de Bombay for performing contemporary French plays in English twice a month. An interview with Dr. Omkar Bhatkar (Founder, SAPP) on what this collaboration entails :

Hello! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself?

I don’t know where to start talking about myself. To put it simply, I’m trained in Sociology from the University of Mumbai and my Doctoral Thesis deals with Proxemics and Social Ecology. I presently teach at the Mass Media Studies Department of St. Andrews College, Bandra. It’s been five years since I started my own Theatre production, Metamorphosis Theatre Inc, which attempts to explore experimental and existentialist plays.

Dr. Omkar Bhatkar (Founder, SAPP)

Dr. Omkar Bhatkar (Founder, SAPP)

Sometimes, though not often, I write reviews for certain plays. And most importantly, I curate workshops, plays and programs at St. Andrew’s Centre for Philosophy and Performing Arts, which is an art centre that I co-founded last year. This is something that consumes me at the moment. There are days when I write and direct my own plays and there are days when I only direct, most often, French Plays.

Can you please tell us a bit about St. Andrew’s Centre for Philosophy and Performing Arts

St. Andrew’s Centre for Philosophy and Performing Arts is a space where academicians, research scholars, students, culture enthusiasts, artists, and community members work in a collaborative environment to create rich, engaged learning and teaching experiences in the field of Art, Literature, and Performing Arts. The Centre is the first-of-its-kind in Mumbai with academically rich courses in the specialized fields of Art and Culture open to all.

A still from Wajdi Mouawad’s play ‘Incendies’ performed at Theosophy Hall on Jan 9, 2019 and at SAPP on Feb 3, 2019

The idea was conceived in 2017 and I spoke to the rector of St. Andrew’s College, Fr. Magi Murzello about the project. It was Fr. Magi Murzello, who believed in this mammoth task of establishing a Centre of this kind which could provide Short Term and Certificate Courses in the field of Philosophy and Theatre with the intention of bridging the economic and cultural gap between the Artist and the Art. With his support, the foundation was laid for SAPP which now curates lecture series, readings, workshops, and performances.

We at SAPP invite individuals to become members of an intellectually diverse and active learning community for lifelong learning. We have run Certificate Courses in Theatre and Writing, Women Mystics and Poetry, Existentialism and Beyond, Body: Text and Theatre, Western Philosophy, and Ancient Greek Tragedies amongst others. I strongly feel the need to blend philosophy and theatre. SAPP blends diverse disciplines to create something syncretic.

What are the challenges that an organisation like SAPP faces in Mumbai? What set of opportunities are unique to the city?

The challenges to an organization which resides in Philosophy and Theatre are many due to the consumerist tendency in a city like Mumbai where the value for Humanities and Social Sciences is gradually decreasing. But at the same time, the city provides opportunities for those seeking reconciliation and knowledge in Arts. There are people who wish to do such courses and attend the curated performances, however the number isn’t significant. It will take some time for an organization like SAPP to create such an impact.

A still from Matei Vișniec’s play 'Voices in the Dark'

A still from Matei Vișniec’s play ‘Voices in the Dark’

Why did you decide to collaborate with Alliance Française de Bombay for bringing contemporary French plays to audiences in Mumbai?

If I had to do Contemporary French Plays, then I can’t think of any other place but Alliance Française de Bombay as I figured out that it is a very active and engaging institution involved in several cultural events that they do throughout the year. It was then that I thought that AF Bombay would be interested in this collaboration where the idea was to explore a contemporary French play in translation every month. Initially, we started the project with performed readings but within the first month, we realized that the amount of hard work we had put into reading plays could be transformed into staging them. Hence, by the end of it, every play is staged as a full-fledged performance.  Further, the current Director of AF Bombay, Frédéric Simon, is very involved with Theatre and his passion for the field is exhibited in his suggestions for our monthly performances. These suggestions of contemporary playwrights was like opening Pandora’s box!

Which of the plays performed thus far has been your favourite and why?

I think Matei Vişniec’s ‘Voices in the Dark’ is my favorite amongst all the other eight plays that we have performed in the last eight months of collaboration. Vişniec was suggested by Frédéric when I wanted to do a play around Christmas. Vişniec is known for his winter plays and while reading them I fell in love with the imagination of this prolific writer. His characters were so aimless, absurd, and unpredictable – it was like being caught up in a dream! It was the charisma of these characters that seduced me to bring their dreams come true on stage. We staged Decomposed Theatre / Human Trashcan or Voices in the Dark in four different versions (absurd, surreal, grotesque, and oneiric) using all the monologues written by Vişniec. It has been a profound experience to stage surreal characters from the play including the Animal Trainer, The Last Man on the Earth, The Man with the Horse (we staged it as woman), The Lady with the Cockroach etc. His plays leave a lot empty space for the Director’s interpretation, its presentation, and of course the actor’s understanding of the character.

A still from Matei Vișniec's play 'Voices in the Dark' performed on Dec 7, 2018 at Theosophy Hall and Dec 26, 2018 at SAPP Mumbai

A still from Matei Vișniec’s play ‘The Human trashcan’ performed on Dec 7, 2018 at Theosophy Hall and Dec 26, 2018 at SAPP Mumbai

Which short-term and long-term projects for SAPP are you most excited about?

We have our Summer School every year where we run monthly intensive courses and workshops. This year at SAPP we are running courses in Contemporary Japanese Literature, Existentialism and Beyond, Ancient Greek Tragedies along with workshops on Theatre Appreciation, and Poetry and Theatre. Our monthly French plays with AF Bombay continue and I’m looking forward to staging Pockets Full of Bread in May. Furthermore, we are also trying to bring French Love Poetry in motion using physical theatre and hope to bring it on stage soon!

Siddharth Bhatt

Rédaction, AF Magazine Inde-Népal

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Directeur de publication : Délégation Générale de la Fondation Alliance Française en Inde et au Népal

Rédacteur en chef : Laurent Elisio Bordier

Rédacteur/Coordinateur national : Siddharth Bhatt

Rédacteurs, contributeurs : Guillaume, Abhirami, Alexandre, Chintan, Cléa, David, Eleonore, Elie, Kanika, Karine, Nita, Thomas, Malvika, Marie-Joëlle, Meera, Mayuri, Mitushi, Alice, Prutha, Romain, Ritika, Manas, Supriya ...