Necessity is the mother of invention and in these socially-distanced times, it is art and artists who have managed to consistently surprise and delight the audiences with their creative ways. Lifeline 99 99 is one such interesting concept developed by Kaivalya Plays, a performing arts and production company based in Delhi.
Directed and designed by Akshay Raheja and Gaurav Singh, the interactive call gives the audience member the chance to immerse himself/herself into one of seven distinct worlds from the comfort of their homes. The interaction tries to address a critical question confronting us today: Can genuine human connections be created in this age of growing indifference and shrinking empathy?
An immersive experience
This writer decided to dive into one such world. An IVRS voice gave us the option to select one of the experiences and we decided to go with ‘Art vs Artist’. When our phone rang promptly on time on a Sunday afternoon, the voice at the other end introduced himself to us as Srijan. Over the course of the next 30-40 minutes, he took us into the world of a poet and his poetry collection. The free-flowing conversation led to word games and even a small singing session. But, mainly, we tried to find the answer to the questions: Can art be experienced from afar, and did art come first or the artist?
The lack of visual distraction meant that this writer was able to use her imagination to immerse herself into the world painted by the caller at the other end. Once the call came to an end, we realised that we could have been tucked inside our beds in our PJs during the conversation and it would not have been a problem!
The initial plan for this play was to make it with a 360-degree approach using Virtual Reality headsets, Gaurav tells us. Once the pandemic hit, that plan had to be scrapped owing to practical reasons and the makers started thinking of other ways to approach it. “The underlying theme/ thought for this project was that while we have many different ways of staying connected in today’s day and age, finding those genuine connections is a tough process,” he says.
That is when they hit upon the idea of using the humble telephone for an interactive theatrical experience. “With the advent of technology, we have spent the past one-and-a-half years in staying connected with our loved ones via Zoom calls, WhatsApp calls and video calls. They have replaced the telephone, which was earlier used to make warm, genuine connections, and has now become a medium for mundane connections such as food delivery and service calls,” he shares.
The interactive nature of the call, and the fact that it is not a pre-recorded session, is what lends it its theatricality, says Gaurav. With the conversations being unique, it also ensures that no two performances are alike.
The seven different experiences that the audience can choose from range from a conflicted sex chat operator to a morbid insurance agent, or as this writer experienced, art itself. Akshay shares that the idea was to investigate service calls and how familiar/unfamiliar these conversations can be.
“In these conversations, we assume the role of a consumer almost instinctively, but in a theatrical performance, the audience is not a consumer. So, there lay the conflict for us to exploit the character we are going to associate to the audience,” he explains.
The makers realised that they also needed to highly fictionalise the act so that the audience is able to immerse themselves into those worlds. “These highly fictionalised service calls turn the audience slowly from a consumer to a collaborator or performer,” he adds.
Originally premiered in February this year, the audio-only show had 120 audience members dialling in for the experience. From five experiences, the makers decided to increase the number to seven for the current run, which is on for all August weekends. Going ahead, they plan to make each world as comprehensive as they can as they believe this is a unique experience, different from physical theatre. “We feel more such projects will come into being by theatre people or by other improvisers. I don’t think this medium will go away irrespective of live spaces opening up. We are quite confident it will continue to sustain itself because of the novelty of the idea itself,” concludes Akshay.
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