03 December 2012

Narrowcast the message: speak to the one hundred.

Sudhanva Deshpanda speaks in that lovely, bubbly Indian English which it’s almost impossible not to like. His fellow panel members at the Sprechwerk theatre last night alternated between speaking north German (translated for Sudhanva) – which, in public at least, will tend toward the analytical & the cold – and English. The discussion, under the heading ‘What can theatre in public spaces achieve?’ was followed by a total of thirteen people, including the panel members, so the thing felt like a ritual, where the converted turned-up to validate the preachers. Despite that, Sudhanva conveyed through use of photo-image and the word thought-provoking messages to his little flock.

(Photo of Sudhanva Deshpanda)
            Irregular circles four metres by four metres forming a non-elevated stage, the crowd pushed up within centimetres of the actors faces, others at the back of the audience shimmied up onto a wall, or cycle-rickshaw or each other’s shoulders to get a glimpse: slides of this sort formed the evening’s core. Taken from Mr Deshpanda’s thirty years experience doing street theatre in India, to crowds ranging from a hundred to twenty-thousand. The use of black & white to photograph performances even into the 1990s, perhaps out of choice rather than necessity, accented the ancient, ritualised atmosphere emanating from the images. And all these audience members, and all these performances – nigh on 250 per year – brought to life without one cent of institutional funding.
            Because Mr Deshpanda’s theatre is almost entirely funded from donations that the audience give after the performance; as the audiences are 95 % poor, the average donation given is by western standards tiny. But large audiences, frequent performances & a philosophy of spending very little on play development, costume, stage set & even transport means that the theatre has flourished with these simplest of economics.
            All a very far cry from street theatre in Hamburg. Tom Lanzki, who took part, this year, with his company Bängditos in Altona’s international festival of street arts – STAMP – informed the audience how STAMP 2013 has already been cancelled, as the organisers know in advance they won’t hit their ‘minimum’ budget of € 200 000 – a budget under which, apparently, ‘none of the organisers earn anything.’ This being the budget for a three day street-arts festival. The irony in the room – that Mr Deshpanda & his team have for years produced a torrent of theatre with no institutional nor corporate funding, while the people from STAMP, already institutionally funded by the city of Hamburg & the district of Altona, are making a political show of cancelling because they’re not getting their two hundred grand – was probably just too huge for anybody to find the energy to mention it directly. Perhaps the people from STAMP & all the other ‘nothing under two-hundred-thousand Euro’ lot out there should pay heed to Mr Deshpanda’s closing message from yesterday. In a world where everyone’s dying to broadcast themselves to the maximum possible audience – you’ve gotta have your snazzy website, facebook-fan page, google-ads; then twitter it – the real task in hand is to narrow-cast ourselves. Think not what the phantom ten thousand online might think of you – they are neither listening nor concentrating properly – think what, if anything, you have to say, live, to the ten or the one hundred. Then get into your street-theatre, pulpit, mosque, Buddhist retreat, atheist club, coterie reading audience or sport’s-club board of directors. And go and say it. Heart to heart and intellect to intellect. 

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