The magic of art is that you can agree to disagree: Quasar Thakore Padamsee

A couple of days ago, when we attended one of the online shows of Thespo’s The Right Way, this writer was the only attendee. No, it’s not as if there were no takers for the show, but because it was especially designed for a one-audience member experience. Image after image slid on the screen. English singer-songwriter Harry Styles on the cover of Vogue magazine in a dress came up in a frame as did the words ‘online anonymity’, among others. What did this writer think when she saw these images?

What did the actor doing the show think of them? Did it make us ponder over things, question our beliefs or try and see a different perspective from the one we are used to seeing? The two of us agreed on a few and disagreed on some, but that was the beauty of the show – it allowed us to engage in a civil dialogue about things no one is talking about – and God knows we need more of those!

An investigation of the ever-transforming global world, Italian director Daniele Bartolini’s show made its debut at the 48th International Theatre Festival of La Biennale Di Venezia. However, when it came for it to be imagined for an online audience, the format had to undergo a change. In this highly-participatory form of theatre, one person, from one part of the world connects with another from another part of the world and they start a dialogue.

A series of images slide across your screen and you find yourself engaging in a dialogue about cultural heritage and values in different parts of the globe, questioning the role of art in these years of social transformation. We reached out to Quasar Thakore Padamsee of QTP to tell us more about the show and the impact he hopes it has on young minds.

What led you to do Daniele’s The Right Way in an online avatar?

When the lockdown took place last year, we started connecting with the theatre community in other parts of the world to find out what they are doing. Since we have worked a lot of work with Canadian performers, the Canadian government – who were looking to promote interesting and unusual work – reached out to us and decided to come on board for The Right Way. We got talking with Daniele, with whom we have worked with in the past, and started developing the show. As Anushka Ghose from Thespo and Daniele started developing it, they realised that the show is all about connection.

While it is not a show about the pandemic, it is definitely a show created out of the pandemic and lockdown. People are looking for one-on-one connections.

From QTP’s point of view, what makes it interesting is that not only is it a new format; it also makes it very interesting to expose young Indian actors to this form. All actors in the show are under 25 and they are getting to work with an Italian director based in Canada. This will hopefully lead to more innovation in our own theatre.

Tell us how you imagined the show in its online avatar?

Danielle specialises in what he calls audience specific experiences, which means that the shows are designed for a limited number of people or for one audience member. He was creating a similar experience for the Biennale Teatro. When he tried to imagine it for online, it opened it up to so many possibilities because there are no geographical restraints. It’s bizarre!

We had one audience member who dialled in from Houston talking to someone from Coimbatore, while the show has been designed by an Italian director who lives in Canada. When you think about it, it’s fantastic.

Do the images change with every show?

There are a series of slides and the performer decides which ones to choose based on the conversation with the audience member. So, it is not the same stimuli for every conversation. The artistic choice to choose the images is with the actor, depending on the dialogue with the audience member, so it becomes unique to that show.

One of the slide image shown at the show, The Right Way
One of the slide image shown at the show, The Right Way

How does the show, while examining cultural heritage, value systems and mindsets, question the role of art in today’s world?

It’s a bit of a mix and match and depends from person to person. In having that conversation, more ideas open up. The idea is that x number of people are prompted to think about things and when that happens, hopefully there is a change. Someone who did the show with us said that out of all the images, there were two that really made him think. So, if you get people to think about even two, we have done our job. The aim of the show is to trigger a thought process immediately during the conversation but also for later on.

It’s what we call the drive home effect. What is the conversation you are having when you are driving back home or having dinner post a show? You want the dinner conversation to be about that topic. It is still an ‘entertainment’ experience but does it give us a little bit of insight or a different perspective about something and does it allow us to look at something and slightly tilt our head? You can agree to disagree and that’s where the nuances are.

That’s the magic of any piece of art, which is what is so lacking in this world.

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