A 20-year old dramebaaz social distancing herself within the four walls of her room was losing touch with her theatre alter ego in the pandemic when Thespo 22 came knocking on her Instagram door. India’s first International Youth Theatre Festival turned out to be the chocolate factory to her Charlie. Thespo opened a virtual world of dramagiri-packed performances, open events and Zoom sound checks. For someone who couldn’t even open her eyes for 10am online lectures, she was always excited to attend the 8am Zoom meetings to discuss the schedule for the day. This year’s last minute-preparations were all about checking the network connection, charging the laptop, getting camera-ready and surveying the background one last time before going live.
Virtually, we entered a world of innovative live performances by young emerging artists. Miah-Boy Diaries took us on a musical journey while Nightmare was a Marathi satire about a cartoonist. We joined two narrators as they took us on a hilarious journey about marriage and masculinity in Main Beedi Pikar Jhuth Nahi Bolta and took a tour of the world from a photographer's little studio in The Lightcatcher. This year's four Flagship Performances were from Jaipur, Kolkata and Pune, curated from over 40 entries from across the subcontinent, and were presented live at the festival. The virtual reality created by the performances had us laughing and crying while being on the edge of our seats throughout.
That was just the beginning. Thespo collaborated with Brazillian director Renato Rocha for the third time. Youth from India, Sri Lanka, Trinidad and Brazil came together to explore the essence of freedom, love and democracy through Under-Attack. Ministry of Mundane Mysteries was Thespo 22’s riddle, wrapped in a mystery. It was so much fun being part of an improvised week-long adventure that took place entirely over phone calls! More collaborations such as Healing with Counsellor K, which was a play about a therapy group who came together to confront and heal from their past, and Paperwalls, a dramatised reading of a play written and performed by artists under 25 brought together experienced theatre-makers and emerging artists. We also curated a panel discussion! Inclusivity Within the Theatre shed light on theatre for individuals with disabilities.
While all the performances at the festival carved a new path for live theatre, the dramagiri was doubled with a wide range of workshops that became opportunities for emerging artists to hone their skills in the comfort of their homes! From Kalaripayattu to musical writing to verbatim exercises, there was something for everyone. We looked at physical comedy, clown theory and solving problems like a clown. BOL! - A workshop that explored ways of speaking, speaking up, speaking out under the guidance of Jana Natya Manch’s Sudhanva Deshpande was a glimpse into the world of street theatre. Budding artists found writing inspiration through mythology with Ram Ganesh Kamatham in Totems & Talismans.
In addition to the multiple workshops, we also came together to celebrate youth theatre through various community events. At Thespo Reads, we read Jana Natya Manch’s 1997 play Jinhen Yakeen Nahin Tha and Aayushyamaan (a play which was performed at Thespo 9!). The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and 36 Questions were on our audio fiction playlists at Thespo Listens, a recent initiative for community play listening. Another brand new initiative we began this year is called Audio-Torium where emerging artists explored the fascinating world of audio storytelling and turned their ideas into audio performances! Last but not the least, all of us broke free from the pandemic blues in a Star Wars-themed Yoga session in full-on Yoda style! Continuing to ride high on the waves of energy that were our community activities, we also became vibe curators! At Chai @Tapri, the festival’s very own hangout party, we jammed to self-composed songs. Theatre enthusiasts from across the country came together
to talk about their love for theatre.
And their love and respect for the theatre that surrounds them. Thespo had the honour of presenting the Thespo Lifetime Achievement Award to Jana Natya Manch of Delhi for their tireless dedication towards taking theatre to the people. We had the opportunity to hear about their journey in a special event, The Black and Red of Street Theatre, where Moloyashree Hashmi, the current president of Janam was in conversation with a younger leader within the organization.
At the end of the day, it is always the endlessly cheerful and warm audience that keeps Thespo going. During all the performances, workshops
and community events, comments sections
and chat boxes came alive with encouragement, curiosity and excitement. But if you ask this
20-year old draamebaz to describe Thespo 22
in one word, she will say: acceptance. Acceptance because all you wonderful young people out there - in the audience, in our crew, in the performing teams, all the Friends of Thespo who are just as young at heart, stood by in support as Thespo tried to do something new and wild during a tough year.