Saturday, December 29, 2012

"When the Curtain Falls" - THE GOAN: Goa Vision 2020 (Goa - 29 December 2012)

I’ve just returned from watching Sandals on the Doorstep, the 25th anniversary production of Goa’s longest-lived English theatre group, The Mustard Seed Art Company (TMSAC). It is true that I was amongst a small audience at Kala Academy on this December evening. Indeed, while full houses have never been a hallmark of TMSAC’s history, it is arguable that this is not necessarily the group’s aim or indicative of its ongoing popularity. The Seeds have built a durable fan base and for several years have drawn initiates from successive generations of playgoers and even the progeny of former cast members. In short, TMSAC have created a self-sustaining community. Doubtless, the group’s longevity is remarkable, and bespeaks a legacy in the limited but noteworthy arena of Goan theatre in a language other than Konkanni or Marathi. This, particularly because of the Seeds’ staging of original material that focuses primarily on contemporary Goa. In coincidence with their anniversary, TMSAC have released Frescoes in the Womb, a collection of plays by their director and playwright Isabel Santa Rita Vás. While no discussion of Goan theatre in English would be complete without acknowledging TMSAC, what I pay attention to here is the purpose and futurity of the art form itself. Despite its limitations of scope, I wish to demonstrate that theatre in English reflects “Goanity” not only as a body of knowledge, but also as discourse. What I consider here is the ambit of English theatre beyond the stage and how this labour takes on a future life once the curtain falls.

It would be too simplistic to suggest that Goan theatre in English is unviable because of a language barrier. Not only does performance allow for non-linguistic communication within the realm of the spoken word, but English as it is spoken and used performatively in Goa bears its own cultural resonance. In much the same way that Brazilian Portuguese differs from the European variety, forms of Indian English vary from and have even influenced British English, as is evidenced by the worldwide usage of words like “pyjama” and “shampoo.” That oft-maligned term “Konglish” comes to mind in the context of Goan language hybridity, but rather than thinking of this as a bastardized form of English, what if it was instead thought of as an archive of cultural adaptation? In a region known historically for transience because of colonialism, tourism, as well as emigration and return, how has language been affected by the many entrances and exits of worldwide actors? The implication for theatrical performance, then, is not only to potentially mirror linguistic modalities, but also the kinds of code-switching that occur in a multilingual locale. A play performed in multiple languages, for instance, would not be experimental but allude to how people in Goa negotiate the differences between and within home and public spheres. Each may require specific language competencies, but even communication in dialects of the same language itself, revealing negotiations of class, caste, religious, generational, gendered, and regional differences. Thus, theatre in English can self-reflexively “speak” to and about audience diversity in Goa. 

Because theatre has played a role traditionally as a barometer of social and political change and also impacted such transformation, what this necessitates is the study of performance itself. The burgeoning academic discipline of Performance Studies calls for a multifarious approach to the analysis of theatricality, incorporating literary and cultural studies, theories of the performing arts, and the social sciences, among others. What particularities are attendant to the Goan case in this regard? Tellingly, in the fifty years since its decolonization, Goa has no disciplinary field dedicated to the study of its own art and culture. Plays do not need a theatre-going audience alone, for theatre is not only watched – it continues to have an afterlife once the curtain falls. Theatre is read, reviewed, and reacted to, making these processes encores of the dramatic. In pondering the future of Goan theatre in English, the stakes are less in issues of its expansiveness than they are in how taste can be expanded to reposition the Goan as informed arbiter of his and her own culture.

For the print version of this piece, please visit here.