Participants : Shobit, Shruti, Anant, Pritha, Manishikha, Aditi, Shena
Observers : Manishikha and Evleen
Essence Machines and Imagination Games + One Slo Mo walk towards a Pink Bucket
Since this was a Do being done in association with Lost & Found* and their theme for the season is ‘Invisible Cities’ we decided to work with ‘Essence Machines’ (a theatre exercise introduced by Geoff Readman to Shena) dealing with various aspects of city life. An ‘Essence Machine’ is a group freeze based on a catch phrase such as ‘Delhi Traffic’, ‘Men in Delhi’, ‘Foods of Delhi’, ‘City of Dreams’, etc. The freeze can come to life as well, with each character then speaking and moving.
We did some practice Essence Machines on the charming rooftop floor of Jugaad Hostel – the space that Lost & Found will be activating as a performance venue in the coming months, and then headed down into a neighbourhood playground park, as we thought it may be valuable to begin the TDWK with kindred souls – i.e. children.
Quickly, there was a large circle around us – which grew to include not just children but adults as well. We began with ‘School’ and moved on to various other Essence Machines. It turned into a wonderful game in which the audience tried to guess what we were depicting. Phrases such as ‘City of Dreams’ and ‘City built on Water’ elicited responses like “trees that grow toffees on them” and “but you’ll drown”! One lady put up her hands and waved them about to indicate the fresh air in the Dream City of her mind’s eye, and we all followed suit.
Armed with the experience of this positive encounter we decided to brave the Friday (pop up) Market and made our way towards the crowded bazaar. We tried to do a ‘Foods of Delhi’ near a chaat stall, but soon realized that there was too much traffic to attempt the exercise without causing a jam. A quick shift of plan, and we began a long ‘slo mo’ walk towards a stall with a bright pink bucket hanging up at a height as our goal. We had to move single-file as there was a lot of traffic. (We had assumed that this pop up market would be similar to the one in Vasant Kunj where they cordon off the area to keep it only for pedestrians. Learning – never skip the recee!)
This activity was looked upon with great curiosity – particularly as the long line of us moving in slow motion amongst the hustle and bustle of the market was difficult to miss. When we reached our destination, a man actually took the bucket off the hook and handed it to one of us, and it was passed back along the line until it reached Shobit in a victorious moment that was quite beautiful – attention given to a bright pink object as it seemed to float above people’s heads – it was as though the bucket acquired a life of its own. Some people thought we were crazy, then rationalized what they were seeing by saying “naatak kar rahe hain.” One woman asked us why “acche ghar ke log” were doing this. It was difficult to engage in conversation however, due to the nature of the space. It was observed that many people did slow down, watch the surreal travel of the bucket, and then snap out of it and go on their way once the performance was over. Wonder what they’ll carry with them…
We then moved from this road towards a part of the market that had a little less vehicle traffic. Our first stop was at a space in front of a mobile repair shop. After doing a “mobile phones” Essence Machine, we moved to “Delhi Traffic” and then “City of Dreams”. This last one seemed to touch a cord amongst the crowd that gathered, and there was a lovely moment of sharing imaginary mithai with onlookers. From enthusiastic kids to shy-but-eventually-won-over adults, the act of sharing (literally) our imagination resulted in a smattering of applause.
Other stoppages included an imaginary kite-flying exercise played next to (well of course) a kite stall (the lady gave us an empty spool to use as well!), a ‘crossing the road with great difficulty’ performance and of course the current hot favourite – playing with an imaginary ball. As always, this brought people together. One young man was inspired to sing a song for us and the gathered crowd, as a parting gift.
We ended the evening by going back to the playground park and playing a game of imagination cricket. It is amazing how everyone falls into the game, no one magically produces extra ‘balls’ or ‘bats’ and how quickly it begins to feel ‘real’.
In the post-discussion we all agreed that the ratio of people who thought we were nuts or who passed derogatory remarks to the number of people who were happy to join in or who were watching with a sense of happiness and community, was very few of the former and many more of the latter! As Anant pointed out, having children around at all times perhaps added to the almost ‘family community’ feeling of the encounters.