Should art only be confined to closed spaces, the high-end galleries and convention centres, catering to only the elite and the art enthusiasts? Two artists, Martin John and Saji Kadampattil have attempted to answer this question and in doing so, have tried to reimagine the idea of a performance space. They embarked on a journey a year ago in Thrissur on what they called ‘The Bus Project’.
‘The Bus Project’, was a travelling stage that moved from place to place and interacted with local audience in villages like Manakody, Pazhuvil and Mattom. For the production, the duo used a bus as a performing arena and developed shows around it. The objective, Saji reiterates, was to move away from the conventional theatre spaces and cultivate the idea of an interactive theatrical display. Saji recalls, “We got a bus and altered it. We created two performance spaces –the bus opened on the side to become a platform where actors staged their plays and we converted the top as well. It was like a carnival on wheels.”
They used the bus as the central theme for the production, Odichodichu – Oru Bus Natakam, delving into the history and evolution of the mode of transportation which has become a life support for thousands of people in Thrissur and everywhere else. Saji says, “We had staged which revolved around the premise of ‘a disappearing bus’. The bus veers off in the wrong direction and falls into a deep ditch. The play is a parallel between two worlds — one that takes place inside the bus and the other, of the people who are trying to pull the bus out of the ditch.” Then there were workshops on sculpture making and painting and music performances.
By offering grants, the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA) has supported the artists in their endeavour to make theatre accessible to the public. Arundhati Ghosh observes, “This was a very interesting initiative of building an audience for theatre. Unlike others who drum up an audience by distributing flyers and making announcements, their idea was simple — to take theatre to the masses and make theatre accessible to everyone.”
Will the bus travel to other cities in the country? “We haven’t been able to do that due to roadblocks pertaining to certification and bus permits. We are helping them get in touch with civil authorities regarding this,” says Arundhati.
First published in The New Indian Express on August 21.