We couldn’t say that we weren’t warned; bold letters told us ‘do not come expecting a play!’ Sure enough, Chennai based entertainment company Evam’s ‘Chasing my Mamet Duck’ was nothing like a conventional theatre production.
First off, we were ushered into Zone A which had a carnival-like atmosphere– cheerful voices hailed out from different sections, urging us to step up and experience. If one corner asked you to pick something from a carpet and leave something of equal value behind, another held velvet cushions with a treasure waiting to be discovered. Yet another wanted your voice, another wanted you to dip you hand in mysterious bags while pinwheels whirled to unheard music.
Zone B was the auditorium and we never knew what to expect next; starting off with a short film, it moved to the central theme of the duck (inspired by David Mamet’s the Duck Variations). Weaving through the dialogue of the two actors whose talk of the duck and its habits seemed to mirror human experiences, were live music, more films and audience interactions which ranged from humorous to poignant.
Evam calls this experiential production ‘transtheatre’ as it transcends different media. Sensitive, bold, cheeky and high on energy, it is symbolic of this enterprise which has struck a new path in India.
Started by two young graduates of the Mudra Institute of Communications, Sunil Vishnu K and Karthik Kumar, Evam is going to be 10 years old next year. Along the way, it has gained plaudits for its theatrical productions and also for having become a successful business enterprise. CNBC cited it as one of its ‘Young Turks’ in 2007, it was among the top 25 Pepsi MTV ‘Youth Icons’ 2008 and made it to the Top 30 finalists of Tata-NEN Hottest Start ups, 2008. Sunil was the India finalist for the Young Performing Arts Entrepreneur Award given by the British Council in 2009.
Its success has inspired two case studies by IIM students. “We learnt as we went along, there is no formula and the learning will differ from market to market”, Sunil tells me when we catch up for a chat. I must confess a partiality to him as he did a very engaging reading at the launch of our Best of Chennai book a couple of years ago.
Its grand plan is to get more performance opportunities for other live art and create an audience that would react enthusiastically as much to theatre as it would to music. “We need to create a robust ecosystem for live performing art”. It’s a challenge to make it viable for the producers and artists while making it affordable to all; especially underprivileged kids who would not get access to such art.
This year it is starting a regular season of plays in Chennai and Bangalore, stand up comedies and theatre workshops alongside its corporate training programmes. With a play being debuted in Prithvi this week, it looks like 2012 is already packed with action. What drives them undoubtedly is the way they describe themselves, “Happiness is our core offering and theatre is our core medium”. More power to Evam!