Shakespearean Extravaganza at Ashoka University
By Kothapalli Gopichand
Ashoka University is back with the yearly Shakespeare festival. Enthusiasm flowed in from all corners of the Multipurpose Hall at the University, which was filled with Young India Fellows as 22 teams performed chimerical reimaginings of Shakespeare’s texts The Tempest and Othello, creating a convivial atmosphere during the two-day long festival. Students turned out in large numbers to cheer the collective effort, while Madhavi Menon (Professor of English) and Jonathan Gil Harris (Dean of Academic Affairs) appraised the performances. The duo was critical of the performances but was exuberant in praise for the innovative ideas.
Students had explored a gamut of mediums to present their reimaginings, ranging from stage shows and musical performances to documentaries, shadow dances, poetry, games, short films, comic strips, and diary entries. The presentations raised several contemporary social issues underpinning the themes explored in the two texts, including those of globalization, terrorism, science fiction, identity crisis, and alienation to name a few.
Here is a glimpse of three encapsulating performances.
Nobody is Home
This group took the audience through the journey of an Indian couple who travelled abroad in search of their ‘American Dream’ via a series of documented skype calls. The performance was a re-imagining of Othello, dealing with the concepts of multiplicity and diaspora. While the wife adapts to the new life and embraces the otherness arising out of the new-found life, the husband finds it hard. The recession exacerbated the differences between the couple. The performance ended with an unnerving ambiguity, as audience witnessed the husband struggle with his overwhelming loss of belonging. The concept, being so close to home, it felt like real life was playing out on stage.
I Name Thee Othello
This performance presented an intriguing card game with elements from the characters of Othello. A group of six players were present on stage. Character cards were distributed amongst the players, with each card bearing the name of a character, along with a list of that particular character’s most distinguishing traits. Each player then made comments on an object card which was drawn from a deck, always cognizant of the traits of the character they had in hand. Based on these comments, one of the players, who was assigned the ‘General’ card, was supposed to find his counterpart Othello and declare him so by saying “I name thee Othello”. A failed attempt killed the character and the game went on until the general found the real Othello. The game propelled the players and audience alike, to think deeply about the traits of the characters in the play.
Imagine the characters from The Tempest and Othello coming together for a talk over dinner. Othello is a connoisseur of food and a famous critic who visits the restaurant Café Tempello with Desdemona for a formal critique. Prospero, who owns the restaurant sends Miranda and Caliban in disguise to influence the review. The four of them end up on the table dealing with their dilemmas and conflicts. While Othello and Desdemona crib over their fractured relationship, Miranda is awed by Othello’s charisma and Caliban struggles with his pretense as a wealthy critic. The performance left the audience wondering about the noise emanating from the intermixing of the two texts.
“The exhilaration of entering a Shakespeare text and making something of it is a significant achievement. In this year’s festival, the ideas of globalization, alienation, naxalism, feminism, science fiction, and communalism, to name just a few, were showcased with aplomb. And the best part of it is that Shakespeare would not be turning in his grave at the thought that his texts are providing fodder for such a variety of ideas. He would have loved it!” said Prof. Madhavi Menon when asked for her opinion on the performances.
The event pushed the students to read Shakespeare’s texts between the lines and rekindled the spirit of imagination.
“Working on the reimagination was an experience that I will remember over the years. Composing a song based on the tempest is definitely something I had not imagined doing. It was brilliant to see how such a work of art came out within 4 hours with our collective efforts,” said the Dream Team (Kartik, Abhishek, Anasuya, Kanika, Nayanika.)
For most of the Fellows hailing from diverse backgrounds, this was a whole new experience adding another perspective to their thought. The Fellows had a wonderful time reimagining Shakespeare’s world.
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