May, 2015

The New Ships: Ashoka’s First Annual Production

After one year, Ashoka students responded to the challenge of a liberal arts education with insight and creativity, drawing connections between what they have read in their classes and what is happening in the world around them

 By Ishanika Sharma

 “This form, this face, this life living to live in a world of time beyond me; let me resign my life for this life, my speech for that unspoken, the awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships.”- T.S. Eliot

On the evening of 30th April, students, staff and faculty members gathered in a dimly lit Multipurpose Hall at the Ashoka’s Campus to witness the culmination of a year of the many firsts at the University. The audience watched as actors crawled onto the stage, to the gentle sound of lapping waves and performed ‘The New Ships’, Ashoka’s first Annual Production, a play inspired by The Tempest. The Shakespeare Society and the Theatre Society of the University collaborated to reimagine Shakespeare’s The Tempest in the aftermath of the Modi-wave of 2014.

Annual Production (1)

Titled ‘The New Ships’ after Eliot’s verse, the play hoped to capture the cyclical nature of power and its many manifestations through the motif of a saffron turban that passed between the actors who donned the role of Prospero. The production never failed to question the relevance of studying the plays of an Englishman who lived centuries ago, in a country that is yet to celebrate hundred years of independence. The play addressed structures of power that transcended national, cultural and temporal boundaries to discover traces of Shakespeare in modern India. Yet, the play did not attempt to resolve the contradictions and paradoxes that it raised, choosing instead to live with them.

The play was the labour of a team of talented undergraduate writers who wove together speeches from the iambic pentameters of Shakespeare and the modernist poetry of Eliot, amongst other sources. It was the vision of a team of artists and producers who could picture entire stage sets where others just saw bare space. It was the metaphorical baby of the media team at the University that quite befittingly took the campus by storm so that each wall, door and even mirror was adorned with posters. It was the product of students who carefully attended to lights, cameras and the minutest of details to ensure that all the action was left insulated against technical glitches. And yes, it was the work of a set of actors and mentors, who recreated Shakespearean characters of yore in an Indian context. Under the aegis of Madhavi Menon, Professor of English and Jonathan Gil Harris, Dean, Academic Affairs at Ashoka University, the combined effort of nearly thirty undergraduates came to fruition in less than a month.

Annual Production (1)

The play received critical acclaim from peers and professors alike for its nuanced portrayal of the cyclical nature of power through its series of speeches. In the words of Professor Gil Harris, “ The New Ships was not just an annual production. It was a revelation — and a vindication. After one year, our students are responding to the challenge of a liberal arts education with insight and creativity, drawing connections between what they have read in their classes and what is happening in the world around them. And the best part is they are doing this in dialogue with each other, as their well-coordinated script and beautifully choreographed movements on stage made abundantly clear. Ashoka’s new ships are truly seaworthy, and sailing in exhilarating new directions.”

The first year drew to a close with the first Annual Production of Ashoka University, an event that carries with it the promise of both innovation and tradition. It was the product of a batch of undergraduate students who have inherited the responsibility to create an inheritance.

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