When we think of censorship, our minds conjure up imagery of Supervillain-esque monarchs twirling their moustaches while burning books or military leaders engaging in some sort of Orwellian speech. However, what happens when speech is oppressed in a different way? Instead of being censored, it is simply ignored, not even important enough to be given a second thought? Or worse, what happens when a group is so heavily oppressed that they themselves believe that they have nothing to say? A dance-theatrical piece, i am not here deals with the very issue of the absence of women’s writing.
The artjam magazine sat down with members of The Lost Post Initiative, speaking with the piece’s director, Deepika Arwind, and devisers-performers Ronita Mookerji and Sharanya Ramprakash to discuss their work.
AJ: To begin, the choice of the boxing ring is an interesting one — what does it mean and what inspired this choice of set?
Sharanya: The choice of the boxing ring is very central to the play, Deepika said early on that we will begin like this, in this boxing ring. The idea of it being a four-sided arena into which performers enter, where women will enter to talk about the censorship of women’s writing. It’s a metaphor for what it feels like — you’re constantly boxing with shadows, you’re constantly surrounded on all four sides. As performers, when we perform, we have to address all sides. There’s a kind of pressure that the arena puts on you — it’s like you’re fighting all the time. The interesting part of this metaphor is that Ron and I, the performers, don’t fight each other, we’re fighting something else. This changes the idea of the boxing ring and what these fights are about.
Ronita: Yes, this is the place where we perform and we draw this area, creating a space that is somewhat ritualistic. We do this whole performance in the ring but by the end of the performance, we have put the ring down, almost as if we’re inviting the audience to become a part of our world. This is an interactive piece. When we open up, we’re saying: “You and me, we are one.” Whether you are the performer or audience, the roles will be reversed at some point. We are the audience and they are the performers.
There is also a sense of a power play between the performers and that comes through strongly through the use of the boxing ring. This ties into the idea of the ‘quiet riot’ which is what this whole festival is about.
AJ: Since your work’s aim is to explore the relationship between performer and audience, how will this change, considering that we are now viewing your performance online over Zoom, in a different context as compared to in real life?
Deepika: It will definitely be different in many, many ways! We never intended for this to be viewed online, especially with our setting being four-sided and not like a traditional space. But what may be interesting for our audience would be to constantly watch the [other] audience in the video responding and reacting. But watching a performance like this gives you the opportunity to go back and spend time on the things you thought went by too quickly or something that you want to pay a little more attention to. That will be interesting.
This is the best option that we have considering that we can’t perform live right now, but we would prefer you seeing this, rather than to not see the work at all.
AJ: Were there any particular personal or specific events that inspired you to deal with this topic of women being censored in literature? Was there a specific book or event that ignited this entire process?
Deepika: We were commissioned to produce this work for a theatre festival in Bangalore and the festival that year dealt with plays that had been censored with the tagline “Plays that almost weren’t.” When we were discussing, we realised that there weren’t that many plays by women that had been censored, simply because there weren’t that many plays by women at all. They weren’t considered important enough to be censored. There are a couple of stray ones in history but that’s where it started.
Once we had this premise set, a very strong idea that prevailed among the three of us was that we were all women creators and we all had this common feeling that we had to navigate this world in a very particular way as markers.
The books that inspired us and that we read together and pulled out examples from was a book by Joanna Russ called How to Suppress Women’s Writing. It’s a book from the 80s but it’s really very relevant.
Sharanya: And there’s an essay by Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, about Shakespeare’s sister. She is the inspiration for one of the characters in our story. So when you think about suppressing or censoring women’s writing, where does it really begin? Does it begin when your play gets banned? It begins when you don’t even have things to write.
AJ: What are some of the questions or ideas that you are hoping that your audience will walk away with?
I think one of the things, when we talk about women’s writing, is that people don’t believe you. There’s always this sense of “Really? Can it be that bad? Come on.” This feeling is real, it’s here, we feel it. This production has a lot of anger and I hope that you will feel it too.
Ronita: When I’m performing I focus on what I’m feeling at the present moment, it’s how the audience lives these minutes of the play with us. There is a narrative — a flow — in this piece when we go through the emotions, and when we arrive at a particular emotion. For me, it’s emptiness. I don’t take back anything but emptiness, but sometimes I feel like the audience is resonating with me.
While live theatre has been disrupted by the ongoing pandemic, an upside to this chaos is that we now have unprecedented access to performances from around the globe — a perfect opportunity to explore different types of performances. Catch i am not here on the digital edition of the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival from midnight on 20 January till 11:59 p.m. on 26 January!