Performance Studies: The human cost of Kennett’s ‘Victoria’ / The social performativity of comedy
Reincarnation of a Rebel: The Ambivalence of Ritual in Sarubhakta’s “Thangla – Cold Desert Story”
My research examines how Nepali theatre-makers are engaging with key social and political crises in my home country. For the most part, I am looking at plays performed in mainstream venues and festivals. Crucially, however, I aim to show how these examples of what we might call ‘Capital T’ theatre are just as closely informed by everyday folk culture, religious rituals, and street festivals (or ‘jatra’) as any of the grassroots community or applied theatre projects that one reads about in much of the English-language scholarship on Nepali theatre. Indeed, mainstream ‘aesthetic’ theatre is arguably more integrated with the public performance culture of the streets than imported models such as Augusto Boal’s forum theatre.
For example, in my previous paper to this seminar, I showed how Abhi Subedi’s play, Bruised Evenings, repurposes the mythological narrative of the famous Bisket Jatra festival to create an allegory about the difficult transition towards democracy in Nepal — an allegory which works because the playwright and theatre production team share a ‘matrix of sensibility’ with their audience. In this current paper, I’d like to explore another case study, Chiso Marubhumiko Katha – Thangla (‘Thangla – Cold Desert Story’) by the well-known poet and playwright Bhakta Raj Shrestha—better known by his penname, Sarubhakta. Thangla is the name of a Himalayan deity and Sarubhakta’s play brings on stage the rituals, cultures, folk traditions, and values of people living in the upper Himalayan region of Nepal, with a particular focus on the practice of polyandry and the attendant conflict between older and younger generations regarding this traditional practice.
Where Abhi Subedi’s Bruised Evenings offered a generally positive view of the continuing relevance of ritual practices for social and political regeneration, in Sarubhakta’s work, we see a much more ambivalent attitude. The status of folk customs and traditional rituals is precisely what is being contested by the younger generation, thus their restorative powers are limited. Once again, however, this dramatic examination of complex social conflict works because it mobilises the audience’s capacity to perceive meaning in the use of local vernaculars, costumes, minute details of the way people live, eat, and speak and the description of the harsh weather and strong winds of the upper Himalayan region.
Jiva Nath Lamsal is PhD candidate at the Department of Theatre and Performance Studies and sessional academic at the University of Sydney. Before joining the University of Sydney to pursue his PhD study in 2019, he worked as a lecturer at the Central Department of English, Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal, where he completed his MA and M.Phil. degrees in Literary Studies. He has published his research in Literary Studies, Crosscurrents: A Journal of Language, Literature and Literary Theory, The Journal of Ritual Studies and Indian Theatre Journal. He is a member of the Association of Progressive Intellectual, Nepal (APIN); Literary Association of Nepal (LAN), Folklore Society of Nepal, Linguistic Society of Nepal, Nepal English Language Teachers Association (NELTA). His areas of scholarly interest include South/Asian Theatre; Classic Sanskrti Theatre; Anthropological approach to Theatre and Performance Studies; Politics, Performance and Power; Theatre for Social Justice; Intercultural theatrical interaction between the East and the West; Postcolonial theatre; Theatre history and Performance Theories; Performance and Rhetorics etc.
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