Grant Period: Over five months
Public transport in Kerala heavily depends on the bus service. For an average Malayali, the bus is an integral part of her/his personal life. As a moving public space, the bus evokes a sense of awe and wonder. “It is the carrier of people’s dreams, aspirations and memories,” says Martin John, Director, Sadhana Centre for Creative Practice (SCCP) based in Thrissur. This grant to SCCP will enable Martin and his team to create a performance based on research into the history and evolution of bus transport in Kerala and the lives of people connected to it. Grappling with concerns of theatre being made in the same spaces, catering to the same audiences, the team got an opportunity to work on an Indo-Latin American collaboration project during the International Theatre Festival of Kerala (ITFoK) in 2010. Directed by Elias Cohen, the play was staged on a bus that was brought into the open air auditorium of the Kerala Sangeet Natak Akademi.
This experiment inspired Martin and his actors to explore the idea of a travelling performance space. In 2011, they purchased an Ashok Leyland bus that was still in use. The bus will be transformed into a performance space with one side and the rear walls opening out as platforms extending from the floor of the bus. Its body will be reinforced using high quality timber. The project aims to create a theatrical production anchored in the vehicle, operating as both the theme and site of performance. In the intensive research phase, actors will make regular trips on the bus to gain an intimate understanding of the ways in which peoples’ lives are connected to it.
The research will be contextualised within the socio-economic history and evolution of the bus service in Kerala, particularly Thrissur. Additionally, references to literature, films, paintings and other media that cover local histories and sensibilities will be drawn upon extensively in the process of devising the work. The performance will travel to five places in the Thrissur district - Arimbur, Anthikkad, Manalur, Thannyam and Chazoor. Public spaces like a school playground and an open field in these places are identified as performance venues. The performances will be preceded by workshops and interactive sessions with the local audiences. A flexible dramaturgy will enable these audiences to spontaneously contribute to or even become performers. The bus will double as an exhibition space for photographs, paintings, books, films and other material gathered during the research. Martin plans to bring together all the material to a community archive, that he hopes to set up at the village panchayat or a local school.