How Pondicherry’s crowd-funded theatre festival keeps top-notch performances free for all

Agent Provocateur: Shape Shift Collective

How Pondicherry’s crowd-funded theatre festival keeps top-notch performances free for all

Is there anything better than sitting in the dark and watching someone on stage portray thoughts we have all been thinking, but never had the courage to speak about?

 

We were at the ‘Remembering Veenapani’ theatre festival, huddled on the floor and on chairs on the sidelines, along with a full house that broke into peals of laughter as Deepika Arwind took on everyday misogyny and feminism in No Rest in The Kingdom, a strong performance that ended in a rap-like finish. The dimly lit performance space at Adishakthi Theatre near Auroville is a setting that guarantees experiences like this are bound to stay with you for years to come. Performances feel more intimate than imagined as the festival brings together an audience of differing tastes in a space that feels personal.

 

Eclectic audience and performances

The audience themselves are a potpourri –locals from Pondicherry,  University students, Aurovillians, medicos from JIPMER , theatre-goers and travellers  – knowledgeable, multicultural, and cosmopolitan, and according to artistic director Vinay Kumar K.J,  precisely the reason why Pondicherry and Adishakthi is the best place to have a festival like ‘Remembering Veenapani’. Conceived as a tribute to the late founder and guru Veenapani Chawla, the festival in its fourth edition is a varied mix of contemporary theatre, dance and music performances.

 

Veenapani-Chawla

 

“The fact that the venue is Adishakti , the humility moves me more than anything else,” says Nimi Ravindran, a festival regular who works with Bangalore-based creative services organization Sandbox Collective.

“Some of the most outstanding performers in the country are here helping- sweeping the stage, serving food, looking after guests and visiting artistes. I can’t think of a more theatre-friendly venue in this country.”

Keeping performances free for theatre lovers

Something that sets ‘Remembering Veenapani’ apart is the fact that all performances are free to the public, though contributions are welcome. The festival has also turned into a crowd-funded initiative in the last two years.  “Being performers ourselves, we understand the struggles and the hard work that goes in to these performances,” says Vinay Kumar, who has been with the theatre company since 1993. “Crowd funding has helped to remunerate the performers as well pay for some of the equipment.”

Since Adishakthi has most of the necessary facilities, almost all of the money goes straight to the performers, even though they are willing to perform for free. In a way, crowd funding has made ‘Remembering Veenapani’ the audience’s own festival.”

The 2018 edition of Remembering Veenapani had lined up 10 performances over three weekends in February, featuring artistes and groups from various locations presenting varying performances. Taking the musical note a notch up, Friday will see Kochi- based Salim Nair’s Decohered  featuring instrumental compositions of digitally created tone poems. Saturday will see Tadpole Repertory’s play Quicksand,  directed by Neel Chaudhuri. Bringing down the curtains is Sujay Saple’s Agent Provocateur , a dance-theatre performance about indoctrination and self censorship beginning with the human body. The last weekend of performances are a mix of genres and ideas that stay true to the soul of the ‘Remembering Veenapani’ festival.

 

All performances are free and start at 7 p.m. You can support the festival, by contributing to the fund-raising campaign here.

The ‘Remembering Veenapani’ Theatre festival is usually held in successive weekends in February

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Images courtesy of Shapeshift Collective Mumbai and Adishakti Theatre