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Audience Research in Politically/Socially-Engaged Theatre in Kolkata with Munia Debleen Tripathi

November 24 2022, 2-3:30pm ET

Audience Research in Politically/Socially-Engaged Theatre in Kolkata presented by Munia Debleen Tripathi

"My PhD research that emerges from my own theatre practice in Kolkata, India, aims to produce an accessible ‘tool kit’ for early-career theatre-makers in the city who want to produce political/socially-engaged performances, especially those who aim to create a theatre that is accessible (in the broadest sense of the term) to non-elite audiences. 

One of the aspects I explore in order to create this tool-kit is audience reception of political/socially-engaged theatre in Kolkata. Both theatre practitioners and audiences in Kolkata are largely limited to the educated middle class and rich. This often creates an intellectual bubble within which radical plays are performed and appreciated. As I look at the work of contemporary groups that seek to overcome this limitation by performing in alternative venues, I propose that critical dialogues with audiences, especially the yet-uninitiated audiences watching a theatre performance for perhaps the first time, can enrich the practitioners and aid their pursuit of expanding the audience base of political theatre beyond the elite few. In order to better understand the art of facilitating productive interactions with audiences, I am in the process of conducting semi-structured interviews with audience members after they witness performances of the mentioned theatre groups. I am also in the process of creating a solo performance piece which I will present at alternative venues beginning December 2022/January 2023. Each performance will be followed by an audience-interaction session

For the CSAR Working Group presentation, I will draw from the empirical data I have collected from the audiences of political theatre performances in non-proscenium spaces in Kolkata, India. Based on the interviews I have already conducted and my informal conversations with audiences who refused to be interviewed, one of the emerging patterns I have identified is an anxiousness on part of the spectators that they require certain ‘qualifications’ to understand/talk about theatre performances. I will discuss the implications of this feeling in the context of the work of the said theatre groups. I will also briefly discuss how audience interviews can be exclusionary for a large section of the society who are at the center of my study and invite thoughts on whether/how complementing interviews with a study of non-verbal responses by audiences can be more inclusionary."

[Description provided by Munia and sent out to participants through annoucement emails pertaining to the talk]

While not required, Munia invited interested members of CSAR to read the first two chapters of Contemporary Group Theatre in Kolkata, India (2020) by Arnab Banerji. These chapters were available upon request by the Center for Spectatorship.

Munia Debleen Tripathi (she/they) is a Kolkata based theatre director and playwright and a PhD Candidate at the Centre for Drama, Theatre and Performance Studies, University of Toronto. She enjoys making performances collaboratively with different groups and communities. With each performance, she strives to connect to more people and tries to contribute to the creation of a more tolerant world around. She has facilitated learning in drama classrooms, in theatre workshops for children and adults, as a Teaching Assistant (University of Toronto) and as a Course Instructor (Rabindra Bharati University). She specializes in using theatre techniques in training and awareness programmes and has worked with communities including medical teachers at private universities, women in interior villages of West Bengal and economically underprivileged children in urban fringes of Kolkata. Her first collection of plays in Bangla was published in 2018. 

Presented over Zoom.

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